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Newspaper Articles

This page offers links to articles penned by me for local newpapers, mainly Kent on Sunday (KOS). Most were printed in full, several were the basis for informing news stories. I shall be adding archive articles as time permits.

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.


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Article that appeared in Kent on Sunday, 28 August 2016. Based on fuller article which you will find here.

Last year the two Thanet grammar schools, Dane Court and Chatham & Clarendon, admitted 124 students from non-selective (NS) schools into their Sixth Forms, whilst the two grammars in Folkestone took in just five between them. Dartford Grammar School recruited 107 new students but just two from NS schools. King Ethelbert's School saw 48 students transfer to grammar school Sixth Forms, although four other NS schools had no such transfers.

On the surface, an average intake of 16 NS students across the county for the Sixth Forms of the 32 grammar schools looks healthy, and I have always argued that the opportunity for a second chance to join a grammar school, in the Sixth Form, is a necessary criterion for a successful Selective System across the county. However, this average hides a massive variation, as too many grammar schools focus on recruiting the very top scorers in their chase for league table places.

Alternatives for taking A Levels, the key route to University and many professions, are shrinking with three of the four Further Education Colleges now having abandoned courses, focusing on vocational pathways.

However, there are 18 non-selective schools who run Sixth Forms with over 50 students who took A Levels in 2015, all but one achieving respectable A Level Grades. Largest were: Bennett Memorial (152 students); Hillview Girls (133); Fulston Manor (108); Homewood (103); and St Simon Stock (92). Compare these with the smallest grammar school, Barton Court, with just 76 A Level students.....


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Article that appeared in Kent on Sunday, 22 May 2016. Based on fuller article which you will find here. 

This year’s increase of 591 in the number of children offered places in Kent primary school Reception Classes has been met with a similar increase in the number of school places available, and the welcome news that the proportion of children gaining a school of their choice has also increased, to a record in recent years of 96.7%. Overall, there are 6% empty places, the same as last year, but these figures hide a growing number of local pressures focused on the towns. The biggest problems this year are in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, no empty spaces at all, Maidstone, one space, Gravesham, three, and Tunbridge Wells seven, each in just one school.

The ten most popular schools this year are: Fleetdown Primary, Dartford, and Loose Primary, Maidstone both turning away 53 first choices; Great Chart, Ashford, 41; Holy Trinity and St John’s CofE, Margate, 38; St Joseph’s RC in Northfleet, Sandgate in Folkestone, and  Claremont in Tunbridge Wells all on 37; St Michael’s CofE Infant in Maidstone, 35, St Crispin’s Infant, Westgate on 34; and Herne Infant on 33.

At the other end of the scale, there are fourteen schools with 50% or more vacancies. 

I would encourage parents to apply to go on the waiting list for any of their preferences that have not been offered, as there will be movement over the next four months. This is your best chance of getting a school of your choice, as chances at appeal are generally very low because of Infant Class Legislation which legally restricts class sizes. For 2015 entry, of 426 primary appeals registered where Infant Class Legislation applied, just two were upheld.

Further details of the towns under most pressure follow, a more comprehensive picture being available  here. 


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This article looks across Kent to the key oversubscription and vacancy situations in grammar and non-selective schools,  the latter town by town. Pressure points such as Dartford Grammar, 226 first choice applications oversubscribed, one of the most academically successful schools in the county, followed by St George’s CofE Foundation School in Broadstairs, with 161 first choices turned away, second lowest performing school at GCSE in the county.

For further information on the story visit here for grammar schools and here for non-selective schools.

High vacancy rates, threatening a vicious circle of financial losses, which have led to the closure of four schools in the past three years, need to be tackled by Astor College, Castle Community College, Hayesbrook School, High Weald Academy, New Line Learning, and Swadelands School, all with over a third of their provision empty in Year 7.

