This article covers the opening of ten new primary academies, with a further eleven primary school proposals to become academies in Kent and Medway over the past five months.
I also look at academies under pressure because of falling rolls – Swadelands, Hayesbrook, New Line Learning and High Weald; more secondary headteachers lose their jobs – together with the numbers crisis at Kent’s first UTC.
Two new secondary schools are now on the stocks in Maidstone and Dartford, and the number of all through academies for pupils aged 4-19 is doubling to four, with Kent's two St George's CofE secondary schools expanding to take in at primary age.
I also cover a range of grammar school issues in Maidstone, West and North West Kent, and Chatham......
New Academies and Proposals
Ten new primary academies have been opened up to the beginning of February, including Brenzett CofE Primary sponsored by the Diocese of Canterbury, and Westcourt Primary school In Gravesham.
The three Tenterden primaries, Tenterden Infant and Junior Schools, and St Michael’s Primary have all converted, and joined the Tenterden Schools Trust in conjunction with the local comprehensive secondary school, Homewood.
There are also two new converter Academies on the Isle of Sheppey; Halfway Houses and Minster in Sheppey Primary Schools, which are working together in the new Island Learning Trust.
The Pilgrim School in Borstal, Rochester, has become the lead (and to date only) school in the Pilgrim Trust, set up as a multi-academy Trust. Deanwood Primary School in Gillingham is being sponsored by the Howard Academy Trust and Balfour Junior Academy has also opened.
New converter applications in progress are, from Kent: Lamberhurst St Mary’s CofE; Stone St Mary’s CofE, Greenhithe; Horton Kirby CofE, Swanley; St Ethelbert’s Catholic Primary, Ramsgate; and St Teresa’s Catholic Primary, Ashford. From Medway: Barnsole Primary, Gillingham; Hoo St Werburgh Primary; Miers Court, Gillingham; Riverside Primary, Gillingham; St Margaret's Infant School, Gillingham; Thames View Primary, Gillingham.
Low Popularity and Academy Headteacher Casualties
I now have school census figures for October 2016, and will write a full article shortly. However, it is noticeable that four Kent schools, three academies and one converting, have over half their Year 7 places unoccupied, in previous years a strong indicator of schools in serious trouble. All but one of the previous least popular schools (measured by over 50% vacancies) have closed over the past four years. The only Medway school short of numbers for 2016, is Victory Academy, although it is still over half full, at 55%.
The four Kent schools in trouble are: Swadelands (see below), now being taken over by Valley Invicta Trust as a sponsored academy, with just 39% of its places occupied; Hayesbrook, Tonbridge, 40%; New Line Learning, Maidstone and High Weald, Cranbrook, Academies, both with 48%.
The Brook Learning Trust runs both Hayesbrook, sliding rapidly from being oversubscribed just a few years ago, and High Weald which has struggled for numbers over too many years and remains the one school that has bucked the closure spectre so far. Hayesbrook has a Good OFSTED rating, whilst High Weald is 'Requires Improvement', with significant criticism being made of governance. However, these are both two of the higher performing schools at GCSE, so I remain unclear of the reasons for their decline in popularity. New Line Learning (NLL) has never thrown off a negative image in spite of its modern purpose built premises. One factor may be that, along with the neighbouring Cornwallis Academy (also on the slide) forming the Future Schools Trust, both are designed with large open learning spaces which have also proved unpopular in many other newly built schools.
The Valley Invicta Academy Trust, also in Maidstone, currently in the news over the Invicta Grammar Sixth Form scandal, is sponsoring the new school of Science and Technology in Maidstone. The proposal has expanded to six forms of entry, and building has now been approved to start in September/October this year for opening in September 2018. This is likely to be disastrous news for NLL. The Trust is also taking over the troubled Swadelands school (see previous article) and is in discussion with the high performing Eastborough Primary School to join them as a converter academy.
