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Saturday, 17 September 2016 17:27

'Schools that Work for Everyone' in Kent. Kent on Sunday - 18 Sept 2016

NOTE: You will also find a briefer variant of this in my blog

The government’s new Green Paper, headed ‘Schools that Work for Everyone’, does nothing to make sense of the country’s fractured education provision, seen at its most prolific in Kent, but instead seeks to increase the kaleidoscope of school types by adding even more variations.

One of its stated aims is the delivery of a diverse school system to enable all children to achieve their potential. Certainly, one can be sure that these proposals will increase diversity.

I do not propose to examine the Green Paper in depth here, but look with bewilderment at proposals to allow faith schools to proliferate and tighten their grip on school admissions. Church schools already add up to around a third of the country’s schools.

The Green Paper explicitly refers to the current large influx of children from Catholic familiesinto the country and county’s schools, this being one of the driving factors of this aspect of the government proposals. The Catholic church refuses to open new schools unless they are given control of 100 per cent of the intake, as distinct from the current 50 per cent ruling for new schools. As a result, government is now seeking to change the rules to get them on side by allowing ALL faith schools to give priority to their followers over 100% of places.

InPoland where many of the new Catholic children originate, 89 per cent of children attend secular state schools, with just 11 per cent in the private Catholic schools. Why therefore should a desire to offer Catholic schools for all drive English education, extending it to all faith schools? Surely, it makes no sense to allow more religious segregation at a time when racial and religious tensions are at their greatest in this country for many years.

Much has been written on the bizarre plan to allow new types of grammar schools to spring up or convert from non-selective schools apparently without regard to their effect on other schools or on those children left behind, or else to expand using unidentified rules to improve social mobility, so I don’t propose to add to it at present.  UPDATE: See article on Meopham School.

Varieties of Schools
A central plank of the new proposals appears to be that this allows even more variety in school structures, as if this is a good thing in itself.

If so, it is one of the strangest education philosophies I have ever come across, as parents become ever more confused about the delusion they are sold, that they have more choice. In fact it is quite the reverse, with Kent surely already ‘leading’ the way here.

In no particular order, we have: comprehensive and other non-selective schools – some able to recruit up to 20 per cent according to vocational talent or academic ability; schools with grammar streams; grammar schools; super selective and semi-super selective grammar schools; a single sex grammar school annexe being constructed where the need is for mixed provision; maintained and voluntary aided schools; primary, secondary and all through academies, the latter designed on a mushroom principle with admission at five and 11; sponsored and converter academies; one all through maintained church school with different admission rules for primary and secondary entrance; free schools; a university technical college (UTC) recruiting at age 14 according to the UTC philosophy of choice at this age, but now trying to ignore this by extending down to age 11 with another mushroom structure; one school with a specialist land based curriculum;  infant, junior and primary schools; and mixed, boys’ and girls’ schools.

There are Church of England, Catholic, evangelical and other faith schools – some able to recruit 100 per cent according to religious criteria, others 50 per cent, plenty with no conditions;  oversubscribed schools and those with vacancies, some of the latter withering on the stem in the current highly charged competitive climate; three boarding schools - two grammar academies the other comprehensive with ‘military traditions’; multi-academy trusts; stand-alone academy trusts; one 13-18 grammar school structured so that half of its intake comes from private schools, but trying to change to 11 -18, against fierce resistance from parents; federations of schools of all shapes and sizes; special schools with different specialisations; specialist SEN units attached to mainstream schools and academies, including one grammar school.

There are schools classified by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’ through to those in ‘special measures;’ schools and ‘colleges’ with specialisms, some in their titles others not, some significant, others irrelevant, including– arts, humanities, ICT, languages, learning (!), mathematics, performing arts, science and technology, sports, and technology.

We have sponsored academies run by - churches, profit making organisations, with names designed to advertise owners (including the newly named ‘SchoolsCompany The Goodwin Academy’), grammar schools, other lead schools, universities, Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (under notice by government to dispose of all its academies), the Ministry of Defence, a London Livery Company, private schools. Some of these academies are subject to being transferred between trusts in a sort of Monopoly game, but with children’s futures.

If the government proposals go through we can add to these new types of academy and free school grammar and faith schools, with ore underperforming schools sponsored by universities and private schools. It remains a mystery why universities, specialists in Higher Education and under pressure as a sector to improve their own teaching standards, or private schools generally with experience of small classes of well behaved and motivated children (easily removed if they are not!) from prosperous families are regarded with such regard in this respect. Kent experience of the last two groups is certainly mixed, the most disastrous example being that of Dulwich College and University of Kent, sponsors of Isle of Sheppey Academy.  

