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UPDATE: Whilst this article draws on a number of previous articles on the issue, the most recent contains an important clarification by government of the law, leaving no room whatever for ambiguity, not available when the following was written.

You will find the original article in the Kent on Sunday Education Supplement here.  

Back in January I wrote an article for Kent on Sunday, about the illegal actions of Invicta Grammar School in permanently excluding up to 22 Year Twelve students for not achieving high grades in their AS Exams last summer. The parallel article on my website has attracted a record 24,722 hits to date, and a flood of comments from students affected. The school dismissed my concerns out of hand, the headteacher commenting: “This is an ‘interpretation' by a couple of students- it is not accurate".  

In the last few weeks, a parallel case has arisen at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington where 16 girls were thrown out as covered in KOS last week. Several parents took legal action and the Department for Education, which refused to offer a view earlier in the year, issued the following statement: ‘Our regulations make clear that schools are not allowed to remove pupils from a sixth form because of academic attainment once they are enrolled. Excluding pupils temporarily or permanently for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful’. As a result, the school relented and all the students were reinstated, if they wished to return.

Whilst this is no consolation for last year’s students from Invicta and some other local schools, many of whom saw their career plans ruined, it is a green light for the many students in similar positions this summer to challenge any exclusion. As one parent wrote to me this week: ‘What happened to our daughter has had a massive impact on her; she is still limping along. To be honest her confidence was so damaged we don't know if she will ever believe in herself in the same way again’. What an indictment of the practice, but certainly not alone, as career dreams are shattered.

Whilst a few students leave grammar schools at the end of Year 12 of their own accord, for a variety of reasons, eleven Kent grammars lost more than ten students last summer, the list headed up by Invicta (26), most of the rest being coastal grammars and in North West Kent. There were another twelve schools with more than ten the previous year, Invicta again with 26 students lost. In Medway, I don’t yet have the 2016 figures, but in 2015, the two super-selective schools, Rochester Grammar (24) and Rainham Mark Grammar (22), headed the lists. Of course, this is not a problem unique to grammar schools and many non-selective schools aspiring to be high fliers, carry out the same illegal cull. The difference is that I can pinpoint grammar school fall-out via school censuses, as all (usually) pupils will be on two year A Level courses. However, with many students at non-selective schools on one-year courses it is impossible to draw conclusions. I will not have a statistical view of the summer 2017 picture in Kent and Medway, until the Autumn schools census becomes available at the end of the year.

It is important to stress that this regulation only applies to state schools and academies. Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges are subject to a different set of rules that allows removal, and private schools are subject only to their own decisions.

The Association of School and College Leaders, the professional association for heads and deputies, has published advice on this matter for their members, which again makes clear that expulsion from Year 12 for non-disciplinary reasons is not allowed, so there can be no excuse for ignorance of such actions.  It does go on to say that students can be ‘encouraged’ to look at other institutions, but the school cannot force the issue.

The difference between 2016 and 2017 is the media interest that has been stirred up by the St Olave’s case. I appear to have been at the centre of it, being recognised as the first to point up the issue back in January, and gave interviews to three national newspapers, live interviews to national and local radio and, most exciting of all a live interview with the BBC Television News Channel from a field in rural France on my way home from holiday!

As a result of all this exposure, the government regulations are now far more widely known and I have reports of students in different parts of the country successfully challenging school decisions. However, I suspect that this year, many other of what I estimate to be thousands of students illegally excluded across the country, will slip through the net with careers blighted.

Other schools will soon follow the example of Invicta Grammar School which had for 2016 entry posted unlawful academic requirements for progress into Year 13 on its website.  These have now been removed, an implicit recognition that the school belatedly acknowledges the legal situation, and I have had no enquiries about Year 13 Admission this summer.

So why do it? Schools that have typically placed the unlawful entry requirement on progress to Year 13, are obsessed with A Level League positions, and willing to sacrifice students to that aim. A letter to new parents from the headteacher of Invicta Grammar school this week states: ‘I am particularly pleased to find that we are once again, the top performing grammar school in Maidstone at GCSE Level and A Level. Our A Level results were particularly impressive in that we were considerably higher than the other local grammar schools. This is a fantastic achievement and one which I am sure our students will be very proud of’. No mention there of the 15% of Invicta pupils who left voluntarily or were forced out between the end of Year 11 and the end of Year 12, the highest net loss of any Kent grammar school, in order to achieve this boast, who presumably don’t share that pride.

