This article was written for Kent on Sunday March 7th, but inadvertently not published here until later. My apologies
Kent and Medway secondary allocation figures have been published today, both Kent and Medway figures showing a worrying fall in the proportion of children being awarded any of the four schools (six in Medway) on their secondary school application form, with 641 Kent children and 155 Medway children not getting any school they have chosen. This is a rise of 237 children in Kent, the highest proportion in recent years, totalling 4% of the total being allocated places by KCC. In Medway, there has been an increase in Local Authority allocations in each of the past four years, taking the LA allocation figure to a record 5%.
The four key factors are likely to be:.........
On the surface, Kent primary school infant class placements, which took place at the end of March look well with a healthy 95% of children in Kent being offered one of their three choices, similar to last year. However, looking beneath the surface, a much more worrying picture emerges because of increased numbers in some areas as the number of children being allocated a school they hadn’t chosen has risen from 564 to 818 in two years, a frightening rise of 45%.
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 and NO places free in any school in the town. Other problem areas include Tunbridge Wells with just 16 places left free out of the 920 available, and 75 children having none of their choices. 15 of those 16 free places are in Pembury School (just outside the town), and only exist as its capacity was expanded by 30 at short notice last year, to cater for the difficulties. Sevenoaks has 94 children allocated, 7 places left free; urban Dartford, 71 children allocated and 7 places left free; the Ramsgate area of Thanet, 65 children allocated, 8 places free, all in Bromstone Primary school in Broadstairs; Folkestone, 43 children allocated, 6 left free; and the area around Faversham with 37 children allocated.
Kent County Council, in a confidential analysis of issues produced in 2009, identified major problems for 2011 entry in Dartford, Gravesham, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells, some of these other issues being masked by rural parts of the districts having spare capacity. Sadly, little was done to alleviate the problems at a time when finances were easier. What is clear is that although Kent’s Primary Strategy of 2006 has a policy that there should be between 5-7% surplus capacity in an area, it has not planned to meet this policy. Where additional places have been added, too often these are last minute decisions and often in inappropriate schools. What we are seeing is an unwritten change of policy from trying to meet parental preferences, to a minimalist offering to children of a school somewhere, no matter how suitable.
Riverhead Infant School in Sevenoaks has soared to the top of the oversubscription table, turning away 54 first choices with the neighbouring Sevenoaks Primary School turning away 44 children, in fourth place. In between come Madginford Park in Maidstone, and Priory Infants, Ramsgate. In fifth place comes St James CofE VA Infant School, in Tunbridge Wells, then: Slade Primary, Tonbridge; Sandgate Primary, Folkestone; West Hill Primary, Dartford; St John's Catholic Primaryl, Gravesend; Joyden's Wood Infants, Dartford; St Peter's Methodist, Canterbury; Holy Trinity & St John's CofE Primary, Margate; St John's CofE Primary, Tunbridge Wells; St Stephen's Infant, Canterbury; Ethelbert Road Primary, Faversham; and St Mildred's Infants, Broadstairs. All these schools turned away 30 or more first choices.
At the other end of the table, 14 schools, nearly all in East Kent, have over half their places left empty. Three of these have all admitted fewer than 50% of their capacity for each of the last three years. How on earth can they remain viable? However, the political controversy over closing such schools is always intense, even if this would release resources to provide extra provision in places of greatest need. Further information on all the key pressure points at www.kentadvice.co.uk.
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in Kent on Sunday 0n 25th March 2012. It is drawn from two other articles on this website: Oversubscription and Vacancies; and Movement in and out of the County.
Information from KCC and Medway under FOI requests, reveals considerable change in the pattern of secondary school applications this year. The focus is on grammar school patterns of admission in West Kent. There is a considerable swing in grammar school assessments from East to West, driven by parental pressure to secure grammar school places, and the intense coaching culture which becomes self–fulfilling. This is combined with pressure from children along the boundary to the West and NW, and from London Boroughs stretching through to Lewisham, with a total of 211 out of county children taking up places in these Kent grammar schools. Not surprisingly there are many grammar qualified Kent children without a grammar school place, predominantly girls in the south of the area, and boys in the north. Thus the top seven oversubscribed grammar schools in Kent are all in the West, turning away an average of 90 children each. Top this year is Skinners, rejecting a record 138 first choice applicants, followed in order by: Dartford Grammar; Tonbridge Grammar; Dartford Girls; The Judd; Tunbridge Wells Girls; Tunbridge Wells Boys; and Weald of Kent. What is not always realised is that this is balanced by over 300 children going the other way, mainly into comprehensive schools over the border. Most oversubscribed grammar schools in Medway are Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Rochester and Rochester Grammar School.
