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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.

  • Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School: Headteacher Resigns following KCC Investigation

    UPDATE 24th March: The comments at the foot of this article give a wide range of perspectives about the issues. 

    Jane Robinson, headteacher of Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School, has resigned following an intensive four month Investigation into her actions by a former Interim Director of Education for the County, Professor Ian Craig, which reported three weeks ago. A KCC Press statement states that ‘Following his review of the findings the Chair of Governors considers that a number of actions should be put in place.’ These actions will no doubt have been instrumental in her decision to go, effective from 30th April. 

    Simon Langton Girls

    You will find a copy of Chairman's letter notifying parents here, completely devoid of any thanks for Mrs Robinson's services, a failure echoed by the Press Statement, which speaks volumes. I understand that if she had not resigned, she would be facing disciplinary action. It is not at present clear if there has been any financial settlement, but it is likely according to precedent. Mrs Robinson has been absent from the school for about two weeks, leading to speculation that she has been suspended and it is unclear, although surely unlikely, if she will return to the school before her resignation becomes effective.

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    Written on Monday, 13 March 2017 19:18 8 comments Read 2134 times
  • Possible new Free Schools in Kent, including Grammar Schools

    This article looks at way the plans of the government to invest £320 million in new free schools including possible grammar schools might impinge on Kent and Medway. The proposal is to fund  an initial 30 free schools including some grammar schools in the life of this parliament, as well as helping with the pre-opening capital costs of some of the remaining 110 free schools due to open later. The investment is on top of the current commitment to 500 new schools. 

    With all new schools being required to be Free Schools under current legislation, most of this money should be targeted at areas where there is most pressure on provision, although until now this has not always been the situation. One can only hope that government will work more closely with Local Authorities in the future to ensure that new schools are only provided where they are needed.

    There are clear areas of present interest in Kent for this limited extra funding. However, on the scale of the investment one can see no more than one or two of the following being taken forward: a possible new grammar school in Herne/Bay Whitstable; additional grammar provision to meet the expanding pressure from London families for places in North West Kent and now Medway grammars; the limited provision of grammar school places in the Wealden area ; the single sex-grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks; the strange proposal to turn Meopham School into a grammar; a range of non-selective pressure areas where new schools are planned (previous funding) or could make sense; together with Primary and Special Schools in a number of areas. Then as always there is Medway…..

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    Written on Friday, 10 March 2017 19:37 Be the first to comment! Read 303 times
  • Kent and Medway Secondary School Allocations 2017: Initial statistics and advice

    UPDATE 25 March: Following numerous enquiries, I confirm I shall be publishing three articles looking more closely at allocations, including oversubscription and out of county levels next week. These are for Kent grammar, Kent non-selective and Medway secondary schools. 

    The increasing numbers of Kent and Medway children applying for secondary school places has created different outcomes for children in the two Authorities. Whilst Kent has seen nearly 300 more children offered their first preference school and a total of 743 new places above the final Planned Admission Numbers (PAN) of 2016 (see below), there is still a slight dip in the number of  successful first preferences, by 0.9 per cent to 85%  Sadly, 616 children did not get any of their choices which, whilst more than last year, is still better than 2015 and most previous years. KCC has been working hard negotiating with popular schools to admit additional pupils with considerable success, in what they describe as “a challenging year”. The number of out of county children being awarded Kent places has hardly changed from 2016, settling at 810, although some of these will drop out as local alternatives present themselves.

    The picture is very different in Medway although it is hard to be precise for, as always, their data and press release are very skimpy, the latter also being ridiculously upbeat and positive. However, the bottom line is that there is a fall of over 5% in the proportion of children being offered their first choice of school, and a near doubling of the number getting none of their choices from 77 to 142 children (approximate figures I have calculated from the percentages given). According to Cabinet Member Martin Potter “This is great news”!