There will be many other students in both Kent and Medway that have been equally sacrificed at the end of Year Twelve for the school to achieve high examination results at A Level. My advice is certainly to return to the school armed with the Government regulations and challenge them. You may wish to consult my website www.kentadvice.co.uk where there is fuller advice for students in this situation. In the end, if the school refuses to budge, it can take time to achieve success, by which time it may be too late to rejoin having missed time at the school. I think this may well become a goldmine for the education legal profession, as schools are taken to task for ruining young people’s careers.

I don’t anticipate the situation will be anywhere near as serious in the future, as the media furore this summer means that the law is now widely known, not least by schools who will want to avoid legal actions by families.

Some misconceptions were highlighted in comments made in radio interviews. These included that it was important schools should be able to weed out underperforming pupils, who would otherwise waste their time in the school. This completely misses the point. Whilst high fliers may be aiming for the most competitive universities, the lower pass grades provide admission to many other higher education institutions as well as (and increasingly importantly with the high cost of a degree) apprenticeships and training courses that require A Level passes and lead on to good careers. It is crucial to remember that schools exist for the benefit of their pupils and not vice versa.

Secondly, was this part of a wet philosophy that argues all should win prizes? No, for any A Level has to be earned, the distinction between grades qualifies students for a different choice of range of work or study, and for many a Grade E pass is a real achievement and it behoves no one to denigrate it. This is in spite of the media hysteria driven by school ambitions that focuses on A and B Grades only, a real put down for those who have worked hard and achieved their potential at a lower level. And yes, some students fail.

On Radio London, Vanessa Feltz produced one of the most telling points, identifying the down side of this exposure, when schools can’t expel the lower grade students in the future.  Expect those that are most obsessed with grades to put up the academic requirement to enter the sixth form in the first place, which is perfectly legal, but can only happen after a consultation, so the first consequential changes will be for entry to Sixth Form in 2019, as 2018 entry is already settled.

Sadly, alternative routes to A Level are vanishing rapidly under the financial pressures on Sixth Form provision. The number of less popular courses in grammar schools is being reduced; three of the four Further Education Colleges have abandoned A Level, the fourth being in the far West in Tunbridge Wells, and a number of non-selective schools are closing their Sixth forms. The latter include St Edmund’s Catholic in Dover and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook that only announced this to shocked students last week. The question has to be asked: is it deliberate policy to make life even more difficult for post sixteen students, or is this just different ideas and economies coinciding accidentally?

Published in Newspaper Articles

UPDATE 3, 2nd September: A Government Ministerial statement has said the action by St Olave's is unlawful. The school has withdrawn its decision to  expel the boys, and offered them places back in Year 13 to resume their studies. You will find the update here.   

UPDATE 2, 30th August: This scandal is unravelling fast. The Guardian followed up with a second story today, with more to come, and I am commenting on Radio Five in an item at 5.20 this evening. Question, will St Olave's and other schools operating this Unlawful action, or seek to drag it out?

UPDATE 29th August: At last this story has been picked up by the National media with an article in The Guardian reporting on the scandal of the unlawful expulsion of about 16 students from St Olave's Grammar School in Bromley for failing to get high enough grades at the end of Year 12. Several of these families had already asked my advice, which you will find below, but it is now confirmed by lawyers engaged by the families. It remains a hard road, as schools can introduce delaying tactics into the new term, so that families are forced to make alternative arrangements. However, if case law is established as I have encouraged in my initial article, this unlawful practice can be stamped out. Certainly, at Invicta Grammar, as a direct result of my campaign, Invicta has removed any reference to conditional admission to Year 13, and I have heard from no victims this year. Presumably this all leaves the school open to legal action from students unlawfully expelled last year.


Back in January, the Kent Messenger headlined an article with ‘Maidstone: Headteachers of Invicta Grammar and MGGS rubbish unlawful admissions claims(comments at the foot of the article).

