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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 01:48

KOS: Personal Review of Education Stories of 2015

As part of their Review of 2015, I was asked by Kent On Sunday to write an article about Education in Kent and Medway for the year. 

The article appeared under the following photo, taken at the recent Conference on the Kent Test, headed: "As pressure grows on teachers, is 2016 going to provide any relief? - Probably not according to former headteacher and education adviser Peter Read in his year report". 

KOS WK 44 15 Kent Test 0754 (2)

 

This is my personal choice of education stories affecting Kent and Medway children in 2015, most featured elsewhere on my website where you will find further details of all the items via the links. 

The key themes are the pressure on school places, the inexorable drive for higher examination performance, and  the frightening increase in turnover of teachers and headteachers - all certain to remain amongst the major stories in coming years.....

Pupil numbers are rising sharply, with the recent increase in primary demand now about to hit Kent secondary schools, whilst several in Medway struggle at the end of a sharp fall in numbers. A new six form entry secondary school in Maidstone has been approved for 2017, with many popular schools expanding. Against this are set the sudden closure of Oasis Hextable Academy, the long anticipated demise of Marlowe Academy, Ramsgate, and the consultation about the surely inevitable closure of Pent Valley Technology College in Folkestone, all in 2015.  As with Chaucer Technology College in Canterbury which closed last year, the plan is to mothball the Pent Valley site until demand for places leads to a new school being built in 2018.   

Two new 14-19 university technology schools have opened in the past two years, one in Dartford, the other in Chatham. An increasing proportion of Kent children now transfer to grammar schools, currently running at 30% of the population (29% in Medway), which has a negative impact on the non-selective schools. In addition, Government pressure is forcing these schools to adopt a more academic curriculum, unsuitable for too many children, producing what government regards as an unacceptable fall in their examination performance, with the number of Kent schools failing to reach 30% A-C Grades at GCSE nearly doubling to 15 in the past year. St George’s CofE, Broadstairs, is about to become an all through 4-19 school, joining Folkestone Academy, John Wallis School in Ashford, and Hundred of Hoo School in Medway. Chatham Grammar School for Boys is controversially proposing to go mixed from September and to admit children on assessment by a Governors Committee if it has places vacant after normal allocation.

The biggest pressures in primary schools come in urban areas, with no vacant spaces at all in Reception classes on allocation last April in urban Dartford, Folkestone and Sevenoaks schools and just 2% in Ashford, Gravesham, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells. 

In terms of quality of education, Kent and Medway are heading in different directions in terms of primary school performance, with Medway Council clearly not fit for purpose, being the worst authority in the country in both OFSTED outcomes and test performance in 2015, underlining a situation that has run for far too many years. Kent, which shared poor performance a few years ago, has now improved following tough action by KCC and is now producing results at the national average, although could still do better, as shown by secondary pupils in both Authorities who continue to perform well above the national average at GCSE.

However, the intense pressure to improve standards has more than its fair share of casualties, with five of the headteachers of Kent’s 18 coastal non-selective schools losing their jobs this year, four in 2014, another three at risk and two schools closing, mainly because of poor results. A high number of primary headteachers have also lost their jobs in the drive for higher standards. Headteachers’ posts advertised are attracting fewer and fewer applicants as it has become a high risk job in many areas. We not only have a serious shortage of good applicants coming forward for all teaching posts, but the turnover of classroom teachers, citing overwork, pressure from above, bullying, and lack of appropriate training and support in some schools, together with lack of respect for the profession, is frightening, with four in ten newly qualified teachers leaving the profession in their first year. In some primary schools as many as half the staff left at the end of the summer, so it was pleasing to see the main leader article in Kent on Sunday earlier this month highlighting these vital issues.

