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Displaying items by tag: coronavirus

Update 25th February: I have added some 'secret' information regarding late applications to  Medway grammar schools here

The government has extended last year’s temporary and amended arrangements for school admission appeals again, to run until 30th September 2021.

My sense is that these arrangements worked well in 2020, with all sides appearing happy with the new procedures in the great majority of cases. There was a total of 3424 appeals heard for admission to Kent and Medway primary and secondary schools last year, of which just 751, or 22% were upheld, compared to 26% in 2019 for a similar number of appeals. You will find that my extensive report on the 2020 appeals process and outcomes looks closely at the way the new arrangements worked.

As well as looking at appeals for admission to secondary schools in 2021, I also look below at late applications, both for families moving into the area and for those changing their direction, including for grammar schools.

I will be reporting on the initial allocation of secondary school places in Kent and Medway, as usual, in a week's time. This will be followed within the next couple of weeks on a detailed breakdown of allocations, in what is regularly a group of the most visited articles on the site and which will provide a further indication on the chances of a successful appeal or late application.   

Published in News and Comments
Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:15

Coronavirus Jottings

23rd December: I tried to write an article speculating what would happen to schools in January, but have given it up as an impossible task. Happy Christmas and my sincere best wishes for 2021 to all who are responsible for delivering an education to Kent and Medway children.  

The BBC has an excellent description of the chaos that is following the latest government knee jerk reactions to the beginning of a surge in Coronavirus cases. This particular U-Turn totally wipes out any rationale for the threats this week of legal action against schools and Local Authorities for closing schools early, and the issuing of fines to parents for keeping their children at home either through fear or to do their best to keep coronavirus free for Christmas. I cannot imagine what school leaders are going through as they grapple with the consequences over the 'holiday' (18/12).   

 Mass testing updates below (17/12, 18/12).

By the time you read this, it will be out of date, as headteachers and Local Authorities grapple with a rapidly changing situation in wider society and their own schools. Large numbers of staff and pupils are often absent for periods sometimes repeatedly, either with covid itself or self-isolating. Decisions are made in the spotlight with parts of society, including government, very ready to blame schools for decisions at variance with their own ideas, and now controlling media.

The Secretary of State for Education, in spite of his failures during the year, seeks ever tighter control of schools and has introduced new coronavirus related legislation, including the Temporary Continuity Direction. This enables him to force schools to remain open, yet another potential breakdown in relationships and trust and has enabled him to require Greenwich Council to backtrack on its decision to advise all local schools to close for the last four days of term. Islington and Waltham Forest councils have also told schools to move to remote learning and have been sent warning letters from the Department for Education, with the TCD to follow if they do not comply.

Quite understandably the government is concerned about the effect of a fractured attendance pattern on children’s education and mental health, over the past nine months and into the indeterminate future. Unfortunately, it has forgotten three important lessons which should have been learned. Firstly that local situations are usually best delegated to local people, secondly that in a rapidly changing scene, rigid policies can be heavily wrongfooted, and thirdly that the Education Department has a track record of getting it wrong.

The latest attendance figures released by the Department of Education show a frightening decline in attendance figures for last week, with just 55% of secondary aged pupils in Kent and 53% in Medway attending school according to the BBC, with primary attendance around 75%. An increasing number of schools have been forced to close through lack of staff able to attend. Whilst a major part of the absence is likely to be a direct consequence of coronavirus, many families are frightened whilst others are sensibly withdrawing their children from school early to give them a chance of a Covid free Christmas, some of whom have then been threatened with fines for non-attendance. There is nothing like goodwill at Christmas!

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Update: 18th December. One can only wonder if the government threatened MGS for planning this before it proposed all secondary schools should be closed for the first week of term and made it irrelevant!

Maidstone Grammar School leaders are delaying opening next term by two days and will provide remote learning for their pupils instead. This is because they can see potential but unpredictable problems arising from Brexit transport issues, exacerbated by Maidstone’s notorious traffic congestion, to the extent that staff and pupils may struggle to get to school in good time. This will enable the school to plan effectively for an ordered return, rather than having to manage a potentially chaotic situation.

MGS3

However, Kent County Council has strongly criticised the decision on the grounds it is unnecessary for ‘the problems are less likely to impact on Maidstone than some other areas, and staff and pupils can arrange for alternative transport arrangements, such as walking, cycling, train, bus, and car share’. Presumably, KCC is confident that all its officers who work at the Maidstone headquarters will also be able to attend punctually and without difficulty through such alternative arrangements, which would indeed undermine the school’s case.  However, today’s coronavirus news, along with the Christmas relaxation, means that a  surge in the pandemic is surely likely in January, strengthening the case for the decision.

