This article looks across Kent to the key oversubscription and vacancy situations in non-selective schools District by District. Thanet with its six schools (after Marlowe Academy was closed last year) is probably the area under most pressure, containing the most oversubscribed school in the county, St George’s CofE Foundation School in Broadstairs, turning away 161 first choices, just 14 spaces in one school, and 113 children allocated to a school not on their list, nearly a quarter of the total Local Authority allocations in Kent. St George’s CofE school in Gravesham comes second being 123 first choices oversubscribed in another pressure District along with Dartford, although successful Grammar school appeals will ease the pressures over the next few months.
At the other end of the scale, Dover District has a quarter of its spaces vacant and five schools in the county have over a third of their places vacant.
Kent has seen an extra 627 net places put into its non-selective schools, above the numbers planned for admission this year, and 460 more than the final figure in 2015, to meet rising rolls in several areas, biggest expansion being in Tunbridge Wells with an additional 121 places being pumped in.
As a result, the number of pupils offered their first choice rose by 363, and the number being offered none of their four choices fell by 213 children to just 428, the lowest figure for some years. However, this made little difference to the pressure on popular schools which has never been greater.
I look at individual schools below, mixed in with various news items, and you will find my previous article on allocations published at the beginning of March here. You will find an article describing the grammar school situation below, with Medway here. You will find 2015 non-selective data here.
The District sections below describe the picture on allocation day March 1st. Between now and September, many more places will become available after successful grammar school appeals.
Most popular non-selective school was St George’s CofE Foundation School in Broadstairs, with 161 first choices rejected, just up on last year’s 150 when it topped the list for all schools in the county. This is in spite of it being one of the lowest performing schools at GCSE in the county indicating the unpopularity of some of the other choices open to parents. Thanet is one of a number of Kent Districts where there is pressure on places, with just 14 spaces across the six non-selectives at present. However, there is enormous polarisation as families chase the three most popular schools, St George’s, King Ethelbert 72 first choices oversubscribed and Charles Dickens 30. Interestingly, the head of St George’s, nearest competitor to Charles Dickens, was put into CD as Executive Head following the removal of its head last year, but has overseen the school run into financial difficulties, with control of finances being removed by KCC who have taken control. The school is now to be taken over by Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury, providing the fourth type of leadership in less than two years. At the other end, the new Royal Harbour Academy in Ramsgate, which has absorbed the now closed notorious Marlowe Academy, has been allocated 56 children who were not offered any of their choices out of the 196 who were offered places, and Hartsdown Academy with 43 allocations. Between them these two schools have absorbed nearly a quarter of the Kent children with no school of their choice.The retiring Head of Hartsdown, Mr Andy Somers, has done an excellent job maintaining standards at the school under extremely difficult circumstances and is to be succeeded by Matthew Tate, currently head at the new Trinity Free School in Sevenoaks, who comes with an excellent reputation in a very different type of school.
Second most popular non-selective school in Kent is St George’s CofE School in Gravesend, with 123 rejected first choices, a giant leap up from last year’s 63 when it was 12th in the popularity list. Gravesham has come under enormous pressure this year, as I have been warning for some time, given the intense pressure on primary numbers. An additional 76 places have been created in three schools, but still leaving just 5 empty spaces in the Borough on allocation. Second most popular school here was St John’s Catholic Comprehensive, 40 first choices oversubscribed.
Third most popular school in Kent is Valley Park, turning away 116 first choices, even though it has expanded yet again, by 30 places to 270. The only other school significantly oversubscribed is St Simon Stock, Catholic at 36, but two schools appear to be in trouble, New Line Learning, with 96 vacancies for its 210 places, not including 12 Local Authority Allocations, and Swadelands in Lenham that has recently been placed in Special Measures by OFSTED, with 74 of its 150 places empty. I hear that Swadelands is to be taken over by Valley Invicta Academy Trust, which is also sponsoring the proposed new six form entry Maidstone School of Science and Technology, although there appear problems here as no news has come out of the proposal for at least six months and surely construction ought to be beginning soon for a 2017 start. If it goes ahead, this will pump an additional 180 places into Maidstone which could well finish off one of the two vulnerable schools; ironic if it were to be Swadelands!
The next two most popular schools are in Swale - Fulston Manor and Westlands, oversubscribed by 97 and 91 places respectively, most of the pressure coming from the Isle of Sheppey as aspiring families seek to avoid the struggling Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy which, as a result has 65 vacancies even after 53 children were allocated to it who didn’t apply there. To be fair, this is Kent’s largest secondary school (along with Homewood in Tenterden) with a planned admission number of 390.
