Supporting Families
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Peter Read

As regularly browsers of this site may have seen, I have taken a particular interest in the number of children choosing. or being encouraged to leave school for. Elective Home Education (EHE) and those which have been excluded. This is in conjunction with data about children with SEN Statements, or the replacement Education Health Care Plans, who had been permanently excluded or taken up EHE.

On 25th April, I sent Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) to both Kent and Medway Councils seeking the relevant information. This enables me to produce articles picking up issues for the benefit of families.  There was no problem in Kent and as a result I have been able to highlight schools that appear to be abusing the procedures. However, the complete lack of response from Medway means I have now had to ask for an Internal Review of their failure to provide the information, in spite of three separate requests for each FOI which have all been ignored. This is the last formal step before a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which will take up an inordinate amount of Council time.  

The requests appear to be quite straightforward (reproduced below), as all the information should be on the Council’s data-base, so I can only assume they are trying to hide something in the data. This was certainly the case with the previous complaint I took to the ICO about Medway Council (and won!). There is a possible alternative that that they simply don’t care.

Medway

What a total waste of everyone’s time, but clearly the Council finds it easier to spend its time on holding Internal Reviews to keep officers occupied rather than ‘Serving You’, their trite but false slogan as confirmed by so many articles on this site.…

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…….

BBC South East is running an item on this story, tonight, January 12th at 6.30 p.m.

The 2016 Accounts for the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT), a charitable company (!), finally lay bare the rottenness behind the Trust.

The Lilac Sky Schools Trust is carrying a net deficit of £1,329,631 on these funds because: 

The Trust incurred extortionate and expensive Founder/ substantive CEO consultancy  costs for 232 days at a net cost of £217,500 along with other high cost  support  services,  central  Trust  staffing  costs that were far higher  than average,  the cost of  settlement  agreements  (contractual  and non-contractual) paid to staff who were immediately appointed as consultants by the company and recharged  to  the Trust, minimal  value for money procedures and a lack of competitive  tendering.

2016 Accounts Page 38

 These accounts are prepared by new Trustees, appointed 8 June 2016 to sort out the mess, described as emergency interim appointments, who do not mince their words with regard to the previous management of the Trust. LSSAT handed over its academies to other Trusts on 31st December 2016, and is currently being wound up, possibly with government financial aid. See below in blue.  

I am not an accountant but the shocking detail in the Report is plain to see and builds further on my exposure in the 2015 Accounts, of the Trust being run as a Money Tree by those in control. Of course, this is at the expense of the pupils in the seven local primary schools run by the Trust, and other casualties along the way.  

LSSAT Logo

For those with a long memory, I first identified the methods used by Lilac Sky in 2013 to siphon off school funds by ripping off Furness School and I faced excoriation from KCC who continued to insist Lilac Sky was wonderful for some years afterwards, the school closing in 2015, with £1.6 million having gone missing, apparently with no one noticing. Since then I have covered the appalling story of Lilac Sky through  a number of articles, accessible through my search engine, most recently here.   

There are of course many other examples of entrepreneurs taking large sums out of academies, but these normally remain hidden, and it often requires independent Trustees to winkle out the truth, as has happened here.

You will find numerous articles elsewhere in this website, most recently here, on the notorious Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust which had its schools removed by the Regional Schools Commissioner at Christmas, a probable multi-million pound deficit carried over from 2014/15 being absorbed by government, although the 2016 Accounts are now well overdue.

The Education Funding Agency launched an Investigation into the affairs of Lilac Sky, but efforts by myself and the Schoolsweek blog to discover its outcome have been blocked.

Lilac Sky Schools Limited took over a small private primary school in Croydon last summer, the Virgo Fidelis Preparatory School, as explained here, and changed its name and that of the company to Henriette Le Forestier. Comments at the foot of my article contain examples of the many concerns expressed to me by parents who sought out this site looking for answers. These concerns have proved to be fully justified, as the school has closed this week, and the company placed into voluntary liquidation, owing another £917,000.

