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Tuesday, 15 March 2016 23:10

Kent on Sunday: Oversubscription and vacancies in Kent Secondary schools on allocation for September 2016.

This article looks across Kent to the key oversubscription and vacancy situations in grammar and non-selective schools,  the latter town by town. Pressure points such as Dartford Grammar, 226 first choice applications oversubscribed, one of the most academically successful schools in the county, followed by St George’s CofE Foundation School in Broadstairs, with 161 first choices turned away, second lowest performing school at GCSE in the county.

For further information on the story visit here for grammar schools and here for non-selective schools.

High vacancy rates, threatening a vicious circle of financial losses, which have led to the closure of four schools in the past three years, need to be tackled by Astor College, Castle Community College, Hayesbrook School, High Weald Academy, New Line Learning, and Swadelands School, all with over a third of their provision empty in Year 7.

Kent has seen an extra 704 places put into its secondary schools above the numbers planned for admission this, to meet rising rolls in several areas. 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.'''

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS
Dartford Grammar School, the most oversubscribed school in the county,  turned away 226 grammar qualified pupils soaring up from 127 last year, with 81 of its 150 places going to out of county (ooc) boys. Sadly, because the school has recently introduced a cap of 90 on the number of local boys, places going to the highest scorers, many grammar qualified Dartford boys have been rejected from their local school, in spite of protestations when the new system was introduced that this would not happen.

Second most popular grammar school was Tonbridge Grammar with 142 first choices turned away, up from 77 in 2015, followed by Dartford Girls Grammar with 119 up from 95, again sadly with a number of local girls turned away, but letting in 65 ooc girls, having increased its capacity by extra 20 girls.

The other two grammar schools in Dartford were also both well oversubscribed, although both changed their admission rules to give priority to Kent children for most of their places, with Wilmington Grammar Boys turning away 49 first choices and the Girls Grammar 34. The number of out county boys to Wilmington fell sharply from 91 to 32 as a result of the changes, with Wilmington Girls’ fall from 105 to 91.

It was very pleasing to see that The Judd School in Tonbridge, 97 first choices oversubscribed, has also changed its admission rules to give priority to those living in the locality for all but 20 boys. As a result, the number of Kent children to be admitted is rising to 141 out of 155, up from 114 in 2015. However, the ooc pressure on The Skinners School in Tunbridge Wells which has no such rules, increased to compensate up to 45 out of county boys from 26. Still in West Kent, Weald of Kent Grammar was oversubscribed by 55 grammar qualified first choices, even though it has increased its number of places by 55 to 230 girls, in preparation for its expansion into the Sevenoaks Annexe next year. The surge in applications to the two Tonbridge Girls’ grammars has been very much at the expense of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Girls.

Other popular grammar schools were: Maidstone Grammar Boys’, 38 first choices oversubscribed, although 11 down on 2015, and Sir Roger Manwood’s at 32, which had four vacancies last year at this time.

The myth that Kent grammar schools are always oversubscribed is definitely not true, with nine of the 32 having vacancies at this time, although many of the empty desks will fill through appeals. The schools with more than 10 spaces are: Maidstone Grammar for Girls; Chatham & Clarendon; Dover Boys’ (following a late increase in admission number of 30); Barton Court; and Borden.

NON-SELECTIVE SCHOOLS
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.
 
THANET
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. At the other end, the new Royal Harbour Academy, 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.
 
GRAVESHAM
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, with an additional 76 places being created in three schools, but still leaving just 5 empty spaces in the Borough. Second most popular school here was St John’s Catholic Comprehensive, 40 first choices oversubscribed.
 
MAIDSTONE
Third most popular school 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. 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!
 
SWALE
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. 
 
ASHFORD
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. 
 
CANTERBURY
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. Canterbury Academy, Herne Bay and St Anselm’s Catholic are the most oversubscribed, with 76, 48 and 46 first choices rejected, respectively.
 
DARTFORD
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 253 first choices, Leigh Academy having been the most popular school in Kent for some years. Three years ago it accounted for 235 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.
 
DOVER
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.
 
SEVENOAKS
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. It 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.
 
SHEPWAY
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. 
 
TUNBRIDGE WELLS
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.
 
OTHER SCHOOLS
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. 

Two of Kent’s highest performing schools at GCSE, Hayesbrook and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, are far less successful at attracting students, with 84 and 75 vacancies respectively, both with an Admission number of 150.

OUT OF COUNTY
As always, there was much media publicity for the 803 out of county children taking up places in Kent schools, many of which are identified above. There is never notice of the 460 going out of Kent to other Local Authorities. These include 165 to grammar schools in Medway, Bexley and Bromley, and 78 to the four large neighbouring comprehensive schools in East Sussex.


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    Last year I wrote an article exposing the failure by Medway Council to set the Medway Test pass mark correctly in 2015, and for some years previously, revealing the fact that some 70 Medway children were deprived of grammar school places by a miscalculation. This produced a success rate after Reviews were taken into account of just 23% for Medway children. Perhaps it was article that produced a change in practice and this year the success rate has risen to 25.1%, almost exactly the target level. However, just 25 Medway pupils were found selective after Review, as against a target of 68. There is yet again serious bias towards girls and older children.

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     This article looks across Kent to the main oversubscription and vacancy situations in non-selective schools District by District. Thanet is the area under most pressure, with not a single vacancy in any of its six schools on allocation of places on 1st March. 166 Thanet children have no school of their choice, over a quarter of the county total. The District also contains two of the county’s three most oversubscribed schools, St George’s CofE Foundation and King Ethelbert’s Schools. The other is Valley Park, Maidstone.

        St Georges Foundation   Valley 2

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