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In 2013, KCC closed Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury, as it had sharply falling numbers and a forecast intake of just 57 for September 2014. The school had already reduced its capacity from 235 to 150, but this would still leave 62% of places empty. I now have school census figures for September 2014 showing four secondary schools in an even worse situation than this. In 2013, these four schools again had the highest vacancy rates in Kent, whilst  in 2012 the only school that separated them was Walmer Science College which KCC closed at the end of that year because of falling numbers.

 Three of these four schools, Marlowe Academy, Oasis Academy Hextable, and High Weald Academy, are probably safe from direct KCC intervention because of their academy status. However, they will all have problems of viability, as low numbers work through. OFSTED previously placed all three in Special Measures, and although improved, they are still suffering from their reputation. The fourth is Pent Valley School, Folkestone which possesses a ‘Good’ OFSTED assessment, but whose troubles include expansion by more popular neighbouring schools.

Unsurprisingly, heading the list is Marlowe Academy whose predicament I wrote about  at www.kentadvice.co.uk a few weeks ago. It now has just 32 students in Year 7, leaving vacant 83% of its 180 places.  Realistically, it will be impossible for the academy to offer a differentiated and appropriate course for students at GCSE in three years’ time.

Next is Pent Valley Technology College in Folkestone, with 68% of its Year 7 places vacant. The school has fallen annually in popularity, in spite of a ‘Good’ OFSTED in October 2013 with just 58 students in Year 7. There are major contributory factors out of the school’s control, as explained below.

High Weald Academy in Cranbrook has had difficulty in attracting students since it went into Special Measures in 2010, in spite of becoming an academy sponsored by the Brook Learning Trust, and two improved OFSTEDs.  This year’s total of 61 Year 7 students, leaving 66% of places empty, is similar to previous years, so one wonders what else the academy can do to attract numbers.  

Oasis Academy, Hextable, has 63% of places vacant, but is the only one of schools to picked up, rising to 55 students from a low of just 38 in 2013, again following a failed OFSTED.  The improvement was mainly due to a temporary Executive Head turning the school round and earning a positive Inspection Report in preparation for a takeover by Oasis Academy Trust. However, the school’s situation is still precarious and like the others, 2015 admission numbers will be critical.

Any school can cope with a sharp fall in numbers for one year, but what sets these four apart is the sustained low numbers, in schools that will shortly be over half empty as the low year groups work through, financial pressures increasing and the curriculum offering trimmed.

The other school with over half its Year Seven places empty is St Edmund’s Catholic School in Dover, in trouble since its failed OFSTED two years ago, although it has recently been classified “Requires Improvement”. It has 60% of its places vacant, losing over half its intake over the past three years, but is seeking salvation by becoming a Sponsored academy in the Kent Catholic Schools Trust. It also suffers from a similar local problem to Pent Valley.

The pattern of secondary admissions in Kent is changing fast as academies can now increase their Planned Admission Numbers without regard to the effect elsewhere. There is a strong argument by many that poor schools that fail to improve should go to the wall, but this does not take into account the effect on the unfortunate students caught in the middle of closure, as seen at Chaucer and Walmer Science College. When the latter closed in 2013 (failed OFSTED and low numbers), its remaining students were transferred into Castle Community College, Deal, only to see Castle plunge from Outstanding’ to Special Measures seven months later, the school and its new students going through turmoil as it attempted to recover,

Government argues that failing schools should be turned into academies whose freedom from Local Authority control will see them get stronger, but what if they are already academies? More important than the status of the school is its leadership; and there are many examples of schools that have been rescued from difficult circumstances by outstanding leaders.

The second major factor for change in Kent is the expansion of grammar schools, some of whom are setting their own tests, or else finding higher proportions of children to be of grammar school ability through decisions of appeal panels. Folkestone School for Girls increased its capacity by 15 places to 180 for 2014 entry, absorbing 77 girls who passed the Shepway Test alone with a further 44 girls on appeal. One group with whom this policy will be popular are the families of the girls accepted by Folkestone Girls, but Pent Valley’s future is now in threat as a consequence.

Folkestone Academy was one of the most popular schools in Kent in 2011 but has since been falling in popularity. However, for 2014 entry, it still decided to increase its intake by 30 children to 270, potentially damaging Pent Valley further.  In the end, FA started in September with 20 empty spaces in Year 7, the very real problem for both schools being Folkestone School for Girls.

The national controversy over Free Schools failing to fill their places hardly applies in Kent. Both Wye School and Trinity School, Sevenoaks, are full, Wye drawing mainly from the potential of Towers School, Kennington, leaving the latter with just 135 of its 243 places filled.  Trinity has a wider catchment because of its church requirements for 45 of its 90 places. The third Free School, Hadlow Rural Community School, with its agricultural focus, initially planned to offer just 30 places, but then took 50 students from across a wide rural area.  

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  • Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman

    News headlines have reported that there were more complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) against Kent education and social services last year than any other Authority, a total of 89, perhaps unsurprising as KCC is the largest Local Authority in the country. 