This was in response to my website article: ‘Maidstone Girls and Invicta Grammar Schools: Sixth Form Admissions’ exposing the unlawful practices at both schools . The article attracted an unprecedented 23,717 visitors to date along with enquiries from across the country and localunlawful  and national media. With GCSE and AS results time coming up shortly, this second article is written to help advise families who find themselves in similar situations.

invicta        MGGS

With regard to the Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, the Local Government Ombudsman will be publishing a decision in September, which is currently embargoed, but I am able to offer advice below to families placed in a similar situation.

The Headteacher of Invicta Grammar School  made the ridiculous claim that all 22 girls who left Year 12 from the school last summer did so of their own accord, having failed to achieve the school’s high expectations at AS Levels. This has been powerfully refuted by over twenty testimonies from girls who were forced out in this and previous years, mostly published as comments to be found at the foot of my previous article. Although this practice is not uncommon in other schools, although rarely on this scale, no one has challenged my claim that such permanent exclusions are illegal, including the Department of Education. I explore the rules that confirm this, below. 

So, hardly rubbish in either case; instead very serious issues for the students concerned, for whom neither school appears to have had any pastoral care or responsibility.

Published in News and Comments
Further Update on Maidstone Grammar School for Girls
A subsequent article, entitled: Ombudsman confirms Maidstone Girls' Grammar has operated unlawful Sixth Form Admission rules for years, published in September 2017, sets out the truth.
 
Further Update on Invicta 
You will find further advice prepared in August for anyone who finds themselves in this position here; and another in August 2017, confirming the illegality here

 Update: I have been asked by a number of Year 12 families about any advice I can offer to current students who fear for their chances in Year 13. See new heading towards foot of the article. 

You will find a feature length article in Kent on Sunday here, widening the debate. It includes a quotation by Julie Derrick, headteacher of Invicta Grammar School: "This is an 'interpretation' by a couple of students- it is not accurate". The host of testimonies at the foot of this table, and in the media, suggests she is out of touch with reality. 

Please visit comments at the foot of this page, from twenty young people or their parents, who come across as thoughtful, full of commonsense, concerned for other victims, and well educated by their school. All support the facts denied by Invicta Grammar. Please note that whilst some have chosen to write under a nom de plume, nearly all have identified themselves to me and appear to be genuine. This webpage has been unprecedented in its popularity with 9239 visitors on its first day of publication, indicating the importance of the issues raised,  having subsequently soared to a total of 18676 at the time of the latest update (Saturday). 

The pressure to achieve results has resulted in the two girls’ grammar schools in Maidstone both adopting apparently unlawful tactics to secure top A Level grade performance, at the expense of the future of some students. OFSTED considers both high performing schools are Outstanding, so there is no doubt about the excellent quality of education offered for those young people who stay the course.  

However, at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, the school suddenly introduced a new and unlawful provision for selecting external students for admission to the Sixth Form in September 2016, illegally picking those predicted to achieve highest GCSE Grades by a process not in the school’s admission rules.

At Invicta Grammar School, 22 students ‘voluntarily’ left the school half way through their A Level course, refused permission to carry on into Year 13, a total of 26 through the year, the highest number and the second highest proportion of any Kent grammar school. This was because their grades at AS level were insufficient to be confident of the high A Level performance of which the school is so proud, Given no alternative to stay on, this amounts to expulsion although there is no lawful provision for students to be removed mid-course by schools in this way.

Further details on the situation at both schools below, along with other grammar schools which have a high departure rate. There appears a particular problem in Medway, where four of the six grammar schools saw a loss of more than 10% of their cohort between Years 12 and 13 this year. 

Each year, I am contacted by a number of young people, mainly but not exclusively in grammar schools, who are not admitted to Sixth Forms although fully qualified according to the school admission criteria, or who are forced out at the end of Year 12 because the school only wants the highest performing students for the sake of their league table position.  However, these two cases are the most extreme I have come across.

Too many students, capable of fulfilling their potential by achieving A Level success, albeit sometimes at a lower level than schools wish to see, therefore see their career chances thwarted...

Published in News and Comments

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  • Knole Academy and the Scandal of Exorbitant Headteacher Pay in Kent and Medway

    Update: Shortly after I published this article, the BBC has led with the same issue on its website. 

