A news item based on this article and the one following appeared in Kent on Sunday on 25 March.
Oversubscribed Grammar Schools
With the proportion of children passing the eleven plus remaining roughly constant at 25.7% for 2012, a major cause of the shift is almost certainly the intensive coaching culture in the West of the county, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The results of this can be seen in levels of oversubscription with The Skinners School, Tunbridge Wells turning away a record 138 boys who had passed the Kent Test and put them in first place. The next seven are all in West or North West Kent: Dartford Grammar (125 – the 59 boys having accepted places who live in the London Boroughs adding to the pressure here considerably); Tonbridge Grammar (94 - down from last year’s top place with 104); Dartford Grammar Girls (84); The Judd School, Tonbridge (74); Tunbridge Wells Grammar Girls and Tunbridge Wells Grammar Boys (both 41); and Weald of Kent Grammar (32). Not far behind comes Wilmington Grammar Boys (19). It’s hardly surprising that so many grammar qualified children are currently without a grammar school place, although waiting lists and appeals will inevitably absorb some of these. Most oversubscribed grammar schools in Medway are Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Rochester (38); and Rochester Grammar School (31).
Grammar School Vacancies
At the other end of the scale there are 9 grammar schools, nearly all in East Kent, with 10 or more vacancies before appeals: largest being the Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone with 73; followed by Folkestone School for Girls; Highworth Grammar School for Girls, Ashford; Clarendon House Grammar, Ramsgate; Barton Court Grammar School, Canterbury; Mayfield Grammar School, Gravesend; Borden Grammar School, Sittingbourne; Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate; and Highsted Grammar School, Sittingbourne. Three others, Invicta Grammar School and Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone, and Wilmington Grammar School for Girls are full 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.
It is not that the number of able children in East Kent is declining, more to the point, the eleven plus is failing them, and it will surely not be long before these schools look to different methods of assessing children, as already happens in the two Dover Grammar School, both full as a result (see below). As it is, one can expect to see higher than normal success rates at appeal at many of these schools, as the balance is righted.
Oversubscribed Non-selective schools
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 partially caused by the lack of alternatives in the area, with Dartford Technology College (girls) and Meopham School both having failed OFSTEDs and there being no local boys’ non-selective school. These figures explain 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: Valley Park Community, Maidstone (also 91); Fulston Manor, Sittingbourne; North School, Ashford; Westlands School, Sittingbourne; Hillview School for Girls, Tonbridge; Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, Tunbridge Wells; Archbishop’s School , Canterbury (new entry); 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 try and cope with its popularity, followed by The Thomas Aveling School, and Greenacre School. Sadly, one reason for the popularity of many of these schools partially exists because parents wish to avoid other local schools.
Non-selective school vacancies
There are three schools with over 90 vacancies, and as always I wonder how these schools can survive financially: Pent Valley, Folkestone; Marlowe Academy; Broadstairs; and Chaucer Technology College, Canterbury. A total of 12 non-selective schools in Kent had more than a third of their places empty, even after KCC allocated children who had been offered none of their choices to some of these schools.
In West Kent, where the non-selective pressures are greatest, see below, two schools have different approaches to the issue of empty spaces. Skinners Kent Academy in Tunbridge Wells, has removed its problems at a stroke (in 2011 it was over half empty), by reducing its planned admission number by 30, after capacity was published in the summer, and by offering places to 28 children who hadn’t applied to it. Many of these would be grammar school qualified girls who were squeezed out of places in their local school. One wonders if the Academy will follow the path of New Line Learning Academy in Maidstone that has a part empty new set of buildings, and have solved their problems by installing a new Primary Free School in the premises (although not what the funding was intended for!). Knole Academy, Sevenoaks, actually increased their capacity by 30 to take in 38 children who hadn't applied for them, many of these grammar school qualified boys who were squeezed out of places in their local school (others were sent off to Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone which, oddly for an OFSTED Outstanding school, initially had spare places.
In Medway, the discrepancies are even starker: Bishop of Rochester Academy in Chatham has the highest number of vacancies in the area at 135, being over half empty. This is followed by St John Fisher, The Robert Napier School, Strood Academy, and The Hundred of Hoo School. A key issue in Medway is the rapidly falling rolls which currently leave 14% of all places empty.
My favourite oddity is the Duke Of York’s Military School, now a state comprehensive fully boarding Academy. According to KCC, the school has only filled 19 of its 56 spaces, so if you want a free education, paying only for boarding fees, this may be the school for you – they can’t turn you away if they are more than half empty, even if you have no military connection! However, they will soon fill up with boarding families, mainly military.
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.