Inevitably, the selective system has featured, the proposed Sevenoaks Grammar School annex still waiting, at the time of writing, to see if a legal challenge is forthcoming. For what it is worth, I think the proposal will go ahead, creating up to another 120 girls’ grammar school places in West Kent. This still leaves a growing shortage of boys’ grammar school places over the next few years in West Kent, although many grammar schools have expanded their intake to meet demand. It is good to see Kent’s most selective school, The Judd in Tonbridge, changing its admission rules to give priority for 85% of its places to local boys, the two Wilmington grammars having been down this route for 2015 easing the pressure on places for local children. There are increasing demands to widen social access to grammar school places, and KCC is setting up a Select Committed to explore ways forward.   

The biggest success story in Kent is surely its Special School sector, with nearly half of all schools currently graded ‘Outstanding’ by OFSTED. The only blot on this landscape was KCC’s mismanagement of Furness School, catering for children with High Level Autism, leading to a very public failed attempt to shut down the provision.

Kent and Medway now have eight new Free Schools between them, with two more to come in the next two years and. in contrast to some other parts of the country, these are generally proving to be a success story adding to the level of quality provision.

Government wants all schools converted to academy status by 2020, in spite of the limited evidence that academisation improves standards. Currently, 81% of Kent secondary schools or in process of conversion, with 32% of primaries. For Medway the figures are 88% and 38%. Over half of the 23 Kent primary schools who failed to reach the government floor standard at Key Stage 2 this summer are academies, many of which have had a troubled time since their change in status, with three being forced to change sponsors after failure by their original ones. This is a part of the ‘game’ of Academy Monopoly, as too many Trusts seek to emulate successful businesses in their dealings with schools, effectively engaging in takeovers, mergers and transfers as reported on my website. Three Academies: Astor College in Dover; Chantry Primary in Gravesend, and Oasis Skinner Street Primary in Medway have all received heavy warning letters from government in the last year about their poor performance,  the last two having been threatened with closure if they do not improve.

What is certain is that the education map is changing faster than at any time I can remember in my forty years of working in the county, with government more firmly in the driving seat than ever before. I see no sign of relaxation of this centralised and politicised grip in the near future, so hang on for another bumpy ride in 2016. 

Last modified on Sunday, 26 February 2017 18:00

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  • Provisional GCSE Results for Medway 2017

    Last year the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths was scrapped, being replaced by two new assessments, Progress 8 and Attainment 8. Both these are measured by an arcane formula combining results in eight curriculum subjects to produce numbers whose meaning and spread is very difficult to comprehend, but enable schools to be placed in an order. Government has made amendments to further reflect policy, which has the unintended effect in Kent and Medway of further rewarding the top performing grammar schools and diminishing those with a higher proportion with lower abilities.  

    These Provisional results are issued at this time to enable families to be better informed when making secondary school choices. Last year a number of schools saw a small improvement in results in the final version to be published  in January.Unfortunately, once again, there has been such little publicity given to them that most families are not even aware of their existence. 

    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, with Medway above average at 0.04, against a National average of -0.03. Victory Academy is the only non-selective school to split the six grammars at the top, with Greenacre next.   

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Medway just below the National average of  46 at 45.5, although there is a variety of other statistics to choose from to suit your case. 

    Further information below, including the performance of individual schools, and a look at another measure, the English Baccalaureate ......


    Progress 8
    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, with Medway above average at 0.05, against a National average of -0.03. There is a single floor standard which schools are expected to achieve, of -0.5, and all secondary schools have exceeded this. Both measures have had their methodology changed to suit government priorities and the new grading system for English and maths. As a result, numbers are not directly comparable, but grammar schools appear to have been further advantaged.  
     
    Schools are divided into a number of groups: well above average; above average; average; below average; and well below average and below floor level. Schools placed in the last category can expect government intervention.
     
    Grammar Schools
    I am not sure that in Medway, with the grammar schools dominating the top of the table, this proves they necessarily offer better teaching; rather, there is a strong element of – ‘brighter pupils can be stretched further’.

    The table is led by Rochester Grammar, the only Medway school to score 'Well above Average' for progress from Key Stage 2 to GCSE.  Chatham Grammar Girls is only making average progress.