    As well as more information, and the tables of outcomes below, you will find a District by District survey of the information I have at present, required scores for super-selective schools, and initial advice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

    I will update this article as I receive further information. As always, when I get a school by school breakdown, I shall publish a fuller analysis, the 2016 articles for Kent grammars here, non-selectives here and Medway schools here.  

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    Written on Tuesday, 28 February 2017 19:23 6 comments Read 1939 times
  • Website Review of the Year 2016

    This article looks back on the website and my services over the past year (and a bit) since January 2016.

    The year again proved very busy with 114,608 different browsers making a total of 181,752 visits. I published 72 news and comment items, the most popular being “Maidstone Girls and Invicta Grammar Schools: Sixth Form Admissions”, with an astonishing 20,511 hits in the six weeks since publication last month. Next was “Kent Reception and Junior School Allocations  2016: Oversubscription and Vacancies”, the 14 most popular pages being listed below.

    Much of the information accessed from the right hand side of each page has been present and regularly updated since this version of the website was launched in 2010. Unsurprisingly the most popular page provides information and advice on ‘Kent Grammar School Applications’ with a total of 255,106 visitors since then.

    In addition, the site now has around a thousand subscribers, including most importantly the many parents for whom the site is primarily intended. It is also tracked by local and national media, state and private schools, local and national government officers, and politicians. Further information about the website, stories I have covered, and other matters below.

    I have now decided to retire completely from my Personal Appeals Advice Service begun in 2003, but am continuing with my telephone consultancy which offers an advisory service for school appeals and other education matters, as explained here.

    The website will continue and expand as time permits. As you can see, I have now started to accept appropriate advertisements and welcome enquiries.

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    Written on Tuesday, 14 February 2017 20:37 1 comment Read 347 times
  • Academy and UTC news in Kent and Medway, to February

    This article covers the opening of ten new primary academies, with a further eleven primary school proposals to become academies in Kent and Medway over the past five months.

    I also look at academies under pressure because of falling rolls – Swadelands, Hayesbrook, New Line Learning and High Weald; more secondary headteachers lose their jobs – together with the numbers crisis at Kent’s first UTC.

    Two new secondary schools are now on the stocks in Maidstone and Dartford, and the number of all through academies for pupils aged 4-19 is doubling to four, with Kent's two St George's CofE secondary schools expanding to take in at primary age.

    I also cover a range of grammar school issues in Maidstone, West and North West Kent, and Chatham......

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    Written on Sunday, 05 February 2017 05:58 Be the first to comment! Read 905 times
  • Jane Porter, previously Executive Headteacher Whitehill Primary School, prohibited from Teaching Indefinitely

    Update (Friday 10th): The Gravesend Messenger this week has published a three page article about Jane Porter, including the front page, as well as an internet comment section further back. 

    Jane Porter, formerly Executive Headteacher of Whitehill Primary School in Gravesend, has been found guilty of Professional Misconduct.

    Jane Porter 2

    The Professional Conduct Panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership published the decision on Friday, taken on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education.

    Ms Jane Porter is prohibited from teaching indefinitely and cannot teach in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. Furthermore, in view of the seriousness of the allegations found proved against her, I have decided that Ms Porter shall not be entitled to apply for restoration of her eligibility to teach” (although she has right of appeal to the High Court within 28 days).  

    Whilst being in temporary post as Executive Headteacher of Kings Farm Primary School, at the same time as substantive head of Whitehill Primary in Gravesend, the Panel found that “it is evident that throughout her time at the school, Ms Porter had a cavalier disregard of key rules and procedures…Throughout these proceedings, Ms Porter showed no remorse for her actions and demonstrated a lack of compassion”. The panel found that Ms Porter "Having engaged in sustained and serious bullying, whilst failing to manage the running of the school the results of which included breaches in health and safety and safeguarding"…

     Some of the many issues are explored further below; others are contained in the series of articles I have previously written on this website........

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    Written on Friday, 03 February 2017 22:44 8 comments Read 3010 times