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Saturday, 17 September 2016 17:27

'Schools that Work for Everyone' in Kent. Kent on Sunday - 18 Sept 2016

NOTE: You will also find a briefer variant of this in my blog

The government’s new Green Paper, headed ‘Schools that Work for Everyone’, does nothing to make sense of the country’s fractured education provision, seen at its most prolific in Kent, but instead seeks to increase the kaleidoscope of school types by adding even more variations.

One of its stated aims is the delivery of a diverse school system to enable all children to achieve their potential. Certainly, one can be sure that these proposals will increase diversity.

I do not propose to examine the Green Paper in depth here, but look with bewilderment at proposals to allow faith schools to proliferate and tighten their grip on school admissions. Church schools already add up to around a third of the country’s schools.

The Green Paper explicitly refers to the current large influx of children from Catholic familiesinto the country and county’s schools, this being one of the driving factors of this aspect of the government proposals. The Catholic church refuses to open new schools unless they are given control of 100 per cent of the intake, as distinct from the current 50 per cent ruling for new schools. As a result, government is now seeking to change the rules to get them on side by allowing ALL faith schools to give priority to their followers over 100% of places.

InPoland where many of the new Catholic children originate, 89 per cent of children attend secular state schools, with just 11 per cent in the private Catholic schools. Why therefore should a desire to offer Catholic schools for all drive English education, extending it to all faith schools? Surely, it makes no sense to allow more religious segregation at a time when racial and religious tensions are at their greatest in this country for many years.

Much has been written on the bizarre plan to allow new types of grammar schools to spring up or convert from non-selective schools apparently without regard to their effect on other schools or on those children left behind, or else to expand using unidentified rules to improve social mobility, so I don’t propose to add to it at present.  UPDATE: See article on Meopham School.

 

Varieties of Schools
A central plank of the new proposals appears to be that this allows even more variety in school structures, as if this is a good thing in itself.

If so, it is one of the strangest education philosophies I have ever come across, as parents become ever more confused about the delusion they are sold, that they have more choice. In fact it is quite the reverse, with Kent surely already ‘leading’ the way here.

In no particular order, we have: comprehensive and other non-selective schools – some able to recruit up to 20 per cent according to vocational talent or academic ability; schools with grammar streams; grammar schools; super selective and semi-super selective grammar schools; a single sex grammar school annexe being constructed where the need is for mixed provision; maintained and voluntary aided schools; primary, secondary and all through academies, the latter designed on a mushroom principle with admission at five and 11; sponsored and converter academies; one all through maintained church school with different admission rules for primary and secondary entrance; free schools; a university technical college (UTC) recruiting at age 14 according to the UTC philosophy of choice at this age, but now trying to ignore this by extending down to age 11 with another mushroom structure; one school with a specialist land based curriculum;  infant, junior and primary schools; and mixed, boys’ and girls’ schools.

There are Church of England, Catholic, evangelical and other faith schools – some able to recruit 100 per cent according to religious criteria, others 50 per cent, plenty with no conditions;  oversubscribed schools and those with vacancies, some of the latter withering on the stem in the current highly charged competitive climate; three boarding schools - two grammar academies the other comprehensive with ‘military traditions’; multi-academy trusts; stand-alone academy trusts; one 13-18 grammar school structured so that half of its intake comes from private schools, but trying to change to 11 -18, against fierce resistance from parents; federations of schools of all shapes and sizes; special schools with different specialisations; specialist SEN units attached to mainstream schools and academies, including one grammar school.

There are schools classified by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’ through to those in ‘special measures;’ schools and ‘colleges’ with specialisms, some in their titles others not, some significant, others irrelevant, including– arts, humanities, ICT, languages, learning (!), mathematics, performing arts, science and technology, sports, and technology.

We have sponsored academies run by - churches, profit making organisations, with names designed to advertise owners (including the newly named ‘SchoolsCompany The Goodwin Academy’), grammar schools, other lead schools, universities, Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (under notice by government to dispose of all its academies), the Ministry of Defence, a London Livery Company, private schools. Some of these academies are subject to being transferred between trusts in a sort of Monopoly game, but with children’s futures.