Parental Choice
One popular fallacy is that this diversity offers increased parental choice.

Actually, it does completely the reverse, by severely limiting family choices according to where they live or can afford to live, and what are the family circumstances.

Increasingly it reinforces the reality, with schools selecting families through their choices of admission rules. Many parents are about to find this out to their cost after setting out on the application path for secondary school this month.

This is exacerbated here becauseKentis still mainly a town and rural county, with no large conurbations (omitting Medway, a completely separate local authority with different rules).

Whilst some families in westKenthave a choice of three grammar schools, most have just one unless they wish to travel long distances. It is a minority of families prepared to travel to another town for a non-selective school, so choice of ‘suitable’ schools can become very limited.

Few families have the opportunity to choose which of the above plethora of types of school would suit them as many appear randomly sprinkled across the county. In any case, with the majority of schools oversubscribed many will not qualify for admission to their nearest appropriate school, or indeed any suitable school. Parents are given a choice of four schools on the application form, and to find four that suit is, I suspect, a rarity.

But what a task making that choice where it exists, with little guidance to help consider ethos, curriculum, opportunities, performance, Ofsted rating, headteacher style, chances of being offered a place and the many other relevant factors.

Frankly, it is unreasonable, unfair and a process that heavily penalises those families not able to cope with the complexities, or understand the differences – these being the very families supposed to be at the centre of government priorities according to the Green Paper.

It is ironic that until a few years ago, local authorities were funded to provide an individual advice service on secondary school admissions for families in need of help, but this was removed as not being a priority.

In summary, the green paper recipe is for ever more diversity, partially to deliver the chimera of greater social mobility, and partly to expand the remit of special interest groups, in the process reducing parental choice. All this is to be carried out, apparently without thought being given to the problems faced by the target groups in accessing the most appropriate school for their children. Whatever, I have no doubt that as always, aspiring families will find ways to benefit disproportionately from the outcomes of the proposals.

Last modified on Thursday, 22 December 2016 17:54

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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.

    Most difficult area as usual is Rainham, with just 8 vacancies in two of its schools, a total of 2%. of the total number of places.  At the other end is Rochester with 17% of all places left empty in five schools. Most popular school is Barnsole Primary which turned away 52 first choices, followed by Walderslade and Pilgrim primaries with 29 disappointed first choices for their 30 places. There are ten schools with more than first choices turned away, nine in Chatham and Gillingham, listed in the table below. 

    Barnsole     Pilgrim 3    Walderslade Primary 2  

    Eight schools have over a third of their places empty, up from five in 2016, but headed for the second year running by All Hallows Primary Academy, with 70% of its Reception places empty (up from 60% in 2016). Altogether 31 of the 67 primary schools have vacancies in their Reception classes. 85 Medway children  were offered none of their choices and have been allocated to other schools with vacancies by Medway Council, well over half in Chatham and Gillingham schools.  

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

    Read more...
    Written on Sunday, 11 June 2017 13:05 Be the first to comment! Read 182 times
  • Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust: Will anyone be held to account?

    BBC South East is running an item on this story, tonight, January 12th at 6.30 p.m.

    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.  

    I am not an accountant but the shocking detail in the Report is plain to see and builds further on my exposure in the 2015 Accounts, of the Trust being run as a Money Tree by those in control. Of course, this is at the expense of the pupils in the seven local primary schools run by the Trust, and other casualties along the way.  

    LSSAT Logo

    For those with a long memory, I first identified the methods used by Lilac Sky in 2013 to siphon off school funds by ripping off Furness School and I faced excoriation from KCC who continued to insist Lilac Sky was wonderful for some years afterwards, the school closing in 2015, with £1.6 million having gone missing, apparently with no one noticing. Since then I have covered the appalling story of Lilac Sky through  a number of articles, accessible through my search engine, most recently here.   

    There are of course many other examples of entrepreneurs taking large sums out of academies, but these normally remain hidden, and it often requires independent Trustees to winkle out the truth, as has happened here.

    Read more...
    Written on Tuesday, 06 June 2017 17:49 1 comment Read 579 times
  • The scandals of Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey

    Update, Thursday: Further information  on Reflection at foot of article, in blue. 

    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.

