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I have written the following letter to the candidates for the Conservative and Labour Parties for the forthcoming By-election in Gravesham East this Thursday for a seat on the County Council, following reception of their Election literature, but feel the important issues raised deserve a wider circulation. Unfortunately, at the time of publication of this article, I cannot send the letter directly to the Labour candidate, as neither of the official email addresses provided appears to function.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I write as a constituent of the Gravesham East Constituency, and one who has been involved in education politics in Gravesham (such as exist) over the past thirty years.

I am delighted that both of you in your election literature for the County Council by-election for the constituency, following the sad death of the excellent Member Jane Cribbon, identify one of your key priorities as the shortage in provision of school places in Gravesham, although with no indication of how you would wish to progress this. As a result, I would like to know how you intend to tackle the crisis in both primary and secondary provision in the Borough which has now slipped out of KCC control because of policies implemented by both Labour and Conservative governments. I have been reporting and attempting to get action on the growing pressures in Gravesham Primary Schools for nearly ten years, predating the 2010 peak first identified by KCC, caused by the shortage of places, the desperate unpopularity of some local schools, especially in Gravesham East, and the poor primary standards in too many schools in the Borough which aggravates the issue.  I have been raising these matters with local leaders and senior Councillors in both parties over this time and have been amazed at the lack of interest shown in educational matters......

Published in Peter's Blog

This newspaper article is an expanded version of a news item elsewhere on this website, looking at the pressure on primary school places in Kent.

There has been much comment in the national media on the growing shortage of primary school places and Kent is no exception. I am now receiving concerned enquiries almost daily from families who have moved into or are planning to move into the area and are finding no suitable school, or in some cases no school at all being offered. Others have been allocated schools they didn’t apply to and are now finding out the reasons for the lack of popularity of some of these. Key pressure areas include: Sevenoaks, Gravesham, Dartford, Tunbridge Wells, Thanet, Maidstone and Tonbridge in Kent; and much of Medway, especially Chatham, Rainham and Rochester. 

 The problems of what are called In Year transfers are exemplified by an email circulated to primary school headteachers in Gravesham at the beginning of September by the Local Authority desperately seeking places for 23 children in the Borough (9 in Dartford) in Years 1,2 and 3 without a place........

Published in Newspaper Articles

mayfield

I live in Gravesend and am regularly asked why Mayfield Grammar School has vacancies this year, a situation hardly improved when there were just 17 successful appeals  out of 39, although the school had 35 spaces going.

Actually there is no mystery as the explanation is quite straightforward and arises because of a gender difference in the town greater than anywhere else in Kent this year. In the current Year 6, Gravesham has 610 boys in local state schools but only 536 girls. The discrepancy was exacerbated by the children’s performance in the Kent Test where 23% of boys passed but only 21% of girls. This gave a total of 144 selective boys but only 115 girls.....

Published in Peter's Blog

UPDATE Feb 13: Dover Road Primary has just failed another Monitoring Inspection. Inadequate progress. Quote from "Context": "Since the previous monitoring visit the headteacher has left the school. An interim headteacher joined the school in January and is due to remain until August 2013. The Early Years Foundation Stage leader has left the school. Two part-time teachers are covering a vacancy and a maternity leave in the Nursery class. Two further classes are being covered by fixed-term supply teachers because of vacancies. One of the deputy headteachers is covering a further vacancy in a Year 6 class, created when a teacher recruited in December 2012 left the school in January 2013.Classes in Years 5 and 6 have recently been reorganised into ability groups for literacy and numeracy lessons. The school is pursuing conversion to academy status, which is planned to take place at the beginning of September 2013". How could it have come to this????

dover road 7

PREVIOUSLY: I have just come across a story in the Gravesend Messenger, stating that the headteacher of Dover Road Community Primary School in Northfleet left the school over Christmas. It reports that she has signed a "compromise agreement" with Kent County Council ending her employment and settling any disputes. Presumably there would be a confidentiality clause. A notice in the staffroom apparently warns teachers not to comment on this outside the school at risk of disciplinary action. Of course such agreements are not unusual in themselves, and usually cover a financial agreement for the headteacher to go without a fuss. Dover Road  is in Special Measures, and the tenure of headteachers of failing schools increasingly look like that of Football Managers, but in this case, Mrs Smith had been placed in an intolerable situation by previous Kent County Council decisions, described elsewhere in this website.However, in summary,......