If the government proposals go through we can add to these new types of academy and free school grammar and faith schools, with ore underperforming schools sponsored by universities and private schools. It remains a mystery why universities, specialists in Higher Education and under pressure as a sector to improve their own teaching standards, or private schools generally with experience of small classes of well behaved and motivated children (easily removed if they are not!) from prosperous families are regarded with such regard in this respect. Kent experience of the last two groups is certainly mixed, the most disastrous example being that of Dulwich College and University of Kent, sponsors of Isle of Sheppey Academy.  

Parental Choice
One popular fallacy is that this diversity offers increased parental choice.

Actually, it does completely the reverse, by severely limiting family choices according to where they live or can afford to live, and what are the family circumstances.

Increasingly it reinforces the reality, with schools selecting families through their choices of admission rules. Many parents are about to find this out to their cost after setting out on the application path for secondary school this month.

This is exacerbated here becauseKentis still mainly a town and rural county, with no large conurbations (omitting Medway, a completely separate local authority with different rules).

Whilst some families in westKenthave a choice of three grammar schools, most have just one unless they wish to travel long distances. It is a minority of families prepared to travel to another town for a non-selective school, so choice of ‘suitable’ schools can become very limited.

Few families have the opportunity to choose which of the above plethora of types of school would suit them as many appear randomly sprinkled across the county. In any case, with the majority of schools oversubscribed many will not qualify for admission to their nearest appropriate school, or indeed any suitable school. Parents are given a choice of four schools on the application form, and to find four that suit is, I suspect, a rarity.

But what a task making that choice where it exists, with little guidance to help consider ethos, curriculum, opportunities, performance, Ofsted rating, headteacher style, chances of being offered a place and the many other relevant factors.

Frankly, it is unreasonable, unfair and a process that heavily penalises those families not able to cope with the complexities, or understand the differences – these being the very families supposed to be at the centre of government priorities according to the Green Paper.

It is ironic that until a few years ago, local authorities were funded to provide an individual advice service on secondary school admissions for families in need of help, but this was removed as not being a priority.

In summary, the green paper recipe is for ever more diversity, partially to deliver the chimera of greater social mobility, and partly to expand the remit of special interest groups, in the process reducing parental choice. All this is to be carried out, apparently without thought being given to the problems faced by the target groups in accessing the most appropriate school for their children. Whatever, I have no doubt that as always, aspiring families will find ways to benefit disproportionately from the outcomes of the proposals.

Last modified on Tuesday, 25 July 2017 22:21

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  • School Appeal Outcomes Across Kent and Medway 2017

    This article looks at school admission appeals in Kent and Medway, building on a previous article about appeals heard by the Kent County Council Appeals Service, which should be read in conjunction with this one. It focuses on all appeals set up by schools themselves, either using a commercial or professional organisation, or else organised by the school itself.  

    Overall, the proportions of appeals upheld by Kent grammar schools at 37% and non-selective schools, at 22%, are almost identical to the 2016 figures.

    In Medway the percentage of appeals upheld in both sectors has fallen, although the grammar school figures are highly polarised with the two Chatham Grammars seeing 69% of appeals upheld between them. The other three grammars admitting girls saw just 7% of appeals upheld overall.  Just four Medway non-selective schools heard appeals with 19% successful.

    For schools with their own appeal panels the lowest percentages of success for grammar schools were: Cranbrook (Year 7) 0%; Fort Pitt 5%; Rochester Grammar 7% and Tonbridge Grammar 8%. Highest were: Harvey 89%; Oakwood Park 81%; Chatham Girls 76%; and Holcombe 64%.

    For non-selective schools, lowest were Bennett Memorial 3%; and Brompton Academy 9%. Highest: Howard School 73%; St Gregory’s Catholic 64%; and Sandwich Technology 60%.