    The headteacher of The Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, a moderately performing single school academy, was paid £210,000 in 2016-17 making her the highest paid academy head or Chief Executive in Kent and Medway. This is an increase of 35% over the past three years after what can only be described as an irresponsible series of decisions by Governors, bringing the whole process into disrepute, and undermining the credibility of the very real financial crisis in schools, as explained below. By contrast the Principal of Homewood School, the largest secondary school in the county, had a salary of just £110,000 last year, one of majority of secondary heads around or below £100,000.

    knole

    After Knole the next two highest paid heads are the Principals of Leigh Academy and Wilmington Academy, both part of the Leigh Academy Trust, who each received £200,000 in remuneration, including their roles as Directors of the Trust. They were followed by the CEOs of two of Kent’s largest Academy Trusts, both responsible for more than a dozen primary and secondary schools: Swale AT and Leigh AT at £190,000 and £180,000 respectively.

    Grammar School Academy Headteachers are generally paid from around £85,000 to £110,000 annually, with Dartford Grammar School, the largest and most oversubscribed grammar school in the county on the latter sum. Highest paid Grammar School Head is at Rainham Mark Grammar, Medway. with £155,000 (£90,000 for HT salary, £65,000 for Academy Trust CEO), followed by Barton Court, Canterbury, at £125,000 (also a Trust CEO).

    At primary level the previous highest earner, the Head of Meopham Community Academy, has now retired from his £150,000 salary post, his replacement being employed at less than half of that rate. The highest paid heads of schools or multi academy trusts I have found this time round are the same two single standing academies as previously: The Academy of Woodlands in Gillingham, £105,000 in 2015-16, and St Stephen’s Academy, a Junior school in Canterbury on, the same figure for 2016-17.

    I look more closely at the Knole situation, and that of other high paying academies below. 

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    Written on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:29 4 comments Read 264 times
  • Medway Council fails its most vulnerable children

    Medway Council has once again failed its children, this time the most vulnerable, as confirmed by a scathing Ofsted Report on its ‘services’ to children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, published this week. The report concludes ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’. I think that is putting it politely. There are strengths identified; it just happens that all these appear to be down to the health service and not education.

    Concerns centre about chaotic management of the ‘Service’, resulting in failure to take necessary action. This can be seen from the following quotes: ’Medway’s education and service leaders do not share one vision and strategy for SEN and/or disabilitiesNo arrangements are in place to ensure effective joint oversight and clear lines of accountabilityLittle progress has been made in addressing several of the pressing priorities for improvement identified as far back as 2012Leaders’ understanding of what has and has not improved in the meantime is limited. I could have chosen many others.

    Medway

    'The collaborative work between professionals and children and their families to plan services and meet individual needs, known as co-production, is weak at both a strategic and individual level' This criticism is underpinned by the heavy criticism of the implementation of Education and Health Care Plans for children with the greatest needs, which are at the heart of Departmental work, and ‘A considerable number of parents shared concerns with inspectors that the needs of their children are not being identified and met sufficiently well’.

    There is of course reference to Medway's record exclusion rates: ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally, as it is for all pupils. Lack of specialist provision has brought serious consequences for pupils with severe SEN or disabilities travelling out of Medway daily on long and very expensive journeys.  

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    Written on Saturday, 10 February 2018 22:33 4 comments Read 277 times
  • Goodwin Academy – SchoolsCompany Trust on the way out?

    Updated 15th February: see also comment below.

    The new Interim Chief Executive of SchoolsCompany Trust has apologised in a letter to parents of pupils at the Goodwin Academy for ‘previous financial failings, which are unacceptable’.

    Sadly, this has come as little surprise to me, as I foresaw issues as early as 2014, when I noted in an article that SchoolsCompany had contributed to the startling decline of the predecessor school Castle Community College (CCC), in Deal from Ofsted Outstanding to Special Measures in three short years. As a reward SchoolsCompany took over as sponsor of the school as recently as July 2016. The school was awkwardly renamed SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy, presumably to advertise the name of the Sponsors as a priority, above creating a new school image.     

    The Academy limped on for a period, after 2014, with the 'support' of SchoolsCompany,  unpopular with a third of its places unfilled, and underperforming, although there have recent strong signs of improvement under new school leadership. Unusually, eight of the eleven Company Trustees were paid a salary by the Trust, hardly an inducement for encouraging scrutiny. After the school received a Financial Notice to Improvefrom the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in October, seven of the Trustees resigned including the Executive Principal of the Company This left the school with just four Trustees including the CEO and founder of the company, Elias Achilleos, although he now appears to have been replaced by the new Interim Chief Executive.  The Trust has demonstrably failed some of the Financial Notice's requirements for improvement. 