Amongst other casualties of the system, is Knockhall Academy near Dartford a previous Lilac Sky Academies in Kent and its children. 

Update, Thursday: Further information  on Reflection at foot of article, in blue. 

Between September and April this year, 33 children at Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIS) have ‘left’ the school to take up Elective Home Education (EHE), some having reportedly been encouraged to do so, which would be unlawful. This figure is almost twice that of the next two Kent schools, Cornwallis Academy and Ebbsfleet Academy, which both saw 17 children leave to be ‘Home Educated’.

Oasis Image

 Other OAIS pupils were sent to the Swale Inclusion Centre, and removed from the school’s Register, the removal having the effect of deleting the pupils GCSE record from school examination performance, as explained in a previous article, here.

The school also sent some Year 11 pupils home early in May for compulsory ‘Study Leave’ without tuition, whilst the others continued to be prepared for their GCSEs in school. This action amounts to what is often called an ‘informal exclusion’, which is unlawful.

Some of these children will previously have endured the Reflection punishment, which requires pupils to sit in a room and ‘Reflect’ on their behaviour for a whole day, an utterly unrealistic expectation that a day of boredom will improve matters. Astonishingly, 39% of the whole student body has been subject to this humiliating punishment, many on multiple occasions. The reality is that Reflection is utterly destructive, inevitably producing antagonism towards and alienation from the school, is almost certainly unlawful as the child has been forcibly deprived of education without provision for catching up, and indeed could be regarded as child abuse.

Reports of bullying are rife.

As with other out of control academies described in these pages previously, there appears little proper accountability apart from a recent Ofsted Inspection that appears not to have noticed key signals. Meanwhile, children's futures are being blighted.....

Update: The value of the following item is underlined by the interest shown by browsers. 1500 hits in the first two days makes this the second most popular item on the website this year - in third place is the article Medway Test Scores Blunder - Medway fails families yet againconfirming once again the lack of confidence Medway families have in their Council's education operation. 

The Council sent a letter to schools last week announcing that it is changing its Test provider from GL Assessment to CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) for the forthcoming Medway Test in September. Unfortunately, the two testing providers have different interpretations of the assessment procedure, as explained here. The CEM Verbal Reasoning Test is far more language based than the GL model (which is used by Kent), including vocabulary and normally comprehension, as can be seen by a glance at the above link together with model answers provided by commercial companies. It will account for 20% of the aggregate Test marks which, together with the 40% for the Free Writing Test, will make this a highly language based selection method. It will therefore discriminate against children from socially deprived areas who are often weaker in language skills, children with English as a second Language, boys, and those who don't hear of or appreciate the change being made. The Council’s letter to schools gives no rationale for this change of approach or warning of the effects of the change, so presumably it is not for educational reasons, but simply a cost cutting exercise. 

Neither does it do anything whatever to address the other serious problems I have previously identified in the Medway Test process, missing a golden opportunity in its recent review of the procedure, which appears to have reached no conclusions. It also comes close on after last year's debacle of the 2016 Test.   

In addition, the Council has suddenly dispensed with the services of its highly experienced Free Writing Test setter, and at the time of writing does not appear to have re-employed any of its trained markers, although there is no change in the processes. It is not yet clear who is going to provide these essential skills this year.

Excellent news for three Gravesend primary schools as The Goldsmiths’ Company, a major London Livery Company, has announced a major investment of £200,000 in the schools over the next four years. This will create a new maths programme in the schools that will teach, influence and inspire both their own pupils and the wider education community. 
Goldsmiths 1 
The consortium of the three schools, Kings Farm Primary, Lawn Primary, and Whitehill Primary was selected by Goldsmiths’ after a competitive interview and presentation. They will now deliver a programme based on the principles of ‘Mastery Maths’, a form of mathematics teaching inspired by a style used in Singapore and Shanghai. This will give pupils a richer, deeper, learning experience enabling them to become fluent in mathematics, and to reason and solve problems by applying their mathematics skills…..