Published in Peter's Blog
Wednesday, 18 November 2020 00:04

'Needless' School Closures and Coronavirus

 Written 18th November,  closures update 11th December:   A full list of school closures I know about below, latest in blue. 

Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director, Education and Young People's Services for Kent County Council, has managed to upset a wide range of Kent headteachers, with a comment as politically insensitive as Boris Johnson’s recent crass remark on Scottish devolution.

He has told headteachers in a lengthy and somewhat patronising letter to make sure they understand coronavirus guidelines so pupils and staff are not sent home "needlessly".  "While it remains the case that decision making on the running for your schools is for you to take with your governing bodies and Trusts, it is becoming clear that there are considerable differences in decision making at a locality level, and that does cause some problems at community level, and for some families. Quite simply, it is perceived that some schools are closing when other local schools facing similar or the same challenges are not."

It is an unfortunate coincidence that whilst part of his focus appeared aimed at Fulston Manor School, as reported in Kent Online, the school is in Swale which last evening was named as third most infected areas in England, and I am informed that other local schools may shortly follow suit in closing. I doubt this letter will discourage them. Other secondary schools which closed for fourteen days, but many of which will now have re-opened include: Dartford Science and Technology College; Greenacre; Howard, Hundred of Hoo, Rainham Girls, Robert Napier; Sandwich Technology School; St George's CofE Comprehensive, Gravesend; Sir Roger Manwood's School, Sandwich; and Strood Academy; along with Special Schools - Bower Grove, Maidstone; Meadowfield Special School; and Orchard, Canterbury; together with primary schools - Cobham Primary, Hampton Primary; Iwade Primary, Meopham Community Academy, Queenborough School, Sholden CofE Primary, Temple Hill Primary; Thistle Hill Academy; Kings School, Rochester (private). New closures: Gravesend Grammar, Herne Bay High.  The multiple Year Group closures are too many to list.

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Monday, 21 September 2020 20:46

Coronavirus Ramblings

Update (1) 22nd September: Aylesford School is the first to send all pupils home (for three days whilst the school is being deep cleaned)
                   (2) More on Kent Test below  (and see comment)
I have previously refrained from commenting on general education issues relating to Coronavirus on this site, as you will find plenty elsewhere, and I have preferred to stick to matters relating to Kent and Medway. None of this stops me from sounding off here and elsewhere about my two major themes. The first is what a brilliant job the overwhelming majority of schools are doing in managing the consequences of the pandemic, especially headteachers and other leaders who appear to have worked tirelessly over the summer and subsequently to deliver the best they can. The second is the obverse of this, the self-evident incompetence of the Secretary of State for Education and his team as they shower schools with reams of often ill-thought-out instructions dressed up as advice, too often at the last minute, These often come along with attempts to blame their failings on others. 

I am fortunate that I have been given plenty of media time to express my feelings and frustrations, an opportunity not available to many of my followers on this site except by social media, where I do not participate. 

I have collected some of my thoughts below, still relating where possible to Kent and Medway, covering such items as the pressures on schools, Covid testing especially for teachers, bubbles, school transport, inevitably the Kent and Medway Tests, and the future of GCSE and A-Level. No doubt by the time I publish this, the content will be overtaken by events that jostle each other leaving no time for schools to take a breather, but I will be updating.

Published in Peter's Blog
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News Update: I have been contacted by a number of Thanet families whose children were found selective but not offered grammar school places because they live too far away and the grammar schools are full. They were placed on waiting lists, but have been shocked to be moved further down the list. This is because, at the recent admission appeals, several non-selective children were found to be of grammar school ability. The rules require that they are also added to the waiting list and if they live closer go ahead of those already on it! I have previously looked at the dire situation in Thanet here,  with several of these families being offered one of the county's least popular schools. Sadly I have nothing positive to suggest.  

I am starting to receive some feedback on school admission appeals for Kent families, decided on the basis of written submissions only,  although most are happening very late in the year and many have not yet happened. This method is likely to have been the norm for both KCC Panels and other organisations running appeals where there are multiple appeals for a school. It is in my view the only practical way forward for grammar school and probably other multiple appeals as I identified here back in April. However, it is a variation breaking with the hopelessly impractical model outlined by the government, which I described as 'a chink of light in the regulations'.  The use of written submissions only was put forward as one of three possible options, the other two being telephone and video conferencing.    

Most appellants appear content with this process whatever the outcome, it being far less stressful than the 'normal' appeals of previous yearsespecially in the view of families who have past experience of these. Others are looking to challenge the outcome on grounds that it was very different from the model laid down by the government, as explained here.  However, as I concluded in that article, the model is not obligatory, so such a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

I have not yet heard of the experience of local families encountering telephone or video conferencing for multiple appeals, although KCC appears to be using the former for some individual appeals and I look below at one such in-year hearing. I will update this article as and if I receive further reports of different experiences.  