Published in News Archive

I now have detailed information on Kent and Medway primary school admission offers for September 2012. On the surface, all looks well with a healthy 95% of children in Kent being offered one of their three choices, similar to last year. However, with rising rolls the number of children being allocated a school they hadn’t chosen has risen from 564 to 818 in two years, a worrying rise of 45%.

You will find more general information in a separate article below.  I have started to provide more detailed information on difficult areas, via the links below. 

Analysis of the figures shows a sharp contrast between most of West Kent and most of East Kent and between urban and rural areas. Maidstone town is the most difficult area, with over 100 children allocated to schools they did not apply for (you will find an earlier article on part of the problem here) and NO places free in any school in the town. Other problem areas include:........

Published in News Archive

To be updated. My previous article gives general figures on primary school admissions. 

Thurnham_2

I am fielding many enquiries about infant class appeals and, sadly, having to explain that because of Infant Class Legislation, there is little or no prospect  of success for  most appeals, apart from the following five reasons:.......

Published in News Archive

In 2009, a senior KCC officer produced a confidential paper for the then Director of Education, forecasting there would be an 8% shortfall in primary reception class places in Tunbridge Wells in 2011. This wasn't actually difficult to foresee, as these children had been born two years previously, and so the issue should have been raised earlier. No action was taken at a time when finance may well have been available to tackle the impending crisis.  

In 2010, there were considerable problems in finding primary school placements in Tunbridge Wells.  I wrote a newspaper article publicly outlining the issues, expanding it later in the year. No action was taken, but KCC explained that there wasn't actually a problem. I am not saying that KCC should have responded to my articles, but they had prior access to the same data I had subsequently unearthed. 

In 2011, the expected forecast shortfall of 8% shortage of places in Tunbridge Wells  proved exactly correct........

Published in News Archive

The desperate shortage of primary school places in Gravesham is starkly illustrated this year when, after allocation of Primary Reception class places in March, there were no vacancies in any school in Northfleet, with many children being offered places out of the Borough at a school in Swanscombe. Only three schools had vacancies in urban Gravesend (North of the A2), between them taking in 40 children who did not apply for any of them but were turned away from all three of their preferred schools. Of course the situation will have changed since then with continued movement of families, but my impression from enquiries and information I receive, is that there is still movement into the area so the problems may be even worse.

I warned KCC in December 2008 of the coming problems in both primary and secondary schools in Gravesham, but the written reply from the KCC Cabinet Member at the time dismissed my concerns. They were however very real and an internal KCC Report the following July forecast an 11% shortfall in Infant Reception class places in Gravesham for September 2011, the largest deficit of the only three Districts in Kent with a shortage of places (Dartford is next with 8%).  This enormous shortfall is further masked by the distribution of places, with a considerable surplus of empty spaces in rural Gravesham.

Kent’s response so far has just been to reinstate places at two Gravesend schools that had previously shrunk in size because of their limited popularity with families, but there appear no plans to increase numbers at any of those schools that are oversubscribed. The county believes this is just a temporary blip with numbers beginning to fall again in a couple of years, but data I have from KCC itself for preschool children from birth age upwards shows no such decline. I appreciate that the influx of Eastern European children into the town could be temporary, but the forecast appears to assume that there will be no net movement into the town, in contrast to the pattern of recent years which has also seen considerable immigration from London. Now is the time to face up to this problem and look to expand some of the more popular schools permanently before disaster strikes.