Index

 2017 has been a very good year for Primary school admissions in Kent with 97.4% of families being awarded a school place of their choice, up from 96.6% in 2016. This has been brought about by a combination of 267 extra places created since the 2016 allocations including 30 in one new school, together with a remarkable fall of 679 children or 3.8% in the total applying for places. Overall there are 11.1% vacant places in the Reception classes, rising sharply from 6.5% in 2016. This article follows on from my first look at the general data, here, and explores the pressure areas looking at oversubscription and vacancies across the county.

There are still local pressures focused on several towns including: Tonbridge with just one vacancy in one school; Ashford, two vacancies, apart from 14 in a school on the outskirts; Sevenoaks,  full apart from 18 places in one school on the outskirts of town; and Tunbridge Wells just one school with 24 vacancies. However, overall there is a far better picture than last year. Contrast these with: Ashford Rural; Faversham; Maidstone Rural; Shepway Rural & Hythe; and Swanley & District; all with a fifth or more places empty in their schools. 

Once again the most popular schools vary considerably from last year, with just Great Chart, Ashford (3rd in 2016) and Fleetdown in Dartford (first last year) occurring in top 10s for both years. Most popular school is Slade Primary in Tonbridge, turning away 43 first choices, followed by Great Chart with 41. You will find the full list of high preferences below.

Slade             Great Chart

At the other end of the scale, one unfortunate school with a Good OFSTED, and sound KS2 results had no first choices, and offered just one place (!), whilst another 17 schools have more than half of their places empty, a sharp rise on last year. As financial pressures mount in schools, such low numbers would become critical if repeated.

I look at each district in more detail below, with a brief note on admission to Junior Schools.  The outcomes for Medway primary schools will follow shortly…...

A story on the BBC website features a Report that offers misleading and irrelevant data relating the Kent grammar school selection process, issued by Education DataLab (EDL). EDL has built this on information collected by the nebulous Kent Education Network (KEN), the link underlining the misuse of statistics by KEN in its passionate opposition to the existence of grammar schools in the county, so hardly an objective source of data. The title of the Report, ‘The 11-plus is a loaded dice - Analysis of Kent 11-plus data’, is itself highly pejorative based on the false claim in the document that there is an arbitrariness in who passes the Kent Test, although no doubt designed to capture headlines.

Education Datalab describes itself as a research organisation that produces independent, cutting-edge analysis of education policy and practice. Employing Joanne Bartley from Kent Education Network as one of the authors of the Report completely destroys any claim to independence or objectivity in this case.  

17/05: Coming Shortly: Oversubscription and vacancies in Kent and Medway primary schools 

The Press releases of both Kent County and Medway Councils celebrate the good news that record proportions of pupils have received  offers of Primary School places meeting their preferences. Unfortunately,  both omit to mention this is because of a sharp fall in the number of children in their current pre-school cohort.

 Kent County Council's Press Release regarding Primary School allocations this week rightly acknowledges the good news for most families:'A record number, 97% of Kent children will be offered one of their preferred primary schools on Primary offer day 18 April. This is the highest recorded percentage achieved since coordinated primary admissions began'.  

You will find a full breakdown of the data for 2017 and previous years below. Whilst this is no consolation for everyone, it is still excellent news for most with the proportion of first choices at 89.1% being above the national average of 88%.

Medway Council (Serving You) as usual has sent out an opaque press release on allocations, this year even thinner and vaguer than usual. With so little to go on, I have only been able to quote general percentages in the table below. Once again the Portfolio Holder for Children's Services, said: 'It is wonderful to see so many children in Medway offered a place at one of their preferred schools, and such a high number at their first preference school'. A great pity he forgot to mention that this improvement in the percentage of pupils gaining schools of their preference is purely down to a reduction of 162  Medway children looking for places.  

I will publish further details on oversubscription and vacancies at Reception Level and at Junior schools in Kent and Medway when I receive them, hopefully next week, but you can see a flavour of the situation from my 2016 article on Kent oversubscription and vacancies here, and for Medway here

The continuation below begins with some advice on next steps if you have not received the school of your choice. You will find informaion and advice on appeals here.

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