Another major issue arising from this tilt, is the number of vacant spaces in East Kent Grammars led by Harvey Grammar, Folkestone with 73, followed closely by Folkestone School for Girls. Then, in order: Highworth, Ashford; Clarendon House, Ramsgate; Barton Court, Canterbury; Mayfield, Gravesend; Borden, Sittingbourne; Chatham House, Ramsgate; and Highsted, Sittingbourne. Three others, Invicta Grammar and Oakwood Park Grammar both in Maidstone, and Wilmington Grammar Girls are full only because KCC have allocated children there, who were unsuccessful elsewhere. Two Medway Grammar Schools, Chatham Boys and Chatham girls have over a hundred spaces between them, as numbers of children in Medway drops sharply
What is clear is that the eleven plus is failing able children in East Kent, we can see these schools looking to different methods of assessing children, as already happens in the two Dover Grammar Schools, both full as a result. Presumably, one can expect to see higher than normal success rates at appeal at many of these schools, as the balance is righted.
Most popular non-selective school remains Leigh Technology Academy, turning away 193 disappointed first choices, followed by Longfield Academy with 91. The pressure on these schools is caused by lack of alternatives in the area, Dartford Technology College (girls) and Meopham School both having failed OFSTEDs and there being no boys’ non-selective school in the area. This explains why 100 Kent children went into non-selective schools in Bexley and Bromley.
Other popular Kent non selective schools disappointing more than 40 first choice applicants were (in order): Valley Park Community, Maidstone; Fulston Manor, Sittingbourne; North, Ashford; Westlands School, Sittingbourne; Hillview Girls, Tonbridge; Bennett Memorial, Tunbridge Wells; Archbishop’s, Canterbury; King Ethelbert Academy, Westgate; and Cornwallis Academy, Maidstone. In Medway, Brompton Academy turned away a remarkable 79 first choices, even after increasing its Planned Admission Number by 30 to cope with its popularity, followed by Thomas Avelingl, and Greenacre. Sadly, one reason for the popularity of many of these schools is because parents wish to avoid other local schools.
There are three Kent schools with over 90 vacancies: Pent Valley, Folkestone; Marlowe Academy, Broadstairs; and Chaucer, Canterbury. A total of 12 non-selective schools in Kent had more than a third of their places empty.
In Medway, discrepancies are even starker: Bishop of Rochester Academy has the highest number of vacancies at 135, being over half empty. This is followed by St John Fisher, Robert Napier, Strood Academy, and Hundred of Hoo. A key issue in Medway is the rapidly falling rolls which currently accounts for 14% of all places being empty.
Government policy appears to be to encourage the free market in school places. Looking at the picture in Kent one can see that before long we are going to see casualties of this policy in our secondary schools, some of which will be in shiny new Academy buildings, costing tens of millions of pounds. Never mind the children who of course are the real casualties of this game of monopoly.
Parents of Kent children, applying for secondary schools, learned their allocated schools last week. Overall figures were very similar to last year, although the number of children given none of their choices rose from 413 to 443. As usual, West Kent is the main problem area (not to overlook other hot-spots), although the difficulties are clearly more pronounced this year, especially amongst children qualified for grammar schools. All three of the ‘super-selectives’ - Judd School, Skinners School and Tonbridge Grammar School - saw their base-line Kent Test score for entry rise, Judd requiring a record marks aggregate of 418 points (maximum possible 420), and even then some with this score did not gain admission. There are three main reasons for the increase: the intensive coaching culture in West Kent (especially from the private schools chasing grammar school places) is seeing more children in West Kent passing and also gaining high scores; more children from outside Kent crossing the boundary this year, although we don’t yet know the schools they went to; and the economic climate seeing a fall in admissions to several private schools, putting more pressure on grammar schools. Girls appear to have lost out in the south, including Pembury and Langton Green, whilst many boys around north Sevenoaks and Riverhead have not been offered any grammar school place. Some have been allocated to the Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, which has opened an additional class planning to make it a grammar school stream. Many villages to the north through to Dartford are affected, Dartford Grammar School only offering local places to boys living in the town itself, most of the remainder taken up by boys from SE London right through to Lewisham (the train journey is easy) who achieve highest scores, the cut off again reaching a record, of 414 points. Meanwhile Dartford Girls and Gravesend Boys were not able to take all qualified children in their hinterlands. As the Kent 11+ selects just 25% of the children from across selective parts of Kent, the increase in the West is balanced by fewer successes in the East, leaving several grammar schools there with vacancies.