    Whilst many schools will tend to see similar patterns year on year, circumstances for individual schools can change sharply, with some examples below. To find my general appeal information and advice for Kent Grammars, Medway Grammars, and oversubscription for grammars and non-selectives follow the links.  

    Further details below, including primary appeals heard by Local Authority Panels....

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    Written on Thursday, 19 October 2017 20:41 Be the first to comment! Read 82 times
  • Provisional GCSE Results for Medway 2017

    Last year the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths was scrapped, being replaced by two new assessments, Progress 8 and Attainment 8. Both these are measured by an arcane formula combining results in eight curriculum subjects to produce numbers whose meaning and spread is very difficult to comprehend, but enable schools to be placed in an order. Government has made amendments to further reflect policy, which has the unintended effect in Kent and Medway of further rewarding the top performing grammar schools and diminishing those with a higher proportion with lower abilities.  

    These Provisional results are issued at this time to enable families to be better informed when making secondary school choices. Last year a number of schools saw a small improvement in results in the final version to be published  in January.Unfortunately, once again, there has been such little publicity given to them that most families are not even aware of their existence. 

    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, with Medway above average at 0.04, against a National average of -0.03. Victory Academy is the only non-selective school to split the six grammars at the top, with Greenacre next.   

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Medway just below the National average of  46 at 45.5, although there is a variety of other statistics to choose from to suit your case. 

    Further information below, including the performance of individual schools, and a look at another measure, the English Baccalaureate ......

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    Written on Monday, 16 October 2017 16:29 Be the first to comment! Read 296 times
  • Provisional GCSE Results for Kent 2017

    Update on Simon Langton  Boys below

    Medway Outcomes here

    This is the second year of the new GCSE assessments for measuring schools performance, Progress 8 and Attainment 8, which replace the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths. Both these are measured by an arcane formula combining results in eight curriculum subjects to produce numbers whose meaning and spread is very difficult to comprehend, but enable schools to be placed in an order. 

    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, and is rightly given priority in measuring performance.  Under this measure, Kent is slightly below the National Average of -0.03, at -0.11.

    Meopham 2

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Kent exactly equalling the National score of 46 ranked 60th out of all Local Authorities, although there is a variety of other statistics provided to choose from to suit your case. Both measures have had their methodology changed to suit government priorities and the new grading system for English and maths. As a result, numbers are not directly comparable.  

    Headlines: the Grammar School progress table is no longer the sole preserve of West Kent and super-selectives with four girls' schools  invading the top eight. Highworth, Invicta, Folkestone Girls' and Maidstone Girls have joined Tonbridge, TWGGS, and Dartford Girls', leaving Dartford as the only boys school. Both Oakwood Park and Chatham and Clarendon come below the national average, along with one provisional result for a school which failed for technical reasons, as explained below.   

    Top non-selective school is Bennett Memorial, one of six church schools in the top ten, the top three ever present also including St Simon Stock and St Gregory's. All these three are wholly selective on religious grounds, and at the top also in attainment. For the second consecutive year there are remarkable performances by Meopham School and Orchards Academy, neither of which have the built in advantages of other top performers. As last year eight schools were below the government floor level with well-below average progress  facing government intervention, five the same as last year. 

    Five of the top six grammar schools on attainment are unsurprisingly super-selective in West and North West Kent - along with Tunbridge Wells Girls'. These are the same schools as in 2016, balanced by five boys and one mixed grammar at the foot.  The Non-selective table is led by three church schools, Bennett Memorial leading the way above two grammar schools. Five non-selective schools are at the foot of both Progress and Attainment Tables.

    Orchards 1

    Further information below. including the performance of individual schools......

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    Written on Saturday, 14 October 2017 18:11 2 comments Read 475 times
  • Kent Test Results 2017: Initial outcomes

    I now have initial information regarding the Medway Test, happily provided promptly, posted here.

