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.