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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.

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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