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News and Comments - Kent Independent Education Advice

News and Comments

The latest news posted by Peter J Read; just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the over 800 regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item, who have gone beyond the headlines to look at the full article.  If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment.

Please feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk.

 
News items below appear below as and when I have time in a very busy schedule supporting clients.

Oasis Academy Skinner Street in Gillingham continues and extends the tale of woe for Medway Primary Schools by receiving a Pre Termination Warning Notice Letter from the Department for Education.

oasis academy skinner street

This follows the receipt of a similar letter by Chantry Primary Academy in Gravesend last November.

The Pre-Termination Warning to Academies states that if standards do not improve, the schools could be closed, following the termination of funding. To put it into context, exactly 100 letters warning of the consequences of continued failure have been issued to academies nationally in the past three years, but just four of these are Pre-Termination Warnings, the second most serious category. One school was terminated, the Durham Free School, after failure to improve following a damning OFSTED.  Eleven of the of the other schools receiving Pre-Warning Notice Letters are also Kent and Medway academies, details below, a far higher proportion than the national average.......


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Singlewell Primary in Gravesend has 83% of its 30 reception class places awarded to siblings for September, the highest proportion in Kent, with just five ‘non-siblings’ awarded places on distance grounds, all living within 200 yards of the school. Another 25 children who listed the school in first place on their application form, most with a good expectation of a place in normal years, have been turned down. You will find a list of the other ‘sibling hot-spots’ further down this article.

Singlewell

 

The school with the smallest cut off distance this year, out of the 185 Kent primaries who use and have applied standard KCC oversubscription rules, at just 92 yards, is St Peter’s CofE Primary in Tunbridge Wells (Outstanding OFSTED. Eleven of the school's 20 places have gone to siblings, higher than the average which saw 43% of places awarded to siblings in oversubscribed schools.

St Peters TW

However, Tunbridge Wells also exposes a problem that arises from KCC’s use of temporary enlargements. Three TW schools have suffered from temporary enlargements each of 30 places for several years, followed by a subsequent removal of these places, which inevitably increases the proportion of siblings admitted whilst the number of children offered places on distance grounds shrinking. The most extreme example of this was at Bishops Down last year, when all 30 places went to siblings. Claremont and Pembury were also increased by 30 places each some years ago, but have now scaled back again to 60 places each. Bishops Down with 73% of siblings in 2015, has the second smallest catchment distance in the county with the five children who qualified through nearness all living less than 170 yards from the school. Fourth in the county on distance comes Claremont, with 67% siblings, the remainder all living closer than 181 yards from the school. Pembury, 16th tightest in the county on distance also has two thirds of its intake as siblings, those qualifying on distance all living less than 288 yards from the school. KCC was heavily criticised by the Schools Adjudicator in 2012 for using such temporary enlargements without working through the consequences…..


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Monday, 14 September 2015 19:22

Summer Born Children

Mr Nick Gibb, Government Schools Minister, sent out a Consultation document last week proposing the admission of summer born children to Reception Year in September of the following year if their parents wish this, allowing such children to stay in that year group as they progress through school. Initially, this may sound a great idea and would be welcomed by many parents who have been pressing for the change.

There is clear evidence that summer born children are currently academically disadvantaged against their older peers in the same classroom, so this will help many of those who take up this opportunity if it is approved. Unfortunately it sees them replaced at the bottom of the heap by two other groups of children who would then be the most disadvantaged, so no net gain, as well as introducing a complex structure that could be a nightmare to administer at a time in an area like Kent, as pressure on places at popular primary schools becomes ever fiercer.

Currently Kent County Council has a very sensible policy placing the needs of the child, which are often medical, at the fore and this article goes on to look at the current situation and possible scenarios, although I recognise it will be highly unpopular with those parents fighting for their own children’s benefit, as of course they should....


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Medway primary schools have come bottom nationally for Key Stage Two results in 2015 for the second time in four years. Medway is surely the worst Local Authority in the country in terms of primary school performance, having been in the bottom five out of 152 Authorities for every year but one since 2009, as shown in the table below. In the most recent figures available for the proportion of children in OFSTED good or Outstanding schools, Medway was also bottom in the country in 2013-14.

According to the Medway Messenger, Mr Mike O'Brien, Cabinet Member for Education, considers that a group of unpaid volunteers, "the Governors are responsible" for this perennial disgrace. He has promised to take appropriate action - and warned governors and teachers to "shape up or ship out". The consistent record of failure is apparently nothing to do with Medway Council or its failing and failed School Improvement Department, an utterly complacent and false position that has been adopted annually and recorded diligently on this website year after year......


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Permanent Exclusion numbers in Kent and Medway are heading rapidly in different directions, with an alarming rise in exclusions in Medway. In 2019-10 there were just three permanent exclusions in Medway, climbing to 22 in 2011-12. Just years later, it has soared to 71 pupils in 2013-14, of which fourteen were exclusions by Bishop of Rochester Academy, under its previous sponsors, Rochester Diocesan Board of Education.  Just 9 of the Medway exclusions were of primary school children, that is 10%, against 26, or 30%, in Kent.

Bishop

Meanwhile in Kent, the welcome news is that the reverse is happening as the number has fallen equally dramatically to a total of 87 in 2013-14, just a few more than Medway, although with 6 times as many children at local schools. An earlier article recorded that 203 children were permanently excluded from Kent schools in 2011 – 12, with 250 in the previous year. 

