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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.

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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There has been an effective increase of 50 Reception places in Medway Primary schools for admission in 2015, although with an increase of 144 in the number of pupils admitted there is further pressure on spaces. However, my perception is that there are actually fewer issues this year, as parents have perhaps chosen more realistically and spread their preferences across a wider range of schools. Indeed, I reported earlier this year on the overall picture which saw more Medway children gaining their first choice than in 2014. Of course, none of this helps the 126 children who have been offered none of their choices, over a third of them in Strood.

Pressure is greatest overall in Rainham, with just 6 spaces in its 7 schools.

St Marys catholic Gillingahm       

Most popular school in Medway is St Mary’s Catholic Primary, turning away 32 first choices, followed by: Hilltop (29); Brompton-Westbrook and The Pilgrim both 25; Balfour Infants and St Margaret at Troy Town CofE, both 24, All Faiths Children Community (23); and Cliffe Woods (22).

All Hallows Primary Academy has 67% of its spaces empty, followed by the new Hundred of Hoo Primary Academy with 50%, Twydall Primary 32% and New Horizons Academy in Chatham with 30%.

You will find a picture of the 2014 situation here.

I look more closely at each district below....


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The new draft Education and Adoption Bill which includes provision to force failing or coasting schools to become academies, without local or parental views being taken into account, has many flaws, possibly the most serious one being that there is no evidence that, overall, academisation improves standards. You will find plenty of evidence to support this assertion on the Anti Academies Alliance website, admittedly a partisan organisation, but one that carries out a powerful analysis of outcomes.

Certainly not an original view, but I strongly believe that the key to a good school is good leadership and the status of the school is irrelevant if the resources delivered to perform the job are similar.

The second key flaw in the argument is that there is no consideration of what to do with failing academies, and we have plenty of these in Kent and Medway, most recently, Oasis Academy Skinner Street in Gillingham, classified ‘Requires Improvement’ under Medway and handed over, with many of its fellow underperforming schools, to academy chains.

oasis academy skinner street

The most recent OFSTED Report on Oasis Skinner Street, published today, places it in Special Measures, so where next for the school? The Report does not mince its words: “Leaders and governors have an unrealistic view of how well the academy is performing. Leaders do not check weak teaching or underachievement sufficiently strongly to address them promptly”. The Marlowe Academy is of course to close after 10 years of providing a sub-standard education to its students, with little happening from government to force improvement in this period. Castle Community College in Deal, fast-tracked as an Outstanding school to become an academy, spectacularly fell from Outstanding to Special Measures in 2014, in just three years.

There are of course many examples of highly successful academies and county maintained schools in Kent and Medway that are highlighted elsewhere in this website, but this article is written primarily to look at the implications of the proposed Bill for local failing or underperforming schools, identified below…….


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Friday, 22 May 2015 21:14

Academy and Free School News May 2015

This article looks at the five new Kent academies opened since my previous Report, changes in ownership of academies, Lilac Sky, and new and proposed Free Schools.

New Academies

New academies open since February are: Beaver Green Primary in Ashford, sponsored by Swale Academy Trust; Charlton CofE Primary Dover, (Diocese of Canterbury); Lydd Primary (Village Academy Trust); and two Converter stand-alone primaries, Chilton Primary, Ramsgate; and Godinton Primary, Ashford.

There are new converter applications from Manor Community Primary, Dartford and St Mary’s Catholic Primary, Canterbury.

You will find a full list of open and proposed Kent and Medway Academies here, and of the academy groups operating in the county here, although the latter picture changes rapidly and I would be grateful for any updates or amendments that need to be made.


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 Kent Primary schools have continued to produce a very high pattern of OFSTED outcomes above the national averages since my previous report in February, with 3 more schools ‘Outstanding’, and 12 Assessed ‘Good’ out of the 19 schools inspected, with none failing. Even more pleasing for the families concerned, 10 of these have improved their rating, as against just 4 declining. The three ‘Outstanding’ schools are: Chiddingstone, Sevenoaks; St Martin’s CofE, Folkestone; and Wickhambreux CofE, Canterbury.

             chiddingstone 2       St Martins Folkestone                                                   Wickhambreux    

   

Special mention to St Martin’s, together with Kemsley Primary Academy in Sittingbourne and St Francis Catholic in Maidstone, which have each leapt two categories, Kemsley and St Francis (see below) up from Special Measures to ‘Good.’

