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Friday, 03 April 2015 17:14

A selection of Good and Outstanding Kent Non-Selective Schools: Kent On Sunday 22nd March

Once again, we hear cries from certain politicians for more grammar school places across the country, the opposition responding by referring disparagingly to the creation of more ‘secondary moderns’. This of course takes us back to the 1950s, when the ‘sec mod’ only ran up to age 15, and most children took no examinations. Since then the landscape has changed dramatically, and the large majority of Kent’s non-selective (NS) schools are performing well to ensure that overall Kent’s GCSE performance is consistently above average.

This article makes no statement about the virtues or otherwise of the selective system in Kent, but in it I have been asked to look at some of the best of the non-selectives (NS) -itself an ungainly title. This is a personal choice, and I apologise to some very good schools I have been forced to leave out for reasons of space.......

 

Bennett Memorial 2               St Gregory                                                          

Leading the field have to be the two Tunbridge Wells church schools: Bennett Memorial Diocesan and St Gregory’s Catholic, both with Outstanding OFSTEDs and both regularly topping the non selective GCSE tables. Bennett has a strong church requirement that attracts many academically able children, as it became one of the most oversubscribed schools in the county, St Greg’s having a more mixed intake but still performing highly. The third TW non-selective school, Skinners Kent Academy is an example of what can be done with outstanding leadership, more important than the excellent new purpose built buildings it has recently moved into. For most of the past forty years, its predecessors, variously named in attempts to shrug off a poor reputation, struggled to attract students, but in the past four years the academy has become the eighth most over-subscribed NS school in the county, its headteacher, Sian Carr, being variously described as charismatic and inspirational.

skinners kent academy

Otherwise, in no particular order: further north in Dartford is the highest performing academy chain in the county, headed up by the Leigh Academy, until this year the most popular NS school in the county. Its first principal, Frank Green, has gone on to become Schools Commissioner for England. The Academy Trust has taken over two other NW Kent schools, Wilmington Academy which it has taken from Special Measures to Good, at the same time seeing its GCSE results soar to amongst the best NS in the county in 2013, and Longfield Academy, previously an unpopular, struggling school which was one of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent in 2014.  

Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne, is the second most popular NS school in the county. Its Good OFSTED rating (it has also been Outstanding) is in no small part due to its headteacher, Alan Brookes, a fiercely loyal servant of the school, who joined as a junior member of staff 33 years ago and has now been head for 18 years.  

John Wallis CofE Academy in Ashford is perhaps a surprising choice, headed up by John McParland, who has the distinction of having also been head of one of Kent’s top performing NS schools, St Simon Stock Catholic School in Maidstone. His move was a surprise to many people as SSS was at the top of the tree, and John Wallis was a struggling school in a difficult part of town. However, SSS continues to maintain its excellent standards under the new(ish) leadership and John Wallis now fills, and has been at the top of Kent’s value added GCSE league table for two years, one of 9 NS schools in the top 20. This measure identifies the progress made by students between the ages of 11 and 16, but is  rarely given prominence, although it is the best indicator of the value added to children by their education, irrespective  of socio-economic standing.

Third highest NS GCSE performer this year is St George’s CofE School, Gravesend, also second highest across the county for Value Added, apparently on its knees just five years ago, having been placed in Special Measures, and lost the confidence of local parents. A new headteacher, Anne Southgate - previously deputy head, took over the reins and in three years raised the school to Good under OFSTED, saw its popularity and exam results soar, but retired in the summer, although the school still appears in good hands, having again appointed its deputy.

St Georges 2

The other six top VA schools are: Bennett; St Gregory’s; St Augustine’s Academy, Maidstone, St Simon Stock, St Anselm's, Canterbury; Hillview, Tonbridge; and Kent Skinners Academy.

The Canterbury Academy is led  by Phil Karnavas  who has been with the school for 25 years. It has totally changed from the previously troubled Canterbury High School, and includes a primary school, and an enormous range of sports facilities open to the public which have become a centre of excellence.  The school is now regularly oversubscribed, and in 2014 took on an extra two classes to cater for all the additional first choices he had unwisely offered places to at the Open Evening that year!  