Kent has seen an extra 704 places put into its secondary schools above the numbers planned for admission this, to meet rising rolls in several areas. As a result, the number of pupils offered their first choice rose by 363, and the number being offered none of their four choices fell by 213 children to just 428, the lowest figure for some years. However, this made little difference to the pressure on popular schools which has never been greater.'''


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State school educated children in Kent and Medway both maintain their above average performance at GCSE and A Level. Nationally, 57.1% of children achieved five GCSEs Grades A-C, including English and maths, up from 56.6% last year. However, both have slipped this year, Kent from 58.1% down to 57.3%, whilst Medway has declined from 58.8% to 57.8%.

At A Level, a range of measures is available each of limited value, with Kent above national average  on point score per A Level entry, and below on percentage of students achieving three A Levels. In Medway, measures are generally slightly below national averages.

The Government twist on the GCSE story that any school below the government floor target of 40% of children gaining 5 Grades A-C including English and maths is failing is simply not valid in a selective county such as Kent. This is because on average 25 children out of every hundred all of whom should have reached the floor target are taken away from our non-selective schools. Simple arithmetic shows that removing these brings the floor target for non-selective schools down to 20% and by that measure, all but four in Kent are succeeding. My bigger concern is that too many selective schools are under achieving.

For me, the outstanding Kent highlights are: High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, at 59%, up from 31% in 2014, seventh best non-selective in Kent, still suffering from unfair lack of popularity with parents, dating back to its pre academy status as an OFSTED failed school; Bennett Memorial in Tunbridge Wells, at 72% still regularly highest performing non-selective school in Kent, Folkestone School for Girls, one of just two grammar schools with 100%, with Chatham Grammar School for Boys, on 99%, best performing Medway grammar, but in Special Measures just two years previously.  Dover Grammar School for Girls, the highest performing school in Kent at A Level, by point score per student comes above all the prestigious and super-selective grammar schools....


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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.....


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 Kent Test Presentation

21 October 2015

NOTE: This presentation was made the day before KCC announced, on the initiative of the Leader, Paul Carter, that a commission was to be set up to explore wider access to grammar schools. My presentation closes with a section below that addresses precisely this issue.

I have amplified the presentation in places to pick up several discussion points.

You will find my article about the Conference here

Kent Test Conference

Photo of Matthew Bartlett at Kent Test Conference
Courtesy of Kent on Sunday

This presentation explores two main themes: admission to Kent grammar schools and the Kent Test. Some may think these are the same, but the reality is that the Kent Test provides only part of the opportunity for children to gain entry to grammar school, with alternative routes being such that there are no two grammar schools out of the 32 in Kent (nor indeed of the six in Medway), that have the same expectation of potential applicants.

Of course the hot news of the moment is the new annex in Sevenoaks and how it will affect school admissions, and I will also say a few words about that......


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Teaching is one of the most important professions in the country, as we place the futures of our children in the hands of our teachers. Good teachers enable young people to achieve their full academic and career potential, also developing their interests, and preparing them as citizens to play a full part in our society.

However, state school teaching is facing a crisis as Department for Education figures show that almost 50,000 teachers left the profession in the 12 months to November 2013 – the latest year for which figures are available. This is an increase of 25 per cent over four years and represents around one in twelve of the number of full time teachers. Almost 4 in 10 leave the profession within a year of qualifying, a rate which has almost tripled in six years. A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders found that more than two-thirds of secondary school head teachers and deputies in England are considering taking early retirement with most blaming an excessive workload. The survey also showed that few deputy and assistant heads wanted to step up to become head teachers with only 25% are considering such a promotion. Another report records that one in four academy heads left post in 2014.

This article explores some of the reasons for this exodus, pointing critically to government policy and practices in some schools.....


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Latest News & Comments

Just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the 800 or so regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item. If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment. Also feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk. \nNews items appear as and when I have time in a very busy schedule supporting clients.