I believe these trends are making the concept of a common test with common pass mark impossible to maintain, especially as grammar schools have new freedoms to choose their own admission rules, some setting higher pass marks than the standard, hastening the breakup of the system. KCC is now looking at alternatives that address some of the issues above, but anything new will have to be by consensus as the Authority now has no power to impose solutions. My fear is that individual schools will be tempted to set their own entrance tests, leading to the dreadful outcome we see around the M25, as parents drive their children to different grammar school tests every Saturday through September and October. Slightly more sensible solutions may include a common test with differing pass marks for each school, or perhaps an additional paper of a more difficult standard to discriminate between the ablest children.
Another possibility is the proposal for a disused school site in Sevenoaks to be adapted as an annexe to two current grammar schools (one boys and one girls), although legal problems surrounding this are complex. There is also a competing proposal for a church free school on the site whose formal proposal has been submitted to government, and would attract considerable government funding.
Meanwhile, the time bomb of rising pupil numbers, especially in Tunbridge Wells, is spreading through the primary schools, creating intense pressure on local schools – and secondary schools within a few years.
Sadly, government policy has meant there is now no planning authority to resolve these issues and we are destined to see more such problems in the future as the cracks widen.
The following article appeared with an accompanying newspaper report in Kent on Sunday, October 30th. It was subsequently reproduced in full, in the blog of Medway Councillor Tristan Osborne.
The row about the shambolic Medway Test arrangements at two Test Centres, described by Councillor Les Wicks, Portfolio Holder for Education at Medway Council, as ‘a mortification’ - continues unabated. The Medway Eleven plus is held in a number of large centres (mainly schools) on a Saturday morning in September. There have been complaints about the operation of these tests for years, the Council agreeing nine changes in procedures with the Ombudsman in 2008 after a large number of complaints; last year the council admitted fault after another large number of complaints about one centre and agreed to put in a number of improvements to monitor the process. Sadly these failed to stop what the Council has now agreed were major faults at Rainham School for Girls, although it disputing the problems at the Chatham Grammar centre. At Rainham, the Council put in just one registration desk for over 200 children, with the result that anxious queues rapidly built up waiting long past the 20 minutes allocated, the tests starting 40 minutes late. Children were therefore on site for six and half hours. There were only three boys’ toilets, half the girls’ toilets were not working so many children spent the whole of their breaks in toilet queues. They had been told to bring a piece of fruit and a bottle of water to sustain them, which was evidently insufficient for the extended exam period. Any adult subjected to such chaos for an important exam would probably have walked out. As it was some of the children did not have the stamina to cope. I have just listed here some of the many problems at Rainham, and Medway Council has now acknowledged that no fault attached to the school, although at least two councillors alleged the problems were down to the incompetence of the school and had apologise for this later. I could go on about the problems at Chatham, sparked by the invigilators’ failure to provide the question paper for the first exam of the day, but you can read the details at www.kentadvice.co.uk. Medway Council’s astonishing verdict was that as half the children passed the test at Rainham, none were disadvantaged – apparently they didn’t consider the half who failed!. The Council promised to carry out a thorough investigation of the problems and make the outcome known to all concerned. However this has turned out to be a ‘management improvement report’, a single page document looking forward to stop such problems recurring, that does not address the issue of why the problems arose in the first place. One can only hope it is more effective than the promises of 2010 which were supposed to stop such problems! However, parents continue to be angry, not necessarily because of the original blunders, but because of council attempts to cover them up, and its ludicrous refusal to acknowledge some children were disadvantaged by the conditions to which they were subjected. We await the Ombudsman’s verdict on this one, but spare a thought for those children who will never know if they would have passed, if treated fairly.
The following item served the basis for an article in KOS on 11 June 2011, and also triggered the front page news story.
A Freedom of Information request I submitted has revealed a number of alarming features in the pattern of permanent exclusions (expulsions) in Kent schools.
The first two new style academies created in Kent top the list of permanent exclusions between September and Easter, headed by Westlands School in Sittingbourne with 11. Next is Canterbury High School with nine permanent exclusions.
Both these schools previously had outstanding Ofsted reports, so it is difficult to believe they have difficult disciplinary problems.