    Kent Test results have now been published with the pass mark the same as last year. An automatic pass has again been awarded to candidates scoring 106 on each of the three sections - English; maths and reasoning – along with an aggregate score across the three sections of 320. This total will again be around 21% of the total age cohort across the county, with further details to follow as I receive them.

    An additional number of children will have been found to be of grammar school standard through what is called the Headteacher Assessment, usually around 6% of the total. You will find full details of the whole Kent Test process here. Overall, these two processes last year yielded passes for 26% of Kent children in the age cohort.  

    One important and welcome change is that KCC are now making individual test scores available to parents who registered online from 5 p.m., so there will no longer be the anxious wait or chasing up of primary schools for results of previous years.

    As last year, I  shall be publishing a second article later when I receive more data from KCC. 

    You will find initial figures released by KCC below, together with further information and ways I can support you. I find that the information articles on the website (RHS of this and every page) with links below, answer the majority of questions I receive. 

    As usual there are hysterical and grossly misleading headlines in some online newspapers about the shortage of grammar school places, which have whipped up a torrent of unnecessary fears on some of the more neurotic online forums (often driven by out of county families). Although KCC cannot guarantee every Kent child who has passed, a place in a Kent grammar school (not necessarily of their choice), there have been no reported cases in recent years of Kent children not getting in who are looking for a place, although a few have had to go to appeal. Further thoughts below. 

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    Written on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 17:23 4 comments Read 1947 times
  • Medway Test Results 2017

     I am rarely caught out completely by admission matters, but events at the two Chatham grammar schools for entry in September 2017 have completely amazed me. These are compounded by the Medway Test results this year, when the built in bias towards girls’ success has completely vanished, as explained below.

    The Medway Test outcomes, in summary, have seen 23% of the Medway cohort this year found suitable for grammar school before Reviews take place, which is exactly on target as in 2016. However, the annual gender differential stretching back for years, which saw 25% of girls passing the test as against 21% of boys in 2016, has disappeared, with 23% of both boys and girls passing for admission in 2018.

    Both Chatham grammar schools have been suffering from a shortage of pupils in recent years: in 2015, Chatham Girls admitted just 93 pupils with a planned admission number of 142; and Holcombe Grammar (previously Chatham Boys) 106, PAN 120. This September Chatham Girls has admitted over 180 pupils, Holcombe over 150.

    The main reason for this dramatic surge in numbers is the influx of London children who, uniquely in Medway are grammar qualified for the two Chatham’s by virtue of success in the Kent Test. For September 2018 entry, there were 659 out of county passes, including 263 from London Boroughs (the largest number as always were the 381 from Kent).

    So, what do these remarkable outcomes offer for 2018 entry? Some thoughts below, together with further analysis of Medway Test results. You will find further information on the Review process and its implications for appeals, here, which will answer most queries.

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    Written on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 19:36 2 comments Read 590 times
  • Unlawful Grammar School Admissions: Holcombe (Medway); Maidstone Girls; and Invicta

    The DfE has now ruled, as I forecast in my article entitled ‘Shame on Holcombe Grammar School and Medway Council’, that actions such as those of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) in placing pupils registered with Holcombe Grammar School at another school for their education are unlawful.  This illegality has been supported by Medway Council in yet another failure by them.

    As a result, the pupils are now being placed back at Holcombe, but not until Term Two, although they have known of the decision for over a week already and could surely have been moved much earlier if the pupils’ interests were any sort of priority.

    Chatham Boys 3

     

    This is the third such case relating to school admissions locally in less than a year, where the DFE, and in one case the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), has ruled the schools’ practices unlawful; but sadly the arrogance of these institutions has seen no semblance of apology from any. It is clear that the extent of accountability only covers ensuring that wrongdoing no longer happens to other children, and damages confidence in the large majority of reputable schools.

    This article focuses primarily on events at Holcombe/Invicta Academy, but also looks at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls’ response to the LGO finding of their unlawful actions, and consequences of the Invicta/St Olave’s scandal. 

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    Written on Saturday, 14 October 2017 12:38 Be the first to comment! Read 321 times