  • Kent and Medway Primary Allocations for September 2017

    The Press releases of both Kent County and Medway Councils celebrate the good news that record proportions of pupils have received  offers of Primary School places meeting their preferences. Unfortunately,  both omit to mention this is because of a sharp fall in the number of children in their current pre-school cohort.

     Kent County Council's Press Release regarding Primary School allocations this week rightly acknowledges the good news for most families:'A record number, 97% of Kent children will be offered one of their preferred primary schools on Primary offer day 18 April. This is the highest recorded percentage achieved since coordinated primary admissions began'.  

      You will find a full breakdown of the data for 2017 and previous years below. Whilst this is no consolation for everyone, it is still excellent news for most with the proportion of first choices at 89.1% being above the national average of 88%.

    Medway Council (Serving You) as usual has sent out an opaque press release on allocations, this year even thinner and vaguer than usual. With so little to go on, I have only been able to quote general percentages in the table below. Once again the Portfolio Holder for Children's Services, said: 'It is wonderful to see so many children in Medway offered a place at one of their preferred schools, and such a high number at their first preference school'. A great pity he forgot to mention that this improvement in the percentage of pupils gaining schools of their preference is purely down to a reduction of 162  Medway children looking for places.  

    I will publish further details on oversubscription and vacancies at Reception Level and at Junior schools in Kent and Medway when I receive them, hopefully next week, but you can see a flavour of the situation from my 2016 article on Kent oversubscription and vacancies here, and for Medway here

    The continuation below begins with some advice on next steps if you have not received the school of your choice. You will find informaion and advice on appeals here.

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    Written on Tuesday, 18 April 2017 17:31 Be the first to comment! Read 148 times
  • Eleven New Kent and Medway Free Schools

    Updated with further information on Rochester Riverside Church of England Primary School.

    Government has today announced approval for eleven new Free schools in Kent and Medway, amongst 131 nationally. These “exclude those meeting a need identified by Local Authorities”. They contain some familiar names, and some wholly new to Kent or Medway. You will find a full list here.

    The prospect of one or more becoming grammar schools is signalled by the government statement.

    I look further at the individual schools below and will update this article as I learn new information. The article concludes with an explanation of the distinction between the terms 'academy' and 'free school'. 

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    Written on Wednesday, 12 April 2017 22:47 4 comments Read 606 times
  • Medway Non-Selective Allocations 2017: Oversubscription and Vacancies
    This article looks at the key oversubscription and vacancy situation in Medway non-selective schools, following secondary allocations at the beginning of March.
    The headline figure for all secondary allocations shows a seriously worsening picture, with a fall of over 5% in the proportion of Medway children being offered their first choice of school, and a near doubling of the number getting none of their choices from 77 to 145 children. According to Cabinet Member Martin Potter in a press release, “This is great news”! See my previous article for initial figures.
     
    There were just 14 additional places created above the final intakes for 2016, all at Strood and Thomas Aveling Academies. However, with a hundred extra children accommodated in Medway’s non-selective schools, this produced a doubling of children being offered none of their choices, instead becoming Local Authority Allocated Children (LAAC) at schools with vacancies.

    Most popular non-selective school is once again Brompton Academy, disappointing 177 first choices, well up on 2016’s figure of 108.

    Brompton Academy

    Five of the eleven non-selective schools had vacancies, most at Victory Academy with 30% empty spaces, in spite of having 30 children allocated who were given no school of their choice.

      
    After allocation, there were 140* empty spaces in all, a just manageable 5.6% of the total thanks to a net outflow of 60 children. However,  more vacancies will be created through successful grammar school appeals and considerable churning will follow as the more popular schools refill.
     
    There is now a sharp polarisation of popularity in Medway, with families clamouring for places in the three most popular schools, the three at the other end accepting 106 LAACs between them.
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    Written on Sunday, 09 April 2017 20:04 Be the first to comment! Read 260 times
  • Medway Test and Grammar School Allocations 2017, including Oversubscription Levels

    This article looks at the final outcomes of the Medway Test and its effect on individual grammar school allocations in March.