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Tuesday, 19 May 2020 18:55

The Kent 11 Plus and Coronavirus: Part Two

Aspects of the current situation with regard to the Kent Test are that:
  • The date for the Kent Test is still currently set for September. To change it would require government approval. KCC is in discussion with government about an aspect of the Kent Test, presumably about a possible postponement.
  • There is no guarantee that any change of date would see the county free of Coronavirus, or schools operating normally.
  • There are no arrangements in place for children who are: unable to take the Kent Test because their schools are not open, or cannot provide facilities; or whose parents or schools judge it is unsafe to participate; or who are ill in large numbers. 
  • The School Admissions Code of Practice requires Admission Authorities to ‘take all reasonable steps to inform parents of the outcome of selection tests before the closing date for secondary applications on 2nd November so as to allow parents time to make an informed choice of school’.
  • The five thousand out of county children who normally take the Kent Test each year still need somewhere to sit it where it can be independently invigilated. In the past this has taken place in obliging Kent schools.   
As of today (19th May), Kent County County Council has provided no further information about the date of Testing. This is not a criticism as I don't see how they can with the current uncertainties. Registration for the Kent Test remains for a month from 1st June.
Published in News and Comments

Update on Kent Appeals 13th May, here.

Letter from Kent Primary Head on Consequences of Schools Re-Opening here

Some issues relating to the Emergency Regulations for School Appeals are now resolving, but the large majority of Local Authorities appear still to be struggling to come to a view. My previous article concluded that these proposals are unworkable in most cases, especially where there are large numbers of appeals or grammar school appeals. This is now the fifth article exploring the situation as it has developed, looking at how it has been interpreted, the previous four all containing considerable detail, along with advice for appellants. I propose to update it as I receive more information, the dates of the latest update being recorded at the top of the article. 

I continue with my view that the Government emergency regulations appear to be solely for the benefit of bureaucrats and show little interest in the challenges faced by families, panellists, clerks or schools. A parallel set of rules published by the Welsh Office was in complete contrast to this and placed families first, but the relevant section appears to have mysteriously vanished, see below!  

There are three approaches allowed for hearing remote appeals. These are: video conference, telephone conference, and written submission of cases and evidence. There is no indication that these different types of hearing can be mixed for a single school’s appeals, but no specific ban, and I have already been told of several schools that are planning to go this way.

In my previous article, written nearly two weeks ago, I described a ‘chink of light’ in an omission by the regulations to be prescriptive about the written submission process. I was delighted to learn yesterday that KCC has just sent out appeal invitations to grammar school appellants using this to the full. I don't know yet if it will be applied to non-selective schools, but anticipate this. Some Kent appeals for other types of school are being heard by audio-conferencing, with clerks establishing whether appellants can manage this. If not there is a fall back to a written submission hearing. 

Further details on all these matters below, including some Local Authorities which have now made decisions (please feel free to add to these).

Published in News and Comments

I have now written a further article looking at fresh developments: Coronavirus and School Appeals: Five 

The government has now published temporary regulations for the operation of school admission appeals during the Coronavirus emergency. Not to put too fine a point on it, my personal view is that as set out these are unworkable in Kent and Medway, whose schools held over 10% of all secondary school admission appeals in the country in 2019. The new regulations appear to have been drawn up without regard for the people who matter at this difficult time. Instead, when there was opportunity to be flexible by varying aspects of the non-statutory School Admissions Appeals Code in order to be fair to families, the regulations attempt to force the new circumstances into the existing Code.   

There are three groups of people to consider. Most importantly are the thousands of families, some of whom have spent up to eight months worrying about their children’s futures and all hoping they would get a fair hearing at an appeal which will affect their children’s life chances. Secondly, there are the army of volunteer appeal panellists  who freely give of their time to bring this about, but given no consideration here. Finally, do not forget the shrinking number of administrators whose workload and responsibilities are expanded enormously by the new regulations, but also given no consideration;whose  job is made all the more difficult because schools are closed at this time and access to documentation can be impossible.  

I look in more detail below at the implications for these new Emergency Regulations, mainly as applicable to Kent and Medway.

Published in Peter's Blog

An article in Kent Online records the particular challenge faced by the new Ebbsfleet Green Primary School, due to open in September. This one form entry school (increasing to two as demand grows due to new housing) which will be admitting children into nursery, reception, year 1 and year 2 classes was going to begin with temporary classrooms on site, before moving into the permanent premises in September 2021. 

However, the builders, Kier, are reported to be behind schedule on the temporary buildings which will not now be ready for September. As a result the school, to be run by the Maritime Academy Trust, is to open in spare classrooms at Bligh Primary School in Strood. 

One can only wonder how many other major building projects across Kent and Medway are similarly stalled. I am hearing rumours of one new school not opening at all for September.

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