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Saturday, 19 October 2013 22:35

Article for Kent on Sunday on school admission freedoms, 19 October 2013

This is a summary of a more comprehensive article that appears elsewhere in this website, prepared for Kent on Sunday 

The face of secondary education in Kent is changing rapidly as government decisions allow popular schools to offer additional places to meet demand. In Kent, with 75% of secondary schools either academies or in the process of change, this freedom is producing dramatic results. 

In 2013, schools created an additional 352 places by temporary or permanent expansion, most high profile being the West Kent grammars, where Judd, Skinners, Tonbridge Grammar and Weald of Kent Grammar each admitted an additional class of entry. Less prominent were Skinners Kent Academy (30 