    I have been looking at complaints about school admissions, exclusions, transport and Special Needs in Kent and Medway. For KCC and Foundation schools, but excluding academies and Free Schools which are considered elsewhere, there was a total of 35 complaints, most against Independent Appeal Panels and their decisions over school admissions. Injustice was found in just 6 complaints, most for delays in making Special Needs provision, several of which were resolved by a small financial settlement. I am anticipating one further outstanding complaint to be upheld shortly.

    In Medway, one out of three complaints was upheld, again for a Special Needs issue, although no injustice was found.

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    Written on Saturday, 12 August 2017 10:22 Be the first to comment! Read 155 times
  • Tough Love Academies: Ebbsfleet; Hartsdown; Oasis Isle of Sheppey

    I have been looking at Kent schools that have abnormally large numbers of pupils dropping out before completing their statutory education, and trying to work out some of the reasons. Three schools leap to the fore because of their exceptional disciplinary requirements, which are clearly unpopular with families, but I also look at several other schools of note below.

    Each of these three Kent schools have featured in the media in the last year because of controversial and tough disciplinary policies, often on minor uniform issues, designed to raise standards of behaviour and which they claim will make them popular with families.  They also all have large parts of their hinterland which are areas of social deprivation.

    However, they share two other common characteristics which raise serious questions about this approach. Families try to avoid all three when choosing secondary schools; and all three have a large number of children being removed from the school to take up Elective Home Education. I look at the relevant data below, along with a look at the approach of each school individually.

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    Written on Wednesday, 19 July 2017 10:26 10 comments Read 973 times
  • Advice on Sixth Form Non-admission and Exclusions: Maidstone Girls' and Invicta Grammars

    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 local 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.

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    Written on Thursday, 03 August 2017 20:24 5 comments Read 507 times
  • 2015-16 School Exclusions and Home Education: Medway has no strategy for dealing with record numbers

    Update: See article in Kent on Sunday. Full version here

     Government statistics for Permanent and Fixed Term Exclusions, published today, show that Medway schools are for the third consecutive year amongst the worst in the country for excluding children. Taken in conjunction with the very large number of children leaving Medway schools for Elective Home Education, it is no surprise that Medway Council is unlawfully trying to hide the relevant data as explained below and in a previous article entitled: Medway Council: Incompetent Again.

    For 2015-16, 81 children were permanently excluded from Medway schools, 78 of them from secondary schools. This is the highest exclusion rate in the South East of England, with the secondary school exclusion rate being over twice as large as any other Local Authority. Nationally, Medway is joint 7th worst in the country for permanent exclusions, and up 35% on 2014-15. Compare this with Kent, six times as large as Medway, with permanent exclusions down to 58, including 49 for secondary schools, see below.

    There were 3,295 fixed term exclusions in Medway schools, again the highest rate in the South East, and 9th highest in the country, up 12% on 2014-15. Further, the average number of days of fixed term exclusion per Medway pupil was 7.3 days, the highest figure in the country. 

    Accompanying all this are the 377 Medway pupils who ‘opted’ for Elective Home Education, many of whom will have left school against the threat of exclusion, and again a very high figure in proportion to other Authorities, and whilst a massive increase on 2014-15's figure of 239 pupils, an astonishing and frightening tenfold increase on 2013-14's 38.  

    In total, this represents a frighteningly high number of Medway children being abandoned by the system, and which will inevitably lead many to troubled lives, and long term cost to society. It clear from my analysis below that Medway Council has no idea what to do about the problem, if indeed it wants to do anything. 

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    Written on Thursday, 20 July 2017 21:37 1 comment Read 323 times
  • Academy and Free School News: July 2017

    There has been plenty of activity on the Academy and Free School scene over the five months since my previous article on this theme. There are eleven new academies in Kent, and seven in Medway, as detailed below. There are also another ten new applications for conversion and approvals for eleven new Free Schools in Kent and Medway.

    Three struggling secondary schools have been taken over to become sponsored academies.

    You will find further details on all these developments below, together with the only up to date comprehensive list of academies, Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) and Free Schools including applications for conversion in Kent and Medway which is available on this site through the links below. Much of my data comes from the DofE website and a number of other sources, including the OFSTED website for the latest conversions.

    This article also looks at matters relating to Folkestone Academy, Holcombe Grammar , Meopham School, Rainham Mark Grammar, The Sevenoaks Grammar School Annexe, and Spires Academy, together with a closer look at possibly the country's smallest MAT, in Medway. 

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    Written on Friday, 14 July 2017 14:54 1 comment Read 524 times
  • Oversubscription & Vacancies in Medway Primary schools: Allocation for September 2017

    The proportion of children offered one of their choices in a Medway primary school has risen to 97.4%, the highest proportion for at least five years. This is a result of a reduction of 160 in the number of Medway school places taken up by children from the Authority and outside. As a result, there are 432 vacancies across the 67 schools, which is 12% of the total available, up from 7% in 2016.

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

    Barnsole     Pilgrim 3    Walderslade Primary 2  

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

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

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    Written on Sunday, 11 June 2017 13:05 2 comments Read 443 times