There has been an effective increase of 50 Reception places in Medway Primary schools for admission in 2015, although with an increase of 144 in the number of pupils admitted there is further pressure on spaces. However, my perception is that there are actually fewer issues this year, as parents have perhaps chosen more realistically and spread their preferences across a wider range of schools. Indeed, I reported earlier this year on the overall picture which saw more Medway children gaining their first choice than in 2014. Of course, none of this helps the 126 children who have been offered none of their choices, over a third of them in Strood.
Pressure is greatest overall in Rainham, with just 6 spaces in its 7 schools.
Most popular school in Medway is St Mary’s Catholic Primary, turning away 32 first choices, followed by: Hilltop (29); Brompton-Westbrook and The Pilgrim both 25; Balfour Infants and St Margaret at Troy Town CofE, both 24, All Faiths Children Community (23); and Cliffe Woods (22).
All Hallows Primary Academy has 67% of its spaces empty, followed by the new Hundred of Hoo Primary Academy with 50%, Twydall Primary 32% and New Horizons Academy in Chatham with 30%.
You will find a picture of the 2014 situation here.
I look more closely at each district below....
Whilst the number of vacancies across the 18 schools has decreased further to 68, they are spread more healthily across five schools as New Horizons begins to establish itself, having had all but three of the empty spaces last year. As well as Balfour Infants, oversubscribed by 24 first choices and as usual the most popular Chatham school, other popular choices are: St Thomas More Catholic (19, most recent OFSTED Outstanding); Kingfisher (17); and All Saints CofE and Swingate, both 15. Luton Infants has 27 vacancies, with 20 more of its 90 places being taken up by Local Authority allocations that hadn’t applied of the school.
The pressure on Gillingham schools has been eased by an additional 30 places being put in at Woodlands Academy, and the 30 additional temporary places at Saxon Way Primary introduced last year being retained. Apart from St Mary’s Catholic Primary (32), the most oversubscribed school in Medway, and Brompton-Westbrook (25), which appears to have successfully navigated the controversy extensively reported in the media, and now emerged with another Good OFSTED, applications appear more equally spread amongst the 15 schools except two which have all but two of the vacancies.
Napier Community Primary, which had a difficult series of OFSTED Monitoring Inspections before being academised by the Kemnal Academies Trust last year has 15 of its 90 places empty. Twydall Primary is currently in Special Measures but now looking as if it is on the way up, having had a torrid time over the abortive takeover bid by Thinking Schools Academy Trust, now has a permanent headteacher and is in discussion with Rainham Mark Grammar School over becoming a sponsored academy. However, it has paid the price and currently has 24 vacancies out of its 75 places for September. 17 Local Authority allocations in three schools, Napier, Saxon Way and Oasis Academy Skinner Street.
Hoo has the largest proportion of vacancies of any of the Medway districts, at 14% twice the percentage of the next highest. The only school oversubscribed by more than two disappointed first choices is Cliffe Woods Primary Academy with 22 turned away. It has been a mixed month for the school as it celebrates its Outstanding OFSTED but has also seen its headmaster arrested after being absent from the school since Easter. Parents must be bewildered about events. The Medway Messenger report refers to the involvement of the Williamson Trust that runs Hundred of Hoo School, which has itself set up the new Hundred of Hoo Academy – Primary with an intake of 30 children. This is supported by Medway Council, somewhat of a puzzle considering the high number of current vacancies on the Peninsula and other pressures elsewhere. As a result, Hoo St Werburgh now has two primary schools, Hoo St Werburgh Primary just filling, whilst the academy is half empty. All Hallows Primary Academy, also run by the Williamson Trust, has two thirds of its places vacant, the other schools all full or nearly so.
Although Rainham is once again the area under greatest pressure with just 2% of its places vacant, there does not seem a particular problem this year, with applications spread far more evenly across the schools than in 2014. Park Wood Infants has suddenly become the school of choice, with 11 first choices turned away, with Miers Court (April 2015 - Good OFSTED) and St Margaret’s Infants slumping in popularity from 21 and 28 first choices respectively turned away, to just two and nine. Can anyone explain? Just two children were allocated to schools not of their choice.
As in 2014, just one school with vacancies, Warren Wood Primary one of the two least popular schools in Medway, with 29, alongside 17 Local Authority allocations to the school from its 55 spaces, both figures almost the same as 2014. The school has had a difficult history for many years, a decade of failure by Medway Council recorded on my website last year, taken over by nearby Greenacre School as a sponsored academy in September. We can only hope it turns the corner soon under new management.
It is no surprise that Rochester contains two of the most oversubscribed schools in Medway, The Pilgrim School (25, recent Outstanding OFSTED), and St Margaret’s at Troy Town Church of England (VC) Primary School (24, also the one with the longest title in Medway or Kent!). Both have an intake of just 30 and both have leapt up in popularity from 2014 figures. They also enjoy the position of having by far the highest number of first choice applications for each of the places available of any school in Medway at 1.83 and 1.8 respectively.
Hilltop (29 first choices oversubscribed) and All Faiths Community (23) have both leapt up in popularity this year, at the expense of Bligh Infants, although this still turned away 11 first choices. St Nicholas (Outstanding OFSTED two years ago) continues to be very popular (16) with no pressures in any of the other nine schools.
Gordon Infants (part of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, along with All Faiths) remains unpopular with a sharp rise to 24 Local Authority allocations this year for its 60 places, the largest number of unhappy families for any school in Medway, but still leaving it with 15 vacancies.
Other schools with vacancies include Cuxton Infants (full last year), with 17 spaces, clearly suffering initially from its linking with the failed Cuxton Juniors to join the Academy of Cuxton Schools, run by the Primary First Academy Trust. Temple Mill, another school with a torrid past, in Special Measures with another failed Monitoring OFSTED Report last month, has 13 vacancies after 7 Local Authority allocations (governors looking for an academy sponsor), and Elaine Primary has four after 11 allocations. The total of 44 LA allocations to five schools is the highest in Medway