Other schools with high numbers of permanent exclusions over this period are: Chaucer Technology School, also in Canterbury (nine); Hartsdown Technology College (converting to an academy – eight) and the Marlowe Academy both in Thanet (seven); and Astor College for the Arts in Dover (seven).
The total over this period is rising alarmingly already being almost the same as for the whole of 2009-10.
In general, an excluded child does not just go away, they are moved to another school to be given a fresh chance but, as this will usually be one of the few with vacancies in the area, it just heaps the problems on a possibly struggling school.
Of particular concern is the number of children with statements of special education needs (SEN) who continue to be permanently excluded, in spite of government policy that “schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements, other than in the most exceptional circumstances”.
While I don’t yet have figures for this year, in 2009-10 out of a total of 168 secondary exclusions 22 were of statemented children, a further 68 being of other children with SEN, together over half of the total.
However, the most astonishing and alarming statistic in this whole survey is that nearly all of the 34 Kent primary school exclusions in the last school year were of children with Special Education Needs, with 13 statemented children and another 18 with SEN.
So much for Kent. Meanwhile up in Medway there is a remarkably different picture. The council reports that there were just three permanent exclusions from Medway Secondary Schools in 2009-10 (none statemented), and none from primary schools. For 2010-11 the reported figure is currently zero, although Medway Council has subsequently claimed it is unaware of at least three permanent exclusions from Bishop of Rochester Academy, even though it would have responsibility for those children, so this figure needs to be treated with some caution.
This all begs many questions. Firstly, why are the pictures in Kent and Medway so very different?
Medway may only have around one sixth of the children being educated in Kent, but this does not come close to explaining why some Kent schools resort to formal exclusion proceedings so often, whereas Medway can avoid a dramatic, stressful and bureaucratic process so effectively.
Medway schools have always co-operated well over what are called ‘managed moves’ to a fresh school, although whether this will continue when all are independent academies remains to be seen.
How can Kent primary schools exclude children with statements in such numbers, compared to a negligible number of children without special needs, in direct contradiction to the government imperative that this should only happen in exceptional circumstances?
Why does Kent but not Medway have so many exceptional circumstances?
Once again KCC is seeing children who surely deserve the highest standard of care, at the bottom of the pile (see last week’s Kent on Sunday).
Another factor to add to KCC’s Scrutiny Committee investigation into primary school standards.
What is special about Westlands and Canterbury High apart from the fact they are outstanding Ofsted schools, that they need to take this extreme action, effectively forcing these children to less popular and successful schools, whereas others, often in far more difficult situations, appear to be able to manage better? Are they showing the future for academies?
What happens to the schools that become ‘dumping grounds’ for children excluded by other schools better able to cope with them?
Above all, why does KCC not look at Medway’s procedures to learn how to improve these dreadful figures?
More than £4.5 million a year of Government funding is being "unfairly" pumped into selected schools to spend as they wish through a project abolished five years ago.
And despite the grants being designed specifically to help schools in deprived urban areas, many of those in Kent receiving the no-strings-attached cash are in affluent areas or are grammar schools.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Peter Read of Kent Independent Education Advice revealed a total of £4.5 million was being handed over annually through the former Excellence in Cities scheme, which was abolished in 2006.
The project looked to raise standards in deprived and underachieving schools in cities and urban areas through ring-fenced grants.
Some high-achieving secondary schools were allocated money to help selected primaries.
Once abolished, Kent County Council was required by the Government to continue payments and this year the ring-fencing was removed, allowing schools to spend the money as they wished with no restrictions.
But where 53 Kent schools – 35 primary and 18 secondary – benefit from thousands of pounds of the funding each year, around 540 are missing out.
A KCC consultation found the majority of schools supported the removal of the "unfair" system where similar schools receive vastly different levels of funding.
Although some recipients are in deprived areas or deemed to be underachieving, selective schools such as Harvey Grammar in Folkestone, Highworth Grammar School for Girls in Ashford, and Folkestone Grammar School for Girls receive £138,472, £106,722 and £153,213 respectively.
Pent Valley Technology College is handed £202,210 each year, The North School in Ashford £245,060, and The Towers School in Ashford £237,085.
Primary schools under the scheme receive around £40,000, although others were handed more, such as Kennington CofE Junior School with £58,371 and Cliftonville Primary School which got £74,927.
Mr Read called it a "disgraceful waste of money".
