Add in the seven grammar schools and thirteen special schools, and the figure rises to a remarkable 82%, with Special Schools at an astonishing 84% Good or Outstanding. Combined with the performance at GCSE, which is regularly well above average and one sees a secondary sector apparently good shape at present, although changes to GCSE reporting over the past two years will cause a dramatic change in the fortunes of many non-selective schools, as reported below.
The Special Schools deserve more than just a mention, with 6 Outstanding and 5 Good assessments, out of a total of 13. The Outstanding Schools are: Danecourt in Medway; Foxwood in Folkestone; Goldwyn in Ashford; Highview in Hythe; the controversial Harbour in Dover; and Ifield in Gravesend (where I am a governor).
The performance of schools through the key measure of 5 GCSEs at Grades A*-C including English and maths is a major and increasing influence over OFSTED Grades, and the non-selective schools have worked incredibly hard to meet the benchmark of 40% of their pupils achieving this level. This is in spite of their losing 25% of their ablest pupils, all of whom could be expected to achieve this level. Taking this loss into account, the benchmark should actually be set at 20%, a standard comfortably surpassed by all Kent and Medway’s secondary schools in 2014 (except Castle Community College that achieved just 20%). Over the years, schools have developed tactics to boost their results under the threat of a poor OFSTED, such as focusing on students working at the C/D grade level sometimes at the expense of others, encouraging vocational courses that counted as a double GCSE, and entering students several times for an exam to get the best result. It may well be that this was not the direct benefit of the students, but these schools have had no option but to work to government targets. It is still no surprise that ten Kent and Medway non-selective schools failed to achieve the 40% benchmark last year, placing them at risk of a poor OFSTED outcome. In the event, just one of these was inspected, Castle Community College, Deal, and this was placed in Special Measures. Sadly, the popular North School, Ashford, was also placed in Special Measures having been given a provisional GCSE level of 38% in spite of protestations that it was 42%. The correction arrived too late to save the school, the headteacher was removed, and the school was taken over by the Swale Academy Trust.
The OFSTED Good schools were: Aylesford; Fulston Manor; Hartsdown; Hayesbrook; Herne Bay; Hugh Christie; Hillview Girls; Holmesdale; John Wallis; King Ethelbert; Longfield; Maplesdon Noakes; St Anselm's; and Sittingbourne Community; with St Gregory’s being assessed Outstanding in Kent; and Greenacre and Walderslade Girls in Medway. Most of these schools are academies, independent of Kent County or Medway Councils, apart from Holmesdale, Aylesford and Hugh Christie. These three schools, along with The North School (see below), are inhibited from becoming academies after being rebuilt through the Private Finance Initiative, because of the exorbitant loan costs they would have to take on.
For many years I have considered that overall, Kent and Medway have a very healthy set of non-selective schools, let down by around a dozen poor performers, unpopular with parents and featuring towards the bottom of all performance tables. Sadly for the students, these mainly remain the same schools, with one or two breaking out (John Wallis) or arriving ( Castle Community) each year. I don't see either Charles Dickens (see below) or the North in that category.
Grammar Schools have benefited from the closer relationship between exam performance, with five out of the seven inspected being Outstanding: Barton Court Grammar; Dover Grammar Girls; Maidstone Grammar; Simon Langton Boys’ Grammar; and Rainham Mark Grammar in Medway. Oddly, Maidstone and Simon Langton both had poor English GCSE outcomes, which appear to have been overlooked by OFSTED. The higher bar here was illustrated by the removal of the head of Dover Boys, after the school was found to Require Improvement by OFSTED.
The summary table of results is as follows:
Kent and Medway Secondary & Special School
Already, there is a widespread sense that many more of Kent’s non-selective schools have missed the 40% benchmark for the 2014 GCSEs, apparently some by a large margin, as the Department for Education has sought a more “academic” interpretation of the 5 GCSE criterion. With only the first attempt at a subject counted, coursework removed, the value of vocational subjects reduced or cut out, and priority being given to a group of 'more important academic subjects' through the English Baccalaureate, less able students have suffered and non-selective schools have been hit disproportionately. I anticipate that this effect will work through into OFSTEDs and we shall see a decline in assessments for these schools. Already one heavily oversubscribed and previously academically successful school, Charles Dickens School in Thanet, has had an OFSTED this term, and is reported to have fared very badly, to the extent that the Head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, turned up at the inspection! Like the North School, above, it is still a county school and so presumably benefiting from the guidance of KCC School Improvement Team.
Going the other way is Chatham Grammar School for Boys, the first local grammar to be placed in Special Measures (June 2013), that also had a fresh OFSTED last month. The school is reported to be very pleased with the outcome, and no doubt hoping it will be published before secondary applications are submitted at the end of this month.
Clearly, it pays for a school to have or to be able to attract able and motivated students in the new regime, as government tries to force more children into more academic courses. Sadly, we appear to be throwing away so many alternative strategies that have provided less able students with motivation and success. Indeed, even qualifications for slow learners with Special Education Needs have been devalued in the race for more and more challenging testing for all, too often at the expense of real education.
For those with a particular interest in this subject, I was recently sent a link to a fascinating article entitled 'What’s the easiest way to a secondary OFSTED Outstanding?'. This explores many of the issues now confronting non-selective schools and others with a lower ability intake in some detail, exploring the pattern of change in OFSTED outcomes over the past year although, on this analysis, Kent appears to have temporarily bucked the trend. Sadly, I doubt it will be read or understood by the policy makers in government.