Valley Park School in Maidstone is another centre of excellence, this time in Performing Arts, regularly in the top three most oversubscribed schools in Kent, historically with the tightest catchment area in the county. It has achieved that rarity for a non-selective school, of two consecutive Outstanding OFSTEDs. For 2015 entry, it changed the straight distance admission criterion to one giving priority to children whose nearest school was Valley Park (think about it!), initially confusing, but it makes sense.

My next choice is well outside the conventional view of a good school, except that OFSTED agrees, having found it Good on two consecutive inspections. This is Hartsdown Academy, Margate, led by an inspirational and outspoken Executive Principal, Andrew Somers. In passing, it has one of the best school websites I have visited. Mr Somers has passionately campaigned for improved premises after competing schools were rebuilt, and was rewarded two weeks ago when the school received government approval for funding  a significant premises development. Like the Marlowe Academy, Hartsdown has more than its fair share of deprivation, children with SEN, and with English as a second language. The difference is that he makes it work, as OFSTED confirms.

One of the rebuilt schools that competes with Hartsdown is King Ethelbert School, Birchington, although both are part of the Coastal Academies Trust which is led by Paul Luxmoore, previously head of Dane Court Grammar school and the inspiration behind another highly successful academy chain, now absorbing the closing Marlowe Academy. King Ethelbert is the fourth most oversubscribed NS school in Kent this year, having become more popular year on year.

A school very much in the news is Knole Academy, Sevenoaks, led by Mary Boyle. She has overseen the amalgamation of two disparate schools, and has worked through the merger with great success. The school sits in the middle of a political controversy, with the proposed Sevenoaks Grammar School Annexe to be sited just down the road, alongside the new Trinity Free School that has itself established an early reputation. Knole now runs a high profile grammar stream, and Mary Boyle works hard to establish the school as fully comprehensive with no need of extra grammar places in the town.

knole academy

Just two NS schools have consecutive Outstanding OFSTEDs, the second being Westlands School in Sittingbourne, lead school in the Swale Academies Trust, but although it has suffered a fall in popularity for 2015 admission, it remains oversubscribed.

I was given a generous word limit for this article, but it is apparent there are too many good NS schools in Kent to be covered in detail. Others include: Wrotham school, a pastorally strong, friendly achieving, small rural school;  St John’s Catholic Comprehensive in Gravesend –the fifth highest performing NS at GCSE, just behind St George’s CofE, also Gravesend, with every Gravesend NS having a Good OFSTED assessment; Hillview Girls, Tonbridge – always one of the highest performing NS schools – sixth in GCSE this year, and one of the most popular;  Sandwich Technology College, about which I know little, except that families think highly  of it with the recently retired headteacher, Veronica Gomez, receiving rave reports;  Mascalls in Paddock Wood, looked down by some families in West Kent for not being a grammar school, but clearly delivers a first rate education;  Abbey in Faversham which has taken years to throw off its dreadful reputation before the current headteacher, Catrin Woodend led it to two Good OFSTEDs; Herne Bay High, always oversubscribed, sometimes heavily, consistently achieving good Key Stage 2 results and Good OFSTED Inspection results; St Augustine's, Maidstone, has quietly become increasingly popular in Maidstone, is now full and has a recent Good OFSTED; and Dartford Science and Technology College, the only Kent secondary school to have improved by two grades in recent years, to Good in November 2012.

My apologies to those good schools I have overlooked primarily because of limited contact with them through parents or otherwise. In the academic year 2013-14, the 19 Kent NS schools inspected by OFSTED achieved an outstanding 79% Good or Outstanding assessments, way above the national average of 67%. They include seven not even mentioned above: Aylesford; Holmesdale, Snodland; Hugh Christie, Tonbridge;  Maplesdon Noakes, Maidstone; Pent Valley, Folkestone; and Sittingbourne Community. Oddly, the request from KOS to prepare this article is the first time ever I am aware of media attention being paid to the good work in so many of Kent’s non-selective schools. One has to wonder why?