In Medway, things also look much better with its first two ‘Outstanding’ schools for two years out of the eight assessed - The Pilgrim Primary in Borstal, and Cliffe Woods Primary, an Academy so independent of Medway Council, both up from "Good"  on their previous assessment. The other six were all assessed as ‘Good’ and, although one has slipped from Outstanding, two others have improved, so overall some improvement on previous results.

      cliffe woods       Pilgrim

At the foot of this article, is a table of the relevant data for both Authorities in 2014/15, compared with the most recent national figures, and you can compare them with 2013/14 via the link here.

Whilst not a primary school, I am also happy to congratulate here Five Acre Wood Special School, Maidstone, on its recent Outstanding OFSTED Report, joining seven other Outstanding Kent Special Schools out of a total of  20, eleven of the others being graded 'Good'.......


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Update(20 May) – please read main article below first: BBC SE broadcast an item on 18th May about correspondence they had obtained by FOI, between Kent County Council and Government. This explains the delay in approving the building works for the new Trinity Free School on the old Wildernesse site in Sevenoaks. The problem is that the project is linked to the proposed Weald of Kent Grammar School annex on the same site and government has delayed a decision on approving the annex for over six months, as explained below. This item continues in the main body of this article, also below. In any case, with Trinity School about to grow by another 90 students in September, it appears that there is now approval for temporary accommodation to be erected on the site so the whole school can move there for the new academic year.

The proposed Weald of Kent Grammar School annex in Sevenoaks to cater for local girls surely came closer to approval with the Conservative victory in the election last week. Not being a lawyer, I could not see what was wrong with the most recent proposal currently with the government, as it avoided the fatal flaws in two earlier proposals described in previous articles on this website. Nonetheless, government sat on the proposal without making a decision for six months before the election, presumably because of its contentious nature. Certainly, the political ramifications of approving a new annex are enormous, not just in Kent but also likely to spread to other parts of the country, with the Home Secretary having already advocated a satellite grammar school in Maidenhead back in November, as explained in my most recent article.

Sevenoaks Annex

As I see them, the subsequent issues for Sevenoaks and other parts of the country are as follows:


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I now have a full breakdown of Kent primary school allocations for admission in September, following my previous post of preliminary information. Headlines are:

There appears to be a crisis in provision of primary school places in a number of Kent towns, with Dartford, Folkestone, and Sevenoaks each with NO vacancies in any school on primary school Reception age allocation last month. Ashford, Gravesend/Northfleet, Maidstone, and Tunbridge Wells have 2% vacancies, with Broadstairs/Ramsgate 3%. In addition, rural Sevenoaks also has just 2% vacancies. KCC has a target of there being at least 5% vacancies which is broadly achieved in each of their twelve Districts that each embrace both town and country.

The most oversubscribed primary school is Sandgate Primary with 67 first choices turned away.

Sandgate 

It is followed by: Michael’s CofE Infants, Maidstone 60; Holy Trinity & St John’s CofE , Margate 58; St Joseph’s Catholic, Northfleet 48; Priory Infant, Ramsgate 47; Great Chart, Ashford & Brunswick House, Maidstone 45; Cobham, Gravesham 44; St John’s Catholic, Gravesend 43; Fleetdown, Dartford 38; and Chilton, Ramsgate 34. all but one of which are in or adjacent to these towns. Claremont Primary, Tunbridge Wells, which has receive much media attention because of its oversubscription, only comes in at 13th, at 32. Just four of these  ten schools are the same as 2014 admissions, showing the difficulty in forecasting demand.

Thirteen schools will be at least half empty in their Reception year in September, headed by Lower Halstow at 77% with just seven of its 30 places taken up, and Charing at 70%, with six of its 20 places filled. Again, such is the changing pattern of admissions, that just four of the thirteen were in the same plight in 2014.

Fuller details on all individual districts highlighting individual areas and schools under pressure below.....


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 Good news for most Kent and Medway parents as the proportion of children in both Authorities to be offered places later today in a Reception class at a school of their choice, and also in their first choice school, has risen compared with 2014 figures and the against the national trend.

The headline figures are that: 

  1. All overall statistics for Kent and Medway are  an improvement on 2014 figures.
  2. Kent has 85.81% of children awarded their first choice school, up nearly 1% on 2014, Medway 87.08% over 1% higher than 2014.
  3. Number of children placed in Kent is 17,415, up by 318 on 2014, in Medway by 200.
  4. Seven new primary academies are opening in Kent in September, creating 240 additional places.
  5. Sadly, 724 Kent and 126 Medway children have not been offered any school of their choice.

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