A year ago, I wrote about the casualty rate of secondary headteachers at non-selective schools and at least three more have joined them this school year. I feel especially sorry for the head of High Weald Academy who I believe never stood a chance and went at Christmas, presumably the sacrifice for a disappointing OFSTED . The short termist football manager syndrome, is well and truly embedded into education, with results being everything. The head of the partner academy, Hayesbook, similarly ‘left’ last summer. Less surprising was the departure of the Principal of NLL.
Two schools bidding to be academies, but blocked by the PFI issue (and subsequent articles) are Holmesdale School in Cuxton, and The Malling School. The then strong Holmesdale took over struggling Malling School in a Federation, but in recent years the positions have reversed with Malling turning in good GCSE results and a Good OFSTED. It is perhaps therefore no surprise that Malling School has de-federated and the head of Holmesdale fell on his sword over Christmas, the school recently declining sharply in popularity and performance. I am told that at least one other head has gone over Christmas, having been suspended from their post.
Medway Grammar Schools (all academies)
The 2016 census figures shine more light on the battle between the two Chatham grammar schools; the concept of working together for the good of the community having gone out of the window with the academy programme. This data shows that Chatham Grammar School for Girls is struggling badly for numbers, leaching students from different Year Groups, up against the aggressive Thinking Schools Academy Trust that runs Holcombe Grammar (previously Chatham Boys). One can feel considerable sympathy for the school, given as well the expansionist plans and practice of the two super-selective Medway grammar schools in the past five years. Over this period, Rainham Mark Grammar and The Rochester Grammar each added 40 places up to 2015, although RGS settled for only 10 in 2016, the extra children in both schools predominantly being drawn from the two Chatham Grammars.The decision by Chatham Girls to restrict numbers to three forms of entry for the current Year 8 looked particularly short-sighted. Governors responsible for policy decisions must carry a heavy burden of responsibility for the current school difficulties in finance and numbers which has forced a reduction in the curriculum offering. The school was in negotiation with the University of Kent to be sponsored by it, but all has gone very quiet recently, perhaps unsurprisingly.
I have previously been highly critical of the proposal by the Holcombe Grammar School to go co-educational, but it has also suffered from losing boys, in this case to Sir Joseph Williamson’s as well as Rainham Mark. Holcombe's published rationale for the change makes no sense and a recent letter to parents suggests the school has put back its plan to a change in September 2019. Spineless Medway Council has now withdrawn its opposition, which I fear may now leave the change as the only viable option for the area, effectively reducing opportunities for both boys and girls.
The rapid increase in the number of pupils in Kent is leading to pressure on the system to find new schools. A decision on a new eight form entry secondary school to be sited in the Stone Lodge area of Dartford is expected by Easter, with two competing bids from established Multi-Academy Trusts, both with a presence in the area. Currently, all but one non-selective secondary schools in the Dartford District are run by the Leigh Academy Trust with a win by this Trust providing a complete monopoly in the town, which also includes the University Technical College, see below. The alternative bid is from the Brook Learning Trust, see above, which runs the Ebbsfleet Academy in the new Garden City developing between Dartford and Gravesham.
University Technical Colleges
Last year, the Leigh Academy Trust announced plans to extend the age range of its new UTC in Dartford, as explained here. By adding three new year groups from 11-14, it negates the whole philosophy of the UTC which was developed to offer students industry linked vocational courses from 14-19. As I suggested in my previous article, the rationale for the forced change is the failure of the UTC model to attract students from traditional schools at age 14, also explored more generally in a recent article in SchoolsWeek. The 2016 census shows the Leigh UTC is in a critical state recruiting just 38 students instead of its Planned Admission Number of 150, a further drop from 2015’s 56. It is also failing to attract numbers into the Sixth Form, with under 50 in each Year Group. In short it can have no future unless it follows through the plan to change to a more traditional 11-19 school, adding another five forms of entry to secondary provision in the area, which would effectively mark the end of the UTC concept.
