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Saturday, 01 March 2014 00:00

Following Chaucer, where are the pressure points elsewhere in Kent

The following is an adaptation of an article appearing in Kent on Sunday this weekend. It is written following the announcement of the closure of Chaucer Technology College in Canterbury subject to Consultation (below), and  also looks at other vulnerable schools, the effect of Free Schools on Kent's maintained school system, and the impact of inward migration in Kent. 

The announcement of the closure of Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury at the end of the summer should have come as no great surprise, given the dramatically falling number of students entering the school over the past few years, and the huge financial deficit allowed to develop. You will find a fuller analysis of the issues here. However, this article looks at the wider pattern of take up of secondary school places across Kent, identifying other schools that are vulnerable. The schools with the highest proportion of vacant places have remained the same over the past few years, leading one to ask how some of these can also remain viable, given that school incomes depend on the number of pupils they attract. Chaucer is the second closure in twelve months, with Walmer Science College being absorbed into Castle Community College last September, because of the falling number of children in the Deal District. I do not anticipate these two schools will be the last.

Concerns have been expressed about the number of young people coming to Kent from other European countries, causing pressure on school places.....

and also migrating from London for economic and welfare reasons, mainly to East Kent. To  my complete astonishment, I was told through a Freedom of Information request that Kent does not collect figures on the immigration of children into our schools or the national backgrounds of such children. Figures from an unpublished KCC Report on welfare issues in the county tell us that just 523 additional children arrived in Kent schools from other parts of the country in the last school year. Thanet secondary schools have gone public on the pressures they are under from families being moved out of London, but this data identifies that the total migration of children from London to Thanet in 2012-13 is 13 children. However, taking both sources into account, Thanet’s seven non-selective schools increased by just 47 students in total during the year, suggesting the problems are not as great as feared, although most are focused on one school. 

The schools with the highest proportion of vacant spaces in Year Seven, all with over 60% of their desks empty, are the same as last year except for Walmer.

Oasis Academy Hextable is in the most worrying situation, with just 37 of its 150 places filled, the neighbouring Orchards Academy in Swanley appearing to be winning the battle for a shrinking pool of students. This is another school where I used to do admission appeals some years ago, when it was the most popular school in the area. Like most of the other schools at the bottom of the table, Hextable has failed an OFSTED on what I thought at the time was a harsh criticism, but still paid the price, families voting with their feet; however, one has to ask if the District can support both schools or, if like Deal, a merger would produce one stronger establishment. Whilst this appears eminently sensible,  the two stumbling blocks are firstly, that they are both academies and KCC which is responsible for the strategic planning of places has no authority over them. Secondly, they are run by two different academy chains who may choose not to discuss the possibility. 

Next comes The Marlowe Academy with 70% vacancies, only a third the intake of five years ago, and surely another non-viable school saved from closure by virtue of its being an academy out of KCC control. The problems of the school were featured by KCC in its evidence to Parliament for an enquiry about academies.

High Weald Academy, the former failed Angley School in Cranbrook, sponsored by the Hayesbrook School academy trust, continues to limp along. It has been further hit this year along with a number of Tonbridge schools, by the opening of the new Hadlow Rural Community School, a Free School focusing on rural issues, which had a projected intake of just 30 children in Year Seven, but settled for 52.

Next up was Pent Valley School in Folkestone with 63% vacancies which, in contrast, has a current ‘Good’ OFSTED. It has suffered in numbers for years from competition with the neighbouring Folkestone Academy, but also loses out because of the remarkable success of school appeals at Folkestone School for Girls, taking around 70 previously non-selective girls, a figure nearly twice as large as any other Kent school. A closer look shows that numbers have been nearly as high previously, the defence for the high number of appeals surely being that this is one of the best performing grammar schools in the county at GCSE, so whatever it does, works. However, many of these girls will have otherwise been destined for Pent Valley or, where they took from the other two local non-selective schools, these in their turn filled up from Pent Valley, a pattern that repeats elsewhere in Kent for the local school at the bottom of the heap. The school will be under even more pressure this year, with neighbouring Folkestone Academy having increased its PAN from 240 to 270. 

Not surprisingly, Chaucer Technology School comes next, its intake having fallen from 235 in 2008, to 57 this school year, and a projected 30 or so for entry in September. No way could it continue.

After Meopham School, another with a failed OFSTED, comes the Towers School in Ashford which has seen its intake fall by 51 children, the largest drop in Kent. This will be predominantly because of losses to the new Wye Free School, although all three Ashford non-selective schools have been hit.

Along with Hextable and Chaucer, the other biggest loser in intake for September 2013, is Ebbsfleet Academy, which has had a very controversial year surrounding its change of status, as detailed here.

The popularity of the third new Free School, Trinity in Sevenoaks, explains the lowest intake at the nearby Knole Academy since it converted, with 41 vacancies.  Not surprisingly, KCC in its evidence to the Education Select Committee (see previous article in KOS) wrote: “All are in areas of socio-economic advantage, rather than growing diversity and choice in disadvantaged areas of need.  There appears to be ‘middle class capture’ of the Free Schools process, in order to create new capacity in areas that do not necessarily need school places”.

This article has inevitably focused on problems in Kent, but the majority of Kent’s secondary schools are sending out positive signals, such as this year’s secondary OFSTED outcomes with 10 out of 12 Reports being ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ so far. The school with the greatest increase in numbers in Kent, with a 46% rise in admissions in the past year, is St Georges

St George’s CofE Comprehensive in Gravesend, placed in Special Measures five years ago, but now fully recovered under new leadership and ‘Good’ OFSTED, showing that schools can and are being turned round, with the right measures being taken. Next highest is the Community College, Whitstable, with its largest intake in five years, showing one does not need to be an academy to turn the corner!

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 21:58

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