    Last year I wrote an article exposing the failure by Medway Council to set the Medway Test pass mark correctly in 2015, and for some years previously, revealing the fact that some 70 Medway children were deprived of grammar school places by a miscalculation. This produced a success rate after Reviews were taken into account of just 23% for Medway children. Perhaps it was article that produced a change in practice and this year the success rate has risen to 25.1%, almost exactly the target level. However, just 25 Medway pupils were found selective after Review, as against a target of 68. There is yet again serious bias towards girls and older children.

    The increase in the success rate has produced an extra 125 pupils eligible for grammar school (an increase in pupil numbers contributing to this) placing enormous pressure on the capacity of all Medway grammar schools, so that there are just 6 vacancies in just one school, in spite of an extra 70 grammar places being added.  

    The headline figure for all secondary allocations, including non-selective schools, shows a seriously worsening picture, with a fall of over 5% in the proportion of Medway children being offered their first choice of school, and a near doubling of the number getting none of their choices from 77 to 145 children. According to Cabinet Member Martin Potter in a press release, “This is great news”! See my previous article for initial figures.

    Most oversubscribed school is Rochester Grammar, turning away 87 grammar qualified first preferences even after expanding its intake by 25 girls. The pressure for grammar school places from children living in London Boroughs, with 64 being offered, continues as explained below. I also look more closely at individual grammar schools and the Medway Test analysis.

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    Written on Wednesday, 05 April 2017 05:58 Be the first to comment! Read 296 times
  • Oversubscription and vacancies in Kent non-selective schools on allocation for September 2017

     This article looks across Kent to the main oversubscription and vacancy situations in non-selective schools District by District. Thanet is the area under most pressure, with not a single vacancy in any of its six schools on allocation of places on 1st March. 166 Thanet children have no school of their choice, over a quarter of the county total. The District also contains two of the county’s three most oversubscribed schools, St George’s CofE Foundation and King Ethelbert’s Schools. The other is Valley Park, Maidstone.

        St Georges Foundation   Valley 2

    Five other Districts have just one non-selective schools with vacancies: Dartford; Sevenoaks; Shepway (two spaces); Swale; and Tunbridge Wells. It is not surprising that Roger Gough, KCC Cabinet Member for Education described this as a 'challenging year' for secondary school allocation.

    At the other end of the scale, Dover District has a quarter of its Year 7 desks vacant and six schools in the county have over a third of their places unfilled. 

    I look at individual schools below, mixed in with various news items and a look at cross border movement both in and out of Kent. 

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    Written on Saturday, 25 March 2017 18:58 Be the first to comment! Read 862 times
  • Oversubscription and vacancies in Kent Grammar Schools on allocation for September 2017

     This article looks across Kent to the key oversubscription and vacancy situations in grammar schools. The main pressure point is in North West Kent with applications from SE London and north of the Thames growing annually and strongly. Dartford Grammar leads the way the number of grammar school qualified first choice applications oversubscribed soaring to 257 (226 in 2016). It is followed by Dartford Girls with 188, again up sharply from 119 in 2016. These two are now the most oversubscribed schools of all types in Kent and Medway. 

    dgs            dggs 2

    Then come the three West Kent super selectives: Tonbridge 151 (142 in 2016); Skinners 143 (119); and Judd 102 (97). This is followed by a large gap down to Wilmington Girls at 58 first choices turned away. At the other end of the scale, eight grammar schools in Maidstone and the East of the county had 240 vacancies amongst them. Kent has seen an additional 192 places (net) put into its grammar schools this year, to meet rising rolls in several areas.

    I look more closely at individual schools below, and you will find my preliminary article on allocations published at the beginning of March here, including cut-offs for super-selective grammars, and for 2016 here. You will find a similar article on non-selective schools here, with Medway schools to follow.

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    Written on Saturday, 25 March 2017 12:38 7 comments Read 992 times