Last modified on Sunday, 09 October 2016 05:12

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  • Oversubscription & Vacancies in Medway Primary schools: Allocation for September 2017

    The proportion of children offered one of their choices in a Medway primary school has risen to 97.4%, the highest proportion for at least five years. This is a result of a reduction of 160 in the number of Medway school places taken up by children from the Authority and outside. As a result, there are 432 vacancies across the 67 schools, which is 12% of the total available, up from 7% in 2016.

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    look more closely at each Medway area below, together with the situation for Junior Schools…….

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  • Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust: Will anyone be held to account?

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    The 2016 Accounts for the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT), a charitable company (!), finally lay bare the rottenness behind the Trust.

    The Lilac Sky Schools Trust is carrying a net deficit of £1,329,631 on these funds because: 

    The Trust incurred extortionate and expensive Founder/ substantive CEO consultancy  costs for 232 days at a net cost of £217,500 along with other high cost  support  services,  central  Trust  staffing  costs that were far higher  than average,  the cost of  settlement  agreements  (contractual  and non-contractual) paid to staff who were immediately appointed as consultants by the company and recharged  to  the Trust, minimal  value for money procedures and a lack of competitive  tendering.

    2016 Accounts Page 38

     These accounts are prepared by new Trustees, appointed 8 June 2016 to sort out the mess, described as emergency interim appointments, who do not mince their words with regard to the previous management of the Trust. LSSAT handed over its academies to other Trusts on 31st December 2016, and is currently being wound up, possibly with government financial aid. See below in blue.  

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    LSSAT Logo

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  • The scandals of Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey

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    Between September and April this year, 33 children at Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIS) have ‘left’ the school to take up Elective Home Education (EHE), some having reportedly been encouraged to do so, which would be unlawful. This figure is almost twice that of the next two Kent schools, Cornwallis Academy and Ebbsfleet Academy, which both saw 17 children leave to be ‘Home Educated’.

    Oasis Image

     Other OAIS pupils were sent to the Swale Inclusion Centre, and removed from the school’s Register, the removal having the effect of deleting the pupils GCSE record from school examination performance, as explained in a previous article, here.

    The school also sent some Year 11 pupils home early in May for compulsory ‘Study Leave’ without tuition, whilst the others continued to be prepared for their GCSEs in school. This action amounts to what is often called an ‘informal exclusion’, which is unlawful.

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  • Medway Test 2017: Late notification of Important Change

    Update: The value of the following item is underlined by the interest shown by browsers. 1500 hits in the first two days makes this the second most popular item on the website this year - in third place is the article Medway Test Scores Blunder - Medway fails families yet againconfirming once again the lack of confidence Medway families have in their Council's education operation. 

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    Neither does it do anything whatever to address the other serious problems I have previously identified in the Medway Test process, missing a golden opportunity in its recent review of the procedure, which appears to have reached no conclusions. It also comes close on after last year's debacle of the 2016 Test.   

    In addition, the Council has suddenly dispensed with the services of its highly experienced Free Writing Test setter, and at the time of writing does not appear to have re-employed any of its trained markers, although there is no change in the processes. It is not yet clear who is going to provide these essential skills this year.

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  • Oversubscription & Vacancies in Kent Primary schools: Allocation for September 2017

     2017 has been a very good year for Primary school admissions in Kent with 97.4% of families being awarded a school place of their choice, up from 96.6% in 2016. This has been brought about by a combination of 267 extra places created since the 2016 allocations including 30 in one new school, together with a remarkable fall of 679 children or 3.8% in the total applying for places. Overall there are 11.1% vacant places in the Reception classes, rising sharply from 6.5% in 2016. This article follows on from my first look at the general data, here, and explores the pressure areas looking at oversubscription and vacancies across the county.

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    Slade             Great Chart

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    Written on Monday, 15 May 2017 09:38 5 comments Read 3767 times
  • Kent & Medway OFSTED Reports to Easter

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     Cliftonville

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    Of the  22 Kent and Medway secondary schools inspected, 17 were found Good, five Requiring Improvement, with just one change from the schools' previous assessments.
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    Written on Saturday, 15 April 2017 19:39 Be the first to comment! Read 373 times