However, the number of SEN statemented primary aged children permanently excluded in Kent after a dip to 5  in 2012-13 has returned to its 2011-12 figure of 19 which is now 69% of the total of 26 primary exclusions, all but two of the others also being on the SEN register. By contrast in Medway no primary pupils with statements were excluded, out of just 9 primary exclusions in total. 

These are surely three very startling and contradictory outcomes in Kent and Medway for permanent exclusions overall and for primary and also primary statemented children.


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Friday, 03 July 2015 19:42

Kent Advice School Appeals Consultancy

I regret to inform browsers and other enquirers that I am retiring from my appeals consultancy with effect from the end of this term. Whilst I have enjoyed a gratifying level of success, I have found the past year especially hard work, accompanied by personal health difficulties. Just two clients were unsuccessful in appealing for a school of their choice this summer, and over the past eleven years I have prepared more than 800 appeals, with a success rate of over 95% and learned a great deal about schools and the admissions and appeals process on the way. With regard to the success rate, to be fair I have only taken on clients where I have seen a chance of winning, and so have disappointed many enquirers where I have felt unable to deliver.

I fully intend to keep my other educational activities going, including this website offering information, advice, news and comment, together with my campaigns and telephone consultancy, with the latter also likely to provide limited support for appeals but constrained by time available.

The Telephone Consultancy service has mushroomed, although as a result I find I am having to be more selective in the areas of advice offered, focusing mainly on school admissions, again because of time constraints. A big area of my work now caters for advising expatriates coming to Kent, with several new clients every week.

As many of you will have noted, my website is not up to date in several areas, a situation I plan to rectify over coming months. In particular I have to remove references to my appeals consultancy. In the past year, it has proved more popular than ever, and attracted 193,432 certified visits from 116,376 users, 57% of which were new visitors.

A subsequent article will explain that I am expanding the website to offer advertising for those offering educational services, and I am now happy to receive enquiries about this service. The first advertiser, the tutoring company Bright Young Things, has seen 156 visitors to its webpage in the first two days it has been up.

The past year…


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OFSTED has published a critical Report into Medway Council's arrangements for supporting school improvement following years of underperformance, declining on an annual basis to last year’s nadir of being bottom Local Authority in the country out of 152 for primary schools in OFSTED assessments, although rising to the dizzy heights of 137th in Key Stage 2 outcomes. By contrast, overall Medway's secondary schools that are all academies and out of Medway Council control perform well on both counts.

The Council has a new school improvement strategy, but the Report records it does not: identify clearly enough what needs to change to drive improvement; show how significant gaps will be closed for underachieving schools; provide sufficient detail of targets for improvement to measure success; identify clearly enough how school improvement staff will be held to account for the impact of their work. Without these vital elements it is difficult to see how significant improvement can be achieved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Good points include: the work of the early years team; recent school improvement work showing some results, but much of this is too recent to see its full impact; the work of the new interim assistant director for school effectiveness and inclusion, appointed a year ago, noting that her actions are starting to have an impact but limited by available expertise in Medway primary schools; School Leaders and governors who spoke to inspectors report a step change in the local authority's approach.

As a result, Ofsted will continue to monitor the local authority’s arrangements for school improvement. These arrangements are likely to be re-inspected within two years.

I look at the situation in more detail below, including the effect on some individual primary schools........


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Updated: 28th June

 Earlier this month, Channel Four showed a Dispatches programme entitled “Exams: cheating the system”. Whilst the programmeinvestigated how some teachers and pupils cope with the pressure of examinations by bending the rules or cheating the system, this article is concerned with the section that focused on the Early Years and KS2 issues at a Kent primary school, Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend.

It is important to stress that the programme attached no fault whatever to the current staff, the school being led between January and July 2014 by an Executive Headteacher appointed by Kent County Council, who shared her responsibilities with her home school, the neighbouring Whitehill Primary. She was subsequently removed from Kings Farm by KCC, after which she  returned full-time to Whitehill.

There was a follow up in the Gravesend Messenger on 25th June, based on a frightening and convincing grievance procedure submitted by nine staff members and upheld by governors following an investigation by KCC Personnel Services. The grievance has now been circulated in the public domain, and the response by governors identifies: serious concerns about safeguarding and health and safety; concerns about treatment of children with SEN; concerns about relationships with parents; serious concerns about interactions with children and their well being; serious concerns about the curriculum and assessment; concerns about disability discrimination; serious concerns about relationships with staff, bullying and intimidation; serious concerns about the overall running of the school and serious concerns about the destruction of documents. As the executive headteacher, who has returned to Whitehill Primary and who refused to co-operate with the investigation, and a senior member of staff who is now employed full-time by Whitehill Primary were no longer employed by the school when this response was sent, no direct formal action has taken place. However, the response, sent in February 2015, notes that in view of the serious concern expressed about some of the allegations KCC intended to take the matter further.  

After an investigation, the Standards & Testing Agency had “concerns over how all of the tests were administered and has doubt over the validity of the tests, including the mathematics tests. The team has therefore made the decision to annul all tests for all children”. When the Head of School at Kings Farm during the period in question was replaced, she then went to work at Whitehill.The KS2 test results were also annulled for the children at Whitehill. A separate investigation by KCC into events at Kings Farm decided that after the authority “found evidence of inappropriate behaviour during the assessments, the leadership team of the school was replaced”. KCC regards what happened as a “a serious breach of professional misconduct”. KCC has confirmed that investigations by the appropriate national bodies are still ongoing.  The full statement by KCC to the programme is at the foot of this article.

Because Whitehill Primary is an academy, KCC has no authority there and I have no knowledge of what if any action has taken place as a result of maladministration at the school. 

I have covered the background in previous articles and look at the issues in more detail below....


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