    Grammar School Progress 8
    Scores for 2017
    School Score
    Well Above Average 
     Rochester Grammar 0.89 
    Sir Joseph Williamson's 0.85
    Above Average
     Holcombe Grammar 0.49
    Fort Pitt Grammar

    0.42

    Rainham Mark Grammar 0.24
    Average
    Chatham Grammar Girls 0.02
     
    Non-Selective Schools
    Government classifies  schools into groups, with just Victory Academy achieving 'above average' level, with all schools but Medway UTC achieving the floor standard. It is difficult to asses the UTCs poor performance as this is its first GCSE Year, and recruiting in Year 11, the Progress 8 could be regarded as down in part to the student's previous schools. All are volunteers, with no requirement for technology aptitude or interest. However, it appears that the UTC has not re-vitalised their education. 
     
    Non-Selective Progress 8
    Scores for 2017
     School  Score School  Score 
    Above Average   Robert Napier
    -0.09
     Victory Academy  0.32  Howard School  -0.12
     Average 
    Brompton Academy -0.13 
    Greenacre 0 Below Average  
    Thomas Aveling

    0

    Strood Academy -0.27
     Rainham Girls -0.02 Walderslade Girls  -0.34
    Hundred of Hoo -0.04 Well Below Average 
    and below Floor Level of -0.5
    St John Fisher Catholic  -0.06 Medway UTC -0.9
     
    Attainment  8
    Here, scores come out looking somewhat like a GCSE league table, but flattened at the top, far fewer schools with lower ability children have reached the score of 40 than last year, when I made a working comparison with the floor level of the previous Floor Level of 40% of a school's pupils achieving 5 GCSE A-Cs.
     
    Grammar Schools 
    Not surprisingly, here the grammar schools sweep the table completely. 
     
    Grammar School Attainment 8 Scores for 2016
    School Score
     Rochester Grammar 70.8 
    Sir Joseph Williamson's  69.7
     Rainham Mark Grammar 63.9
    Holcombe Grammar 62.2
    Fort Pitt Grammar 60.5
    Chatham Grammar Girls 57.1
     
    Non-Selective Schools 
    The popularity or otherwise of Non-Selective schools is heavily polarised, with Brompton Academy one of the most oversubscribed in the whole of Kent and Medway. It is followed at some length by Thomas Aveling, Strood Academy and the Howard School. At the other end are three schools with a large number of vacancies, Robert Napier, Victory Academy and St John Fisher. The last two named, as well as having below average progress grades, are below the 40 points mark. However, this data suggests that Robert Napier is at long last on the turn for the good.  Walderslade Girls appears to be struggling, with the headteacher having moved on.  
      
    Non-Selective Attainment 8
    Scores for 2016
     School  Score School  Score 
    Rainham Girls  42.5  St John Fisher 37.9
    Hundred of Hoo 41.3 Brompton Academy 37.4
    Thomas Aveling 40.8 Strood Academy
    37.3
    Greenacre 40.2 Walderslade Girls 35.6
    Howard School 39.6 Robert Napier 35.2
    Victory Academy 38.2 Medway UTC 29.5
     
    English Baccalaureate
    This is a third measure towards which the government was trying to nudge schools, by measuring the percentage of pupils achieving a Grade C or better in five specific subject areas: English, maths, a science, a language, and history or geography. It is designed to encourage schools towards more academic subjects and away from those thought intellectually easier, which government considers is an easy way to score, although Progress 8 and Attainment 8 already go some way towards that.
     
    Rochester Grammar School is unsurprisingly at the top of the lists, with 90% of its pupils passing the required subjects. It is followed by Sir Joseph Williamson with 82% and then Rainham Mark with 53%. All three schools have seen a fall in percentages, although I am not sure what this means, except that perhaps schools are seeing it as less important than when it was introduced. Top non-selective school is Rainham School for Girls with 20%, followed by Hundred of Hoo with 14%. At the bottom are the Robert Napier and Victory Academy with no students meeting this standard. 
    Written on Monday, 16 October 2017 16:29 Be the first to comment! Read 28 times
  • Provisional GCSE Results for Kent 2017

    Update on Simon Langton  Boys below

    Medway Outcomes here

    This is the second year of the new GCSE assessments for measuring schools performance, Progress 8 and Attainment 8, which replace the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths. Both these are measured by an arcane formula combining results in eight curriculum subjects to produce numbers whose meaning and spread is very difficult to comprehend, but enable schools to be placed in an order. 