The Medway UTC has a less ambitious PAN of 120 although expanding to 150 in 2018, and filled for 2016 admission, attracting 120 students into Year 10 from other local schools, including apparently some from grammar schools (the two Chathams?) this year, creating a much firmer base.
Academies and Grammar Schools
Although not strictly academy news, there is considerably increased pressure on boys’ grammar school places in West Kent this year, as a result of the current failure to gain permission to open the new Sevenoaks grammar school annexe to boys. The annexe, run by Weald of Kent Grammar, opens for 90 girls in September. A statement on The Judd School website reads: 'Bulge' Class in Year 7 – September 2017. At the request of KCC we are taking an additional 25 students this September into Year 7, so that there will be 6 classes of 30 children each. There is a very significant shortage of selective places for boys in West Kent this year as a result of a larger cohort and a higher proportion gaining a selective assessment on the PESE Test. Similar requests have been made to the other boys’ grammar schools in the area. We do have sufficient staffing and rooms available for an extra class and we are pleased to help the Authority and provide for the local population. At the same time the additional revenue funding will be most welcome! It would not be a surprise should the same request be made in subsequent years; thus far we have committed to an extra class in this September only". There is currently no news about whether Skinners and Tunbridge Wells Boys' Grammar are following the same route and we may have to wait until allocation in March to find out.
Meanwhile in Gravesham, Gravesend Grammar (boys) is clearly regretting its expansion to 174 places a few years ago, seeing a surge to over 40 out of county boys joining it annually as a result and changing the nature of the school. It is therefore reducing its intake to 150. Perversely, for Sixth Form admission, it abandons any residential priority and gives priority to the highest GCSE scorers, no matter where they live, which will inevitably reduce opportunities for students wishing to transfer from local non-selective schools. At the same time Mayfield Grammar, the equivalent girls’ school, has been granted basic need funding to expand its intake from 145 to 175, following a request from KCC for extra places to be made available. This will inevitably open up the school to out of county applications. Surely only one of these contradictory proposals in Gravesend can make sense? Gravesend Grammar will also be coping with the fall out from its partner Federation Academy, Whitehill Primary, whose previous headteacher has been permanently banned from teaching.
My article on the scandal at Invicta Grammar School, which annually gets rid of large numbers of students at the end of Year 12 in order to improve its A Level league table position, has been read by an unprecedented 20,000 visitors in less than a month. The only response from the school so far has been to falsely claim that all 22 leavers voluntarily chose to go half way through their A Level course last summer, as disproved by the large number of testimonies at the foot of the article. Current Year 12 students must be wondering what the policy will be this summer. According to school statements, it should be that no one is to be forced out although volunteers to leave are encouraged. We shall see!
All Through Academies
Kent has had two purpose built, old style 4-18 Academies for some years, at Folkestone Academy and John Wallis Academy in Ashford, both absorbing existing primary schools. However, two more secondary schools are extending their age range. St George's CofE Foundation School in Broadstairs opened a new primary section initially admitting 30 pupils into the Reception class two years ago, but expanding to 60 new pupils for September 2016. St George's CofE School, Gravesend is planning to admit 60 primary aged children into the Reception Year in September 2018. As these are by some way the two most oversubscribed non-selective schools in Kent, and attendance at the primary section secures a place in the secondary school, competition for these places should be very strong. However, Thanet parents do not appear to be convinced yet, St George's Foundation School initially having 21 Reception vacancies on allocation this year out of 60 available. Nevertheless, by September 2016 the two Reception classes were full, perhaps as word went round that chances of getting through to the most popular school in Kent were now even lower if you did not go to their feeder school.
General Academy News
As always, you can find the latest list of Academies and Academy Groups operating in Kent and Medway elsewhere on this website. I shall shortly update the Free School and UTC development pages.
For those wishing to keep abreast of scandals in academies across the country, the Simon Langton Girls Grammar School Parents Forum provides an often local perspective, whilst the online blog SchoolsWeekis an investigative set-up, often breaking major stories.