The Wye Free School, smallest intake in Kent at 90 children, opened three years ago against the will of Kent County Council, but is proving very popular with parents, situated as it is in a lovely rural village, drawing off children from the large Ashford schools, and with 51 children oversubscribed. As a result, The North School, still not recovered from its Special Measures and take over by Swale Academy Trust, and the Towers School in neighbouring Kennington, are both suffering, with 42 and 67 vacancies respectively. Meanwhile the good and improving John Wallis Academy is now oversubscribed for the first time, having shed a previous reputation. Homewood School, which just filled, offered places to 40 East Sussex children.
There has been pressure in Canterbury since the closing of Chaucer Technology School two years ago, eased this year by the addition of 70 places in three Canterbury schools. This still leaves no places in any school except struggling Community College Whitstable with 67 vacancies even after 25 Local Authority Allocations of children who did not apply for the school. Community College Whitstable is yet another school to be taken over by Swale Academies Trust, hopefully with better fortunes than Chaucer Technology School, The North or Pent Valley all previously run by Swale Trust. Canterbury Academy, Herne Bay and St Anselm’s Catholic are the most oversubscribed, with 76, 48 and 46 first choices rejected, respectively.
Dartford has been under pressure since the sudden closure of Oasis Hextable Academy last year, with the three schools of the Leigh Academy Trust being collectively oversubscribed by 91 first choices, Leigh Academy previously having been the most popular school in Kent for some years. Four years ago it accounted for 193 first choices rejected on its own; but this year, the Academies’ popularity has waned considerably, with Wilmington Academy looking the most popular, having added 40 places to its previous 200, and still being 27 oversubscribed (but 94 in 2015); Leigh Academy itself turning away 49 first choices. 31 Dartford places were taken up by children from Bexley. Although the Leigh University Technical College (UTC) is only a third full in its admission year, Year 10, the Leigh Trust is proposing to expand it downward to age 11, easing pressure on the first three years of secondary school in Dartford, although undermining the basic principle of UTCs that children should be able to select a vocational course when they are more mature at age 14. This will give Leigh academies control of nearly 75% of non-selective places in the District, unfortunate if a child falls out with one of the schools!
This comes at the other end of the scale, with Dover District having a quarter of its places empty and just one school oversubscribed, Sandwich Technology at 77 first choices turned away. Many of those rejected will be families unable to secure schools in Canterbury, or trying to flee unpopular schools in Thanet and Deal. Most vacancies occur at Astor College, 86 and at Castle Community College, Deal - 68, which has had a torrid time since its fall from grace as an Outstanding school just three years ago, straight into Special Measures.
As with Wye Free School, the Trinity School, opened at the same time, has proved hugely popular with parents and is about to transfer into new buildings, being 51 first choices oversubscribed for its 120 places. The school is about to lose its successful headteacher, who is moving across county to take on the much greater challenge of Hartsdown Academy in Margate. Trinity competes with the much larger Knole Academy, also very popular, being 67 first choices oversubscribed, attracting 35 children from across the County boundary in Bromley. Oddly,, a local newspaper reported wrongly that: "All children putting Knole Academy and Trinity School as their first choice of secondary school were given a place", when clearly 118 did not. Recently Knole Academy suffered a set-back when its OFSTED rating was down graded from 'Good' to 'Requires Improvement', and the school has now lost its appeal against this decision.
The proposed closure of Pent Valley School this summer has been alleviated by 57 new places being opened at Brockhill Park and Folkestone Academy, although 34 children have still applied for and been offered places at Pent Valley, who will now need to be allocated elsewhere. School of choice is Brockhill, with 62 disappointed first choices, Folkestone Academy, until recently one of the most popular schools in Kent, just filling.
Plenty of places across the District, apart from Wrotham School which, as usual was well oversubscribed with 21 children putting the school first have been turned away although usually most get in off waiting lists or on appeal. Holmesdale Community College in Snodland is as usual the school with the largest ooc contingent, attracting 41 children from Medway, but still has 47 empty spaces. It is Federated with The Malling School, which offered places to another 24, Aylesford School another 22. Whilst Hillview girls' has just filled, the other two Tonbridge schools have plenty of spaces, with Hayesbrook, one of Kent's highest performing schools at GCSE having a worrying 84 vacancies for boys.
TUNBRIDGE WELLS and WEALD
All three schools in the town remain oversubscribed, in spite of a collective injection of 106 additional places, St Gregory’s turning away 34 first choices. 47 of Bennett’s places go to children from East Sussex. The three rural schools in the District all have vacancies, the high performing High Weald still having half its 150 places empty, despite having reduced from 180 in 2015.
As always, there was much media publicity for the 803 out of county children taking up places in Kent schools, 341 of them to non-selective schools, most of which being identified above. Almost balancing this are the 308 going out of Kent to other Local Authorities. These include 78 to the four large neighbouring comprehensive schools in East Sussex, 77 to Bexley, mainly to the two Roman Catholic Schools, 58 to Oxted School in Surrey, and 46 to a variety of schools in Medway.