    Goodwin Academy

    The school will clearly have a future in its new £25 million premises opened four months ago on October 6th, just three weeks before Trustees resigned en masse, but it looks increasingly likely it will not be with Schools Company. Indeed a more than doubling of first preferences to 173 for 2018 admission, shows confidence in the school and its leadership, achieved without obvious input from the few remaining Trust members. 

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    Written on Thursday, 08 February 2018 10:43 4 comments Read 694 times
  • School Vacancies according to the 2017 School Census for Kent and Medway

    As schools come under tighter financial pressures (never mind official news, but ask your local school how it is managing), pupil numbers become ever more critical as they generate the largest part of the income of each school. This article looks at a number of issues in Kent and Medway highlighted by the October 2017 schools census. 

    Which seven Kent secondary schools have more than 40% of their Year 7 places empty for September 2017? 

    Which four of these were more than half empty in Year 7 for 2016, with two over 40% for all of the past three years?

    Which secondary school lost over a third of its cohort Years 7-11?

    Which two secondary schools, one in Kent one in Medway, lost over a fifth of their cohort Years 9-11,
    a pattern associated with off-rolling.  

    Which six grammar schools lost over 20% of their pupils at the end of Year Eleven?

    What happened after last year’s Year 12 expulsion scandal at Invicta Grammar and elsewhere?

    Which six primary schools (two in Medway) failed to fill half their places for each of the last two years?

    Answers to these questions and more below.

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    Written on Thursday, 01 February 2018 08:53 4 comments Read 610 times
  • Kent GCSE Results Final Outcomes

    Medway Outcomes here

    This is the second year of the new GCSE assessments for measuring schools performance, Progress 8 and Attainment 8, which replace the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths. The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, and is rightly given priority in measuring performance.  Under this measure, Kent is slightly below the National Average of -0.03, at -0.11.

    Meopham 2

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Kent exactly equalling the National score of 46.3 ranked 60th out of all Local Authorities, although there is a variety of other statistics provided to choose from to suit your case. 

    Headlines: the Grammar School progress table is no longer the sole preserve of West Kent and super-selectives with four girls' schools  invading the top eight. Highworth, Invicta, Folkestone Girls' and Maidstone Girls have joined Tonbridge, TWGGS, and Dartford Girls', leaving Dartford as the only boys school.   

    Top non-selective school is Bennett Memorial, one of six church schools in the top ten, the top three ever present also including St Simon Stock and St Gregory's. For the second consecutive year there are remarkable performances by Meopham School and Orchards Academy, neither of which have the built in advantages of other top performers. Six schools are below the government floor level with well-below average progress, down from eight last year, and so  facing government intervention. 

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

    Orchards 1

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

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    Written on Friday, 26 January 2018 12:46 Be the first to comment! Read 468 times
  • Holcombe Grammar loses its bid to go Co-Ed. An excellent decision by the DfE in the interests of Medway children!

    I make no apologies for this being the fourth consecutive news item about Medway on this site but, as my previous articles suggest, the education system in the Authority has become unstable, with self-interest by academy chains driving decisions.

    Chatham Boys 3

    The controversial proposal for Holcombe Grammar School (previously Chatham Grammar School for Boys) to become co-educational has just been turned down for the second time by the DFE. This was no doubt for sound reasons, including those I have identified previously, most recently here.  When the school first proposed the change, it made clear in its paperwork that it did not care about any damage a change would cause to Chatham Grammar School for Girls by increasing the number of girls' school places where there was already a surplus. It would also alter the balance of grammar school provision in Medway to just one heavily oversubscribed boys' grammar and three girls' schools, along with two mixed grammar schools.

    This is one of the worst of a number recent proposals for change by Medway secondary schools, the reality being that neither Chatham grammar school was attracting enough local children to be viable in the long term at that time. 

    BUT: Congratulations to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, which runs Holcombe Grammar School and features in most of my recent Medway articles, by being identified in a government analysis as the highest performing Multi-Academy Trust nationally in KS4 (GCSE) Progress 8 Assessment Tables
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    Written on Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:11 6 comments Read 480 times