I do appreciate it is difficult to forecast school numbers, and government places Local Authorities under intense pressure to keep vacant spaces to a minimum. However, Kent is a large county and Gravesham children are suffering because of the large number of vacancies in schools in other parts of the county, which inhibits any expansion. However in Tunbridge Wells, the third oversubscribed District (also 8% shortfall), an additional 50 places were created this summer in very popular schools. Our local representatives must respond to the urgent need to create new primary school places where they are needed before additional housing is agreed, otherwise we really shall have a crisis.

Published in Newspaper Articles

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  • Rochester Independent College: Summer Fest

     

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    RIC SUMMER FEST 2018 page 001 (1) 

    Written on Friday, 22 June 2018 20:11 Be the first to comment! Read 56 times
  • Holcombe Grammar: Another Plan to Change Character?

    The 2018 Admission Appeals process is a pointer suggesting Thinking Schools Academy Trust has yet another plan to change the character of Holcombe Grammar School. It is to be changed from a school serving its local community well, to one dedicated to attracting high scorers in the Medway or Kent Tests no matter where they are drawn from.

    Currently, Holcombe Grammar has a Planned Admission (PAN) number of 120. For September 2018 entry it offered 148 places topping up the PAN with 28 offers to boys living in London Boroughs as far away as Croydon. It then declared itself full in spite of a previous claim that ‘We have the capacity to provide enough places for every boy and girl who wants one’.

    Chatham Boys

     

    The Case for the School from the Trust to the Appeal Panel is a document  riddled with issues. Most importantly it completely misleads the Appeal Panel by providing a gross misrepresentation of how the Medway Test works, as explained below. It also states that ‘students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School, steering the Panel to select additional boys who have been found selective (probably through the Kent Test), but live too far away to secure a place initially. In the event just four appeals were upheld out of some 65, by a Kent Panel who appeared out of their depth, in sharp contrast to the 30 successes of 2017, typical of previous years.

    The school is rightly proud of its GCSE performance having been second and third of the six Medway grammar schools in terms of both Progress 8 and Achievement 8 in the past two years, demonstrating its great capability to take local Chatham boys with moderate Medway Test scores through to strong performance. All this is now to be thrown away in the pursuit of glory, using pupils imported from London each year, including 10 from Greenwich for September, nearly 30 miles away.

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 21 June 2018 18:16 Be the first to comment! Read 121 times
  • Cedar Federation, Gravesend: Ifield Special and King's Farm Primary Schools Celebrate Excellent Ofsted Outcomes

    Ifield    

    Kings  Farm 2018

    Ifield School celebrates its third successive Outstanding Ofsted assessment and King's Farm, brought to its knees four years ago by a headteacher now banned from the profession, is now Good in every respect, in a very powerful Report.

    The Federation saw a change of Executive Headteacher in September when Pam Jones, OBE, retired after a stellar career, and was succeeded by Abbie Birch, moving from the post of Her Majesty’s Inspector, having previously been a headteacher in Kent.

    If anything, the achievement at King's Farm is the more powerful, having risen like a Phoenix from the train wreck of 2014. Taken over by the Cedar Federation that year, now: ‘All leaders, including governors, are uncompromising in their high aspirations for every pupil. They are relentlessly driving improvement and accept nothing but the best. The executive headteacher and the head of school model the high standards expected. An exceedingly positive and respectful ethos permeates the school’.

    The strength of the transformation can be measured by: ‘In 2017 the school’s results at the expected standard for combined reading, writing and mathematics were the most improved in Kent, with an impressive rise of 34% from results in 2016’.

    Read more...
    Written on Tuesday, 19 June 2018 13:07 4 comments Read 1927 times
  • Leigh Academies Trust and The Williamson Trust to explore merger

    Update at foot of article

    The Leigh Academies Trust and the Williamson Trust are exploring a merger to take effect by 2019. You will find a joint statement by the two Academy Trusts here.  Leigh is considerably the larger of the two, with 17 academies, eight secondary, eight primary and one Special School, with two new Free schools in progress. The Williamson Trust has five schools, two secondary and three primary, having had Elaine Primary taken away from it earlier this year. 