    Some of these children will previously have endured the Reflection punishment, which requires pupils to sit in a room and ‘Reflect’ on their behaviour for a whole day, an utterly unrealistic expectation that a day of boredom will improve matters. Astonishingly, 39% of the whole student body has been subject to this humiliating punishment, many on multiple occasions. The reality is that Reflection is utterly destructive, inevitably producing antagonism towards and alienation from the school, is almost certainly unlawful as the child has been forcibly deprived of education without provision for catching up, and indeed could be regarded as child abuse.

    Reports of bullying are rife.

    As with other out of control academies described in these pages previously, there appears little proper accountability apart from a recent Ofsted Inspection that appears not to have noticed key signals. Meanwhile, children's futures are being blighted.....
    Written on Saturday, 03 June 2017 12:39 10 comments Read 2544 times
  • 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. 

    The Council sent a letter to schools last week announcing that it is changing its Test provider from GL Assessment to CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) for the forthcoming Medway Test in September. Unfortunately, the two testing providers have different interpretations of the assessment procedure, as explained here. The CEM Verbal Reasoning Test is far more language based than the GL model (which is used by Kent), including vocabulary and normally comprehension, as can be seen by a glance at the above link together with model answers provided by commercial companies. It will account for 20% of the aggregate Test marks which, together with the 40% for the Free Writing Test, will make this a highly language based selection method. It will therefore discriminate against children from socially deprived areas who are often weaker in language skills, children with English as a second Language, boys, and those who don't hear of or appreciate the change being made. The Council’s letter to schools gives no rationale for this change of approach or warning of the effects of the change, so presumably it is not for educational reasons, but simply a cost cutting exercise. 

    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.

    Read more...
    Written on Monday, 29 May 2017 19:59 3 comments Read 2809 times
  • 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.

    There are still local pressures focused on several towns including: Tonbridge with just one vacancy in one school; Ashford, two vacancies, apart from 14 in a school on the outskirts; Sevenoaks,  full apart from 18 places in one school on the outskirts of town; and Tunbridge Wells just one school with 24 vacancies. However, overall there is a far better picture than last year. Contrast these with: Ashford Rural; Faversham; Maidstone Rural; Shepway Rural & Hythe; and Swanley & District; all with a fifth or more places empty in their schools. 

    Once again the most popular schools vary considerably from last year, with just Great Chart, Ashford (3rd in 2016) and Fleetdown in Dartford (first last year) occurring in top 10s for both years. Most popular school is Slade Primary in Tonbridge, turning away 43 first choices, followed by Great Chart with 41. You will find the full list of high preferences below.

    Slade             Great Chart

    At the other end of the scale, one unfortunate school with a Good OFSTED, and sound KS2 results had no first choices, and offered just one place (!), whilst another 17 schools have more than half of their places empty, a sharp rise on last year. As financial pressures mount in schools, such low numbers would become critical if repeated.

    I look at each district in more detail below, with a brief note on admission to Junior Schools.  The outcomes for Medway primary schools will follow shortly…...

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

    Kent primary school OFSTED Reports up to Easter show considerable improvement on an already strong position as shown in the summary tables below. Outcomes include 15 schools, a fifth of the 72 inspected, improving their assessment as against just 3 which declined. The proportion of Good or Outstanding Schools inspected is well above the most recent national figure, with seven Outstanding schools.  Four schools improved their grading by two levels; Aylesford Primary; Chantry Community Academy and Tymberwood Academy (both in Gravesham), taking them out of Special Measures to Good; and Cliftonville Primary to Outstanding. Two other schools, Pilgrim’s Way Canterbury, and Copperfields Academy also in Gravesham, were taken out of Special Measures. All the last six are academies. By coincidence two of these, Chantry (Greenacre Academy Trust) and Pilgrim’s Way (Village Academy Trust) are advertisers on this website, both Academy Trusts taking over after previous failed conversions, the other four Trusts inheriting their schools directly from KCC control. 

    Chantry             Pilgrims Way    

     Cliftonville

    You will find a summary of the current position for Kent schools written by Mr Patrick Leeson, Director of Education, here, although it omits the most recent Inspections of schools that have become academies and not been re-inspected, following government practice. The Kent schools affected include 11 who were judged Inadequate in their most recent Inspection.

    In Medway, just 8 primary schools were inspected with a slight decline in performance, and still well below national levels. One Medway Primary school was found Outstanding, Cliffe Woods Primary, for the second time. Gordon Children's Academy Junior School improved by two Grades to Good, matching the Infant School which retained its Good status. 

     
    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.
    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 15 April 2017 19:39 Be the first to comment! Read 373 times