Biggest problems overall appear to be in Sevenoaks town and District, where there are just 10 vacancies overall across the 27 schools, at Churchill in Westerham and Fordcombe. There is intense pressure on Sevenoaks town again, even following last year’s expansions of an additional 60 places being pumped into Sevenoaks and Lady Boswell’s CofE Primaries. As a result, many families will find their children diverted to schools in neighbouring villages, filling these, a total of 75 families in the District getting no school of their choice. It is often falsely stated that the problems are caused by parental choice, although there is a polarisation towards Riverhead Infants in the town. But, if all schools in the town and district are oversubscribed, then parents have no choice! In total 186 of the 940 children applying for places did not get their first choice
Next up is probably Gravesham, and certainly the town where I have had most concerns expressed (Sevenoaks parents may be used to it!). Quite simply, there are just two vacancies in the whole urban district of Gravesend and Northfleet, and 12 in the rural south at Vigo. Every other one of the 24 other schools is full. The two Catholic schools, St John’s in Gravesend (second in Kent), and St Joseph’s in Northfleet (last year’s most oversubscribed school) account for 86 first choices turned away. Here 129 children, 10% of the total applicants, were offered no school of their choice, five schools all of whom have had difficult histories, mopping up the large majority of these, headed up by Whitehill, with a remarkable 30 Local Authority Allocations out of its 90 places. No extra places created to tackle this issue, although I have been warning about it for some years.
Dartford’s problems fall mainly on the Western side, where not one of its 16 primary schools has any vacancies, with Westgate (42 first choices turned away) and Brent (35) both in the top ten most popular schools across the county. With just 41 children being allocated by the Local Authority, most to the two very large infant schools, there are no schools that parents appear trying to avoid; however, 222 children, over 20% of the total did not get their first choice of school. Just 20 extra places were created to meet this demand. In the rest of the Borough, there are vacancies in just two schools, at Knockhall (14), which has 26 children allocated to it, and at Manor Primary in Swanscombe (8).
Tunbridge Wells is usually the eye of the storm, but the situation has eased this year, even though several schools have actually reduced intake. The controversial plan to expand Bishops Down Primary from 30 to 60 places was once again reversed, this time by governors frustrated by KCC’s inability to sort out the problems, and with Claremont School again taking just 60 children instead of the 90 in 2012, there is a much higher proportion of siblings than normal offered places in both schools, so non-siblings have lost out. Even though Claremont turned away 30 first choices, this is surprisingly a fall from last year’s 45 when it was the fifth most oversubscribed school in Kent. Pembury and St Matthew’s High Brooms CofE have both reduced their intakes by 30 down to 60 children. Most oversubscribed schools are St John’s CofE and St James CofE, the Wells Free School, in its second year with an intake of just 24 in fifth place with 20 first choices turned away. Even though there are four schools with vacancies, 71 children were allocated to schools they did not apply for, with nearly half of these going to Temple Grove Academy, showing it has not yet lost the mantle of its previous name, Sherwood Park.
Thanet has also been a pressure point for years with parents trying to avoid a number of low performing or OFSTED failed schools. The polarisation of choice is very sharp here, with Priory Infants turning away 42 first choices, followed by Palm Bay and St Crispin’s Infants (35) and Holy Trinity and St John’s CofE (25) and Callis Grange Infants, also 25. Just four schools have all 112 vacancies between them, Bromstone, Dame Janet Academy, Drapers Mill and Garlinge. These four schools also have the large majority of the 94 Local Authority Allocations.
In Maidstone, which has featured for several years as a major problem area, the issues in Bearsted appear to have settled down after the enlargement of St John’s CofE to 60 children last year. It has 7 vacancies, not filling for the first time in many years with Thurnham CofE Infants just 2 oversubscribed. Madginford Park Infants to the west of the district has increased its popularity further, remaining the most sought after school in Maidstone with 42 first choices turned away.
Tonbridge town once again has no vacancies in any of its Reception classes for September with first choices polarising again around Slade Primary, which turned away 47 children. However, just 29 allocations to two schools suggests most parents are not unhappy with their offers.
At the other end of the scale, there are 14 schools with half or more of their places left empty; a further 8 would be joining them if it weren’t for Local Authority Allocations. However, only three are on last year’s list, showing how popularity can change rapidly at this end of the scale, and making rational planning even more difficult.