    Whilst the Leigh Trust is a highly successful expansive Trust, with regional hubs in Dartford, SE London, Maidstone and Paddock Wood, and Medway, Williamson Trust has been beset by issues but brings the prestigious Sir Joseph Williamson's Grammar School to the table. The joint statement underlines the differences, with the Leigh section recording the wide range of its reach, noting 'the added expertise of a top grammar school' that will come from the merger. For the Williamson Trust, currently without a Chief Executive, there are: the 'potential benefits of a merger with such a significant and successful organisation'.

    Nothing has been settled, but this feels far more like a takeover than a merger if it happens. I look at the issues in more detail below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 14 June 2018 11:47 6 comments Read 475 times
  • Oversubscription and Vacancies in Kent Primary Schools, 2018

    There has been a fall in pupil numbers taking up places in Kent Primary Reception Classes for the second year. There were also 49 additional permanent and temporary places created in the last year (after six schools had temporary classes removed). These two factors have produced an improvement in the proportion of families being offered schools of their choice as reported in my previous article on the initial data. The total number of children offered places in Kent reception classes on allocation in April is 17274, down by 121 on 2017’s 17395, and an even larger large fall from the 18066 of 2016.

    A number of schools have kept temporary increases in place for several years, so there can be confusion about changes in the number of places available since allocation in 2017. Although there are 539 new places since the official 2017 Planned Admission Number (PAN), the great majority of these have been in place for one or more years. 286 of the additional places have not been taken up. The actual increase includes 60 completely new places for the new Bishop Chavasse school in Tonbridge. As a result, there are vacancies in every District, including the urban areas. The tightest parts are Dartford, with just 3% vacancies and urban Maidstone and Sevenoaks with 4%, there also being a local issue in Northfleet. Comparison with my 2017 oversubscription and vacancy article shows the easing of numbers across the board.

    Brent Outstanding 1

    There is still no let-up in numbers chasing the most heavily oversubscribed schools, headed this year by Brent Primary in Dartford, turning away 73 first choices, followed by East Borough in Maidstone with 52 and Herne CofE Infant School with 43. Just two schools, Great Chart, Ashford and Cecil Road, Gravesham, have featured in the ten most oversubscribed schools in each of the last three years. The changes in popularity often reflect events relating to the schools such as Ofsted Reports and Key Stage 2 outcomes.

    East Borough Primary             Herne Infant

    The problem comes at the other end, with 22 schools having more than half their places empty, up from 18 in 2017, with six in both years, all of which will now be under financial pressure.

    I look at the issues in more detail below, including a survey of each separate District. You will find advice on what to do if you do not have the school or your choice here, and the reality of primary school appeals here

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    Written on Sunday, 13 May 2018 19:06 2 comments Read 1088 times
  • Turner Schools: Folkestone Academy, Turner Free School, Martello Primary and Morehall Primary.

    Last Updated 29/05

    One of the Turner School Visions:

    We follow Aristotle’s philosophy that educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,

    which we interpret as being the whole person.

    Turner Schools, an Academy Trust whose leaders have no problem with schools being profit making enterprises, appears to be heading for difficulty with each of its four Folkestone projects. Currently Folkestone Academy is the only non-selective school serving the town. It is to be joined in September by the Turner Free School, to be opened on the site of the old Pent Valley School. The Trust also runs two Folkestone primary schools acquired in January 2017 from the failed and now closed Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust and both struggling to attract pupils.

    One problem I, and surely most enquirers, have with the website for the Trust with its sections for  each of the four schools, is that it appears to be aimed at an audience of academics and teachers. This is in contrast with every other school website I have visited which set out to be attractive to parents and potential parents, providing them with much valuable information rather than empty words and aspirations.  

    I look at all four schools in more detail below on separate pages, underneath a broader look at the Trust, with the following links to each school: Turner Free School; Folkestone Academy; Morehall Primary & Martello Primary You can see a fascinating variety of views in the comments at the foot of the page. 

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    Written on Thursday, 17 May 2018 12:27 27 comments Read 4802 times