New Horizons Children's Academy
The New Horizons Children’s Academy, to be sponsored by the RGS/AFS Thinking Schools Academy Trust (headed up by The Rochester Grammar School and the All Faiths Children’s Community school, a primary in Strood) was commissioned by Medway Council to meet the pressing need for primary school places in Chatham. The school is opening in new buildings on the site of the old Medway Community College in September, with a planned intake of 90 children. However, in last month’s primary allocations, just 14 children were offered places, four of whom were allocated by Medway Council, not having been successful elsewhere. There are just 3 vacant spaces among the other 17 Chatham primary schools , showing the pressure the district has been under, ever since Ridgeway Primary School was closed just three years ago. There has been considerable political argument over provision in Chatham ever since.
The school view on these figures has been reported to me that: “It's what they were expecting, that no one really knew they were there and no one wants to go to a school that hasn't even been built yet”. Well they had to say something! As reported below, each of Kent’s five new Free Schools has opened without permanent buildings even being approved, yet all are oversubscribed. As to no one knowing they were there, the school has been campaigning loudly for the past year, and many parents turned up at the inaugural open evening, which is reported to have been a turn off for quite a few. The school’s prospectus at that time had considerable explanation of the plans of the plans for the new school, including its philosophy, but these appear to have been considerably scaled down, to provide a very basic outline, nothing about the promised progress on the new buildings, with most detail being reserved for the school uniform.
However the fact remains that I, like many others I am sure, remain bewildered about the massive thumbs down given by Chatham parents to the new school, given the pressures elsewhere in the district. Can someone please explain? Even schools like Greenvale Infants (OFSTED Serious Weaknesses) – turning away 16 first choices for its 60 places; Kingfisher Primary (Special Measures) – turning away 3 first preferences; New Road Primary (just out of Special Measures )- turning way 6 first preferences; Oaklands Infants (recently out of Notice to Improve); And Swingate Primary (incorporating the previous Spinnens Acre Junior- Special Measures) – 26 first choices turned away, are all full.
Elsewhere in Medway
Every school in Rainham is now full for Reception in September, and I suspect that some children from this area have been pushed over into Gillingham, which has 74 vacancies in total, 7% of the number of places available in the district.
Over in Rochester, the only school with vacancies in Reception is Warren Wood, whose problems span at least the last decade, as detailed here. It is now to become an academy, sponsored by Greenacre Academy, a nearby secondary school, which is also to become a part sponsor of the new Inspire Special Free School, based on the secondary section of the failed Silverbank Centre. I have talked to despairing Warren Wood parents over the whole decade and it will take a great deal to restore trust.
In a week when a survey by YouGov found that just 14% of parents definitely agreed that academy status would result in improvement of standards, whilst a much greater 55% thought it definitely would not, it is unsurprising that so many have voted to avoid new or potential Sponsored Academies. Nearly all of this group have been in difficulties, most having had an Inadequate OFSTED rating in the last couple of years.
Take out this group of eleven schools and there are just 7 vacancies in the remaining 47 Medway schools outside the Hoo Peninsula (where 19% of places are empty). The problem is clearly bound up with the problems of standards in Medway, with parents desperate to avoid this high proportion of schools with the greatest problems in the Authority.
The whole problem has been exacerbated this week with the news that Twydall Primary School in Gillingham has been placed in Special Measures, having reduced two categories from its previous Good Classification. As well as blistering criticism of teaching and progress in KS2, leadership and the support given by Medway Council and governors, the Report is also highly critical of behaviour and response to serious incidents. Although currently oversubscribed, it will no doubt be joining the eleven before long. This means that since September, just two Medway primary schools have improved their grades, whilst nine have fallen, including three: Byron, Greenvale and Twydall, that have all fallen two Grades into an Inadequate assessment.
As I forecast in my previous preliminary analysis of Medway Council allocations, the Medway Council press release is unduly optimistic with statistics that both mislead and omit important features, accompanied by a view that the council is delighted with the general outcomes. In contrast, many parents will be further dismayed by the facts reported above. Now that I have the complete picture, I have updated this article.
A calculation By Tristan Osbourne, Medway Council Labour Member, shows that, unsurprisingly, 45% of reception places are being taken up by children in schools rated "requires improvement" or "inadequate". That means that up to 1575 families will be unhappy with the provision offered.
Cuxton Community Junior School - further failure by Medway Council
Meanwhile Cuxton Community Junior School, currently in Special Measures is astonishingly failed for the second time in an OFSTED Monitoring Inspection, after Medway COuncil was heavily criticised for its failures in the first. The inspection is yet another indictment of Medway Council's management of failing schools, as reported here. OFSTED found that: "The school is not making enough progress towards the removal of special measures. The local authority’s statement of action is not fit for purpose (for the second consecutive time - PETER)....The interim executive headteacher and the acting head of school have not been effective in driving significant improvement in the quality of teaching. This is because there is no structured system of support and development for teachers. The school’s development plan only covers the period from December 2013 to April 2014. School leaders have reviewed the plan informally, but they have not been held to account by the governing body or the local authority for the progress of actions in the plan or their predicted outcomes. The governing body is weak. Meetings are too infrequent and joint meetings with the governing body of the infant school have led to an over-emphasis on the future direction of the two schools and not on the most pressing issues at the junior school. The external review of the governing body, recommended at the time of the inspection in October, has still not taken place. The support provided by the local authority has been variable in its quality and impact. The local authority adviser (SCIL) attached to the school has not challenged school leaders effectively. The first review of progress against the milestones in the local authority’s statement of action that was due in January did not take place until March and shows that the SCIL accepted information provided by school leaders on the school’s progress too readily. There has been no review against the milestones in the plan related to governance since the section 5 inspection. The statement of action was amended in January and targets for improvement in the quality of teaching were added. However, the timescale of the plan has not been changed and still does not go beyond April 2014. The plan is therefore not fit for purpose. Still why should Medway Council worry about the pupils? They are getting rid of the school to Primary First Trust, to be one of the trust's first two academies, the other to be in Bexleyheath. One can only hope this group does better than some of the others with which the Council has negotiated.
The information above is based on data provided under a Freedom of Information Request through the website "Whatdotheyknow?". Unfortunately, as I have identified, the data each of the top four Acrobat tables is incorrect, and the second one corrected at the foot of the entry after my pointing this out, as this was the one I was interested in. The other three still carry the error, but as none have a year attached it is impossible to determine this from the tables. The content of the four tables is as below
Table 1: School preferences for 2012 entry with offers for 2013 entry.
Table 2: School preferences for 2013 entry with offers for 2014 entry.
Table 3: School preferences for 2011 entry with offers for 2012 entry.
Table 4: School preferences for 2010 entry with offers for 2011 entry.
The Acrobat document at the foot of the article correctly gives: School preferences and offers for 2014 entry.
I am still awaiting the results of my own FOI requests on the same subject matter, which for some reason take longer to provide.