    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, and is rightly given priority in measuring performance.  Under this measure, Kent is slightly below the National Average of -0.03, at -0.11.

    Meopham 2

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Kent exactly equalling the National score of 46 ranked 60th out of all Local Authorities, although there is a variety of other statistics provided to choose from to suit your case. Both measures have had their methodology changed to suit government priorities and the new grading system for English and maths. As a result, numbers are not directly comparable.  

    Headlines: the Grammar School progress table is no longer the sole preserve of West Kent and super-selectives with four girls' schools  invading the top eight. Highworth, Invicta, Folkestone Girls' and Maidstone Girls have joined Tonbridge, TWGGS, and Dartford Girls', leaving Dartford as the only boys school. Both Oakwood Park and Chatham and Clarendon come below the national average, along with one provisional result for a school which failed for technical reasons, as explained below.   

    Top non-selective school is Bennett Memorial, one of six church schools in the top ten, the top three ever present also including St Simon Stock and St Gregory's. All these three are wholly selective on religious grounds, and at the top also in attainment. For the second consecutive year there are remarkable performances by Meopham School and Orchards Academy, neither of which have the built in advantages of other top performers. As last year eight schools were below the government floor level with well-below average progress  facing government intervention, five the same as last year. 

    Five of the top six grammar schools on attainment are unsurprisingly super-selective in West and North West Kent - along with Tunbridge Wells Girls'. These are the same schools as in 2016, balanced by five boys and one mixed grammar at the foot.  The Non-selective table is led by three church schools, Bennett Memorial leading the way above two grammar schools. Five non-selective schools are at the foot of both Progress and Attainment Tables.

    Orchards 1

    Further information below. including the performance of individual schools......

    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 14 October 2017 18:11 2 comments Read 263 times
  • Kent Test Results 2017: Initial outcomes

    I now have initial information regarding the Medway Test, happily provided promptly, posted here.

    Kent Test results have now been published with the pass mark the same as last year. An automatic pass has again been awarded to candidates scoring 106 on each of the three sections - English; maths and reasoning – along with an aggregate score across the three sections of 320. This total will again be around 21% of the total age cohort across the county, with further details to follow as I receive them.

    An additional number of children will have been found to be of grammar school standard through what is called the Headteacher Assessment, usually around 6% of the total. You will find full details of the whole Kent Test process here. Overall, these two processes last year yielded passes for 26% of Kent children in the age cohort.  

    One important and welcome change is that KCC are now making individual test scores available to parents who registered online from 5 p.m., so there will no longer be the anxious wait or chasing up of primary schools for results of previous years.

    As last year, I  shall be publishing a second article later when I receive more data from KCC. 

    You will find initial figures released by KCC below, together with further information and ways I can support you. I find that the information articles on the website (RHS of this and every page) with links below, answer the majority of questions I receive. 

    As usual there are hysterical and grossly misleading headlines in some online newspapers about the shortage of grammar school places, which have whipped up a torrent of unnecessary fears on some of the more neurotic online forums (often driven by out of county families). Although KCC cannot guarantee every Kent child who has passed, a place in a Kent grammar school (not necessarily of their choice), there have been no reported cases in recent years of Kent children not getting in who are looking for a place, although a few have had to go to appeal. Further thoughts below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 17:23 4 comments Read 1514 times
  • Medway Test Results 2017

     I am rarely caught out completely by admission matters, but events at the two Chatham grammar schools for entry in September 2017 have completely amazed me. These are compounded by the Medway Test results this year, when the built in bias towards girls’ success has completely vanished, as explained below.

