Educationally I have found 2016 the most depressing I can recall. Too many news articles illustrate examples of a breakdown in accountability, personal greed and ruthless hunger for power, loss of integrity including ‘alternative facts’ that are allowed to stand without challenge by those who should stand up for the rights of children and teachers, all encouraged by partisan and political policy making to support polemic ideas, at the expense of rather than the support of educating the next generation. However, measured against this I must acknowledge the work of the large majority of dedicated teachers, headteachers and governors still drawn to a profession and vocation crucial to the future of this country, committed to providing the best education possible, and who keep going despite all.
I have been drawn into many of the issues covered, by parents (and in some cases members of Governing Bodies, teachers and headteachers informally) seeking advice, and my telephone consultancy has never been busier. Can I also thank the many people who keep me informed of what is going on in our county; your information is invaluable.
In the information pages of the site, after Kent Grammar School Applications come: Kent Special Schools & Units (awaiting a serious update); Kent Secondary School Admissions; Medway Grammar School Applications; Kent Grammar School Appeals; Kent Secondary Statistics on Admissions & Appeals; In Year Admissions; and Primary School Admissions, many of these items being drawn on by media to illustrate stories. These popular choices from the 150 pages of information provided show the insatiable appetite for hard-nosed information and advice on securing school places, and the important gap this website fills in the information provided elsewhere. It is an enormous task trying to keep these pages up to date, and I am currently overhauling the Individual School Information Pages for Medway (finished) and Kent, just started. I am always happy to respond to requests for additional or more recent information if relevant. There is also a large News Archive Section where I move older items which may still be of interest. Way out in front of these is an article I wrote in 2014 on the controversial closure of Chaucer Technology College in Canterbury, which has attracted an astonishing 159,423 visitors since then. Seven(!) other articles on the school's decline and fall have averaged over thirty thousand hits each confirming the interest shown in this debacle. There are also 61 Newspaper Articles I have written, mainly for Kent on Sunday.
An article I wrote about ‘alternative facts’ (which preceded Trumpism) relating to grammar school matters, has attracted considerable attention although the content of the websites concerned has changed considerably as a consequence.
The Sevenoaks grammar school Annexe will be opening in September, having attracted much press comment since the original seriously flawed proposal was put forward in 2012. I have reported on developments ever since, but have chosen to ignore the many rather pointless efforts to scupper the current scheme first proposed two years later.
In spite of alarmist media stories about the pressure on grammar school places especially in West Kent, there has been sufficient capacity in the system to date, eased this year by additional classes of entry being added at The Judd and Tonbridge Grammar Schools. Far less attention has been made to the harmful effects of the London overspill into North Kent grammars that I have followed and regularly reported. The surge started in Dartford, but has now followed through to Gravesend and increasingly into Medway, especially concerning to local children seeking places through appeals, more so since my 2014 article.
Six of Kent and Medway’s 38 grammar schools now offer their own admission tests as an alternative way of entry, increasing pass rates, at least 14 more offering some or all of their places to high scoring children. The two Dartford grammar schools have both responded enthusiastically to the attraction of high scoring London children, and now also limit local places to the best performers. Other grammar schools have gone in the opposite direction, the super-selective Judd School and the two Wilmington grammars now giving priority to Kent children.
Overall, through own school tests and an increase in successful grammar school appeals, the proportion of children in Year 7 at Kent grammar schools has continued to rise inexorably to 31.2% this year up from 2015-16’s 29.9%, making the best estimate for out of county children.
I have covered and contributed to the extensive and welcome debate on widening admissions to Kent grammar schools led by Kent County Council in 2016, which is now leading the way with a policy containing explicit proposals towards improving social mobility in grammar schools. This has also contributed to an increasing number of over-subscribed local grammars including the three West Kent super-selectives making some places available for children on Pupil Premium.
The worst case of variety in Kent is undoubtedly the Leigh University Technical College, Kent’s first new 14 – 19 school intended to provide a semi-vocational education backed up by business and Higher Education. In its third year of operation, the UTC only attracted 38 students into Year 10, filling just 25% of places, a pattern replicated in many other parts of the country. However, by contrast the new Medway UTC managed to fill this year.
I have exposed several examples of the lack of accountability on the website, but there are of course many good Academy Trusts that have not forgotten their prime responsibility, providing the best education possible for their students. Unfortunately, these do not receive public recognition often enough, OFSTED and school league tables only offering a partial picture. So I, like many other commentators, focus on the controversial examples of which there are too many in the county as elsewhere. Profit making at the expense of educational provision is increasingly more blatant, with some owners and leaders of Trusts taking much needed funds out of academy budgets, forcing economies, a common one being the shedding of expensive (experienced) staff and replacing them with expendable NQTs, Teaching Assistants or non-qualified staff.
Academies appear by definition to be self-interested, looking after their own with the result that they don’t have to worry about other children in the community. One negative result is that exclusion results can be high, and there are increasing examples of older children being encouraged to ‘home educate’ to avoid dragging down GCSE results. Almost certainly, the worst local example of self-interest is the Learning Schools Academy Trust in Medway, whose previous Chief Executive and head of The Rochester Grammar School departed after allegations of unprofessional conduct, with a pay-off reported to be £80,000. One of its schools, Holcombe Grammar (previously Chatham Boys’ Grammar) is proposing to become co-educational, a by-product threatening the future of Chatham Girls, although the latter may now be saved by the London effect. Holcombe’s paperwork for the proposal makes clear it has no interest in the prospects of what was previously its partner school.
One recent Report is of a new build academy, recently taken over by a profit orientated Academy Trust, that is strongly encouraging parents of SEN children to look elsewhere. Sadly, they are not alone as some academies seek to focus on attracting the highest performing pupils.
I am regularly contacted by parents of children who have run into difficulties at their academy, but can get no satisfaction. If the academy chooses not to take not of a concern, the only route is to complain to the Department of Education which rarely takes an interest in such local matters.
Many (but certainly not all) secondary academy headteachers are on inflated salaries at a time when their schools are facing severe financial cuts - similar to some leaders in other state systems such as Local Government, universities, the NHS etc. However, I identified three local primary headteachers with salaries of over £100,000, two running smaller schools, the third and highest paid at over £155,000 p.a., an astonishing and indefensible sum, leaving his post after two of the the three schools for which he was responsible deteriorated sharply under his leadership.
Such problems are not of course confined to Academies, and the current massive disaffection at Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School, which failed in its attempt to become an academy has surely reached a climax since my last article in July, as the result of an investigation commissioned by KCC has been handed to governors. For an up to date but partisan view, see here.