KCC cabinet member for education, learning and skills, Cllr Sarah Hohler, explained the original Excellence in Cities scheme wasa specific, ring-fenced grant, assigned using Government eligibility criteria.
"After the scheme ended, KCC and other local authorities were required by government to continue passing on the same level of per pupil funding as the year before," she said.
"While opposed to this approach, we had no say and could not vary the funding.
"As soon as it was announced in 2010 that these grants were to be ‘mainstreamed’ in 2011 and the ring-fencing removed, KCC consulted schools on proposals to remove all these historical anomalies and instead fund schools on our fairer local formula without reference to historical payments.
"The local Schools Funding Forum previously had the power to do this but, in late 2010, the Secretary of State removed this power. KCC asked the Secretary of State for his approval to implement these fairer local arrangements, phased over the next three years, but approval was refused.
"School budgets 2011-12 have therefore been issued still including these historical levels of grant funding.
"The Government will give no assurances or indications of future arrangements beyond March 2012, since it is now consulting on a wide-ranging review of the national school funding system."
Cllr Hohler said KCC remained committed to removing the anomalies, providing the Government did not replace local funding formulae with a single national one.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the funding system was out of date and Government was considering a reform.
She added that distribution of school development grants was for KCC to determine in consideration with its Schools Forum.
Kent County Council figures show a pleasing increase in the number of children being offered their first choice secondary school on 1st March, up from 80% in 2010 to 83% in 2011. Just 413 got none of their choices. With nearly 500 fewer Kent children in the system, waiting lists for popular schools are generally much lower this year. There is a similar picture in Medway with 87% of children being allocated their first choice school, although this is helped by a fall in the age group of nearly 10%.
Last year the eighteen most popular schools each turned away more than 50 children who put them in first place, but this year the same number of schools sees the bar drop to 40 places oversubscribed.
Leigh Technology Academy (Dartford) remains Kent’s most popular school for the fourth year running, with 199 disappointed first choice applicants. Second comes Tonbridge Grammar, with 104 girls who had passed the eleven plus turned away. After Westlands (Sittingbourne) on 94, comes Dartford Grammar School with 88, entering the lists for the first time as applicants from the London Boroughs realised the school was accessible, a third of the places going to high scoring applicants from out of county. Next in line was Judd School (grammar, Tonbridge), followed by: Valley Park School (Maidstone); Fulston Manor School (Sittingbourne); Brockhill Park Performing Arts College (Hythe); Brompton Academy (Gillingham); King Ethelbert School (Margate – new entry); and The Thomas Aveling School (Rochester).
Then follows Skinner’s School (grammar, Tunbridge Wells ), slipping from its position as most popular grammar school in 2010, and: Folkestone Academy; Dartford Grammar School for Girls; Canterbury High School; Hillview School for Girls (Tonbridge); Bennett Memorial Diocesan School (Tunbridge Wells); and Simon Langton Girls Grammar School (Canterbury – new entry).
At the other end of the scale, four Kent schools were over half empty before KCC drafted in additional children who had been offered none of their choices: Skinner’s Kent Academy; Angley School (Cranbrook); Walmer Science College, and New Line Learning Academy (Maidstone). One wonders how some of these schools can continue to function with finances depending on pupil numbers.
The school with the greatest increase in popularity was Dartford Grammar School (up 55 disappointed first choices), the biggest loser was surprisingly Homewood School in Tenterden, down 100, but still oversubscribed.
The pressure of out of county children taking up places in Kent grammar schools is once again greatest in the North West of the county, with 189 children taking up places in the four Dartford Grammar Schools (52 of these coming from as far away as Lewisham and Greenwich) as opposed to just 57 in the three West Kent super selectives, both figures very similar to last year.
Many of these figures will have changed this week as parents had to decide whether to accept places offered and there will be happiness for some, offered places off the waiting lists. As many as 700 further children may gain places through the appeal procedure, although this stressful process goes on until July for some.
Another knotty problem for Michael Gove.
Following Kent secondary school allocations on 1st March just gone, 9% of places in Year Seven were left empty or occupied by children who had not applied for the schools in question. The Audit Commission considers there should be no more than 5% empty spaces in any area or authority. So there is a problem in Kent. However, with 49 of the100 Kent secondary schools either Academies or well on the way and another 36 Foundation or Voluntary Aided schools partially independent of KCC, the county has lost all control of its ability to plan numbers of places to fit the population, and so has no way of meeting government targets...... (read more)