    The Medway Test outcomes, in summary, have seen 23% of the Medway cohort this year found suitable for grammar school before Reviews take place, which is exactly on target as in 2016. However, the annual gender differential stretching back for years, which saw 25% of girls passing the test as against 21% of boys in 2016, has disappeared, with 23% of both boys and girls passing for admission in 2018.

    Both Chatham grammar schools have been suffering from a shortage of pupils in recent years: in 2015, Chatham Girls admitted just 93 pupils with a planned admission number of 142; and Holcombe Grammar (previously Chatham Boys) 106, PAN 120. This September Chatham Girls has admitted over 180 pupils, Holcombe over 150.

    The main reason for this dramatic surge in numbers is the influx of London children who, uniquely in Medway are grammar qualified for the two Chatham’s by virtue of success in the Kent Test. For September 2018 entry, there were 659 out of county passes, including 263 from London Boroughs (the largest number as always were the 381 from Kent).

    So, what do these remarkable outcomes offer for 2018 entry? Some thoughts below, together with further analysis of Medway Test results. You will find further information on the Review process and its implications for appeals, here, which will answer most queries.

    Read more...
    Written on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 19:36 1 comment Read 399 times
  • Unlawful Grammar School Admissions: Holcombe (Medway); Maidstone Girls; and Invicta

    The DfE has now ruled, as I forecast in my article entitled ‘Shame on Holcombe Grammar School and Medway Council’, that actions such as those of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) in placing pupils registered with Holcombe Grammar School at another school for their education are unlawful.  This illegality has been supported by Medway Council in yet another failure by them.

    As a result, the pupils are now being placed back at Holcombe, but not until Term Two, although they have known of the decision for over a week already and could surely have been moved much earlier if the pupils’ interests were any sort of priority.

    Chatham Boys 3

     

    This is the third such case relating to school admissions locally in less than a year, where the DFE, and in one case the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), has ruled the schools’ practices unlawful; but sadly the arrogance of these institutions has seen no semblance of apology from any. It is clear that the extent of accountability only covers ensuring that wrongdoing no longer happens to other children, and damages confidence in the large majority of reputable schools.

    This article focuses primarily on events at Holcombe/Invicta Academy, but also looks at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls’ response to the LGO finding of their unlawful actions, and consequences of the Invicta/St Olave’s scandal. 

    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 14 October 2017 12:38 Be the first to comment! Read 212 times
  • Medway Council Fails the Medway Test Yet Again

    Update: From around 10 p.m. Monday, emails from Simon Harrington (Student Services Manager, Medway Council), informing parents whether child (no name) has passed the Medway Test or not, but no scores. Closing date for Review is next Monday, 19th October, so day lost in short time scale. At least he is trying!

    Following the 2016 Medway Test debacle, when wrong scores were sent out to some families whose children had taken the Medway Test, there is tremendous frustration this year, as the online system is failing to work at the time of writing (9 p.m., 9th October), results supposed to be available from 4 p.m.

    The Medway Council Twitter account offered a typically useless response, at 4.14 p.m, after which everyone appears to have gone home:

    “We're experiencing technical difficulties with our telephone lines. Apologies for any inconvenience caused”

     

    Naturally no mention of the online service not working. Who do they think they will fool!

    Update, 8 p.m from Medway Council:  

    We know that sometimes there is a delay through service providers but please be assured they have all been sent.

     

    How unfortunate that all the service providers in the system had a delay of at least two hours!

    At present the Council appears to have provided no further information, although I understand that the pass mark this year is 495, and that results have been sent in the post, hopefully to arrive tomorrow, Tuesday. You may find that your child’s headteacher is willing to divulge the score earlier tomorrow.

    As with last year’s failure, I would have thought it worthwhile deploying an officer after 5 p.m. to solve the problem, but ‘Serving You’ clearly does not extend to this.

    Medway Council Logo 

    Those not caught up in this situation may be unable to comprehend the angst caused to families who have been waiting anxiously for outcomes that may decide their children’s future education path, but I can assure them it is very real, and unfortunately typical of Medway Council’s incompetence.

    Read more...
    Written on Monday, 09 October 2017 21:09 1 comment Read 432 times