The Leigh Academy Trust is proposing to extend the age range of the Leigh UTC (University Technical College) to cover the age range of 11-14 with the support of KCC, to increase the number of secondary school places available in Dartford. One must applaud any sensible opportunity to ease the pressure on Dartford places, however the proposal raises a number of important questions.
The plan is to build an 11-14 ‘school’ on vacant land opposite the current premises, called ‘The Inspiration Centre’ to cater for an intake of 120 children from September 2017, also working with Dartford Council to create an adjacent outdoor sports complex for all students (it is not clear if this is exclusively for Leigh Trust students). The students will follow a normal curriculum before going on the UTC offering with its increased focus on engineering and computer science from Year 10 onward, being joined by up to 30 students from other schools.
This newspaper article is an expanded version of a news item elsewhere on this website, looking at the pressure on primary school places in Kent.
There has been much comment in the national media on the growing shortage of primary school places and Kent is no exception. I am now receiving concerned enquiries almost daily from families who have moved into or are planning to move into the area and are finding no suitable school, or in some cases no school at all being offered. Others have been allocated schools they didn’t apply to and are now finding out the reasons for the lack of popularity of some of these. Key pressure areas include: Sevenoaks, Gravesham, Dartford, Tunbridge Wells, Thanet, Maidstone and Tonbridge in Kent; and much of Medway, especially Chatham, Rainham and Rochester.
The problems of what are called In Year transfers are exemplified by an email circulated to primary school headteachers in Gravesham at the beginning of September by the Local Authority desperately seeking places for 23 children in the Borough (9 in Dartford) in Years 1,2 and 3 without a place........
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has ruled on a number of complaints about decisions made by Dartford Grammar School (DGS) and Dartford Grammar School for Girls (DGSG) to award more of their places to high scoring pupils in the Kent Test at the possible expense of local children. He also considered complaints about sixth form admission policies and also about failures in consultation about the proposals. The complaints were submitted submitted by parents and governors of neighbouring grammar schools in Bexley. You will find the determination (decision) here.
In the biggest area of complaint, the Adjudicator does not find fault in the changes in priority at the expense of local children.
With regard to the sixth forms, the main faults in the admission process and criteria at the two schools are also applicable to many other secondary schools in the county, a regular issue raised with me by parents whose children have been denied entry, further details here.
Both schools failed to consult properly on their changes, although the Adjudicator oddly argues that as there were few responses (not surprising if few knew about them), there appears to be no need to find a remedy.
A key and surely controversial section not directly related to the complaints arises from the provision of the ‘unique’ International Baccalaureate Curriculum beginning in year 7 at DGS. The Adjudicator notes that the nature of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum is seen by both the school and the Local Authority as not being suitable for all qualified applicants “and for this reason the school has “ …attracted pupils from a wider reaching catchment area, as a result of this niche which they have created in the education market”, to quote the LA”. To me this is a remarkable statement, for surely, if the IB is not suitable for some local children then the admission arrangements should be changed to reflect this rather than allowing them to enter and struggle. Alternatively, and highly preferable for me, would be to amend the curriculum arrangements so that all children admitted could access the curriculum.
I expand on all these issues below:........
Recent correspondence between Michael Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks and Michael Gove, Secretary of State, appears to suggest that any decision on the proposed satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks is far from clear cut.
Meanwhile, grammar school provision at Dartford Grammar looks set to increase, targeted at the ablest pupils from South East London.
Proposed Satellite Grammar School in Sevenoaks
The letter from Michael Fallon, dated 7th October, once more makes the case for the satellite, but finishes “I urge you to make a speedy decision”. Quite rightly, as time is passing, and the target date of opening in September 2015 relies on the building being mainly completed within the next 19 months. Planning permission may be working through, but not a brick can be laid until the decision is made, and any legal challenges resolved.
Mr Gove replied on 24th October: “Thank you for your letter of 7 October, about the provision of school places. I understand the difficulty pupils and families face in securing a suitable school place, and the distance many have to travel. Primary legislation prohibits the introduction of new selective schools and we must judge the proposals carefully to test whether they represent new schools or expansions.The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is assessing the proposals and will present its findings to ministers shortly. We will notify each school in writing as soon as a decision has been reached. In reaching our decision, we will consider all the evidence that has been presented through the process, and in correspondence with each academy trust. Thank you for writing to me on this important matter”.
Clearly, the central issue holding up proceedings is the one picked out by Mr Gove’s underlining: is the proposal for a new school or an expansion? ........
I now have detailed information on Kent and Medway primary school admission offers for September 2012. On the surface, all looks well with a healthy 95% of children in Kent being offered one of their three choices, similar to last year. However, with rising rolls the number of children being allocated a school they hadn’t chosen has risen from 564 to 818 in two years, a worrying rise of 45%.
You will find more general information in a separate article below. I have started to provide more detailed information on difficult areas, via the links below.
Analysis of the figures shows a sharp contrast between most of West Kent and most of East Kent and between urban and rural areas. Maidstone town is the most difficult area, with over 100 children allocated to schools they did not apply for (you will find an earlier article on part of the problem here) and NO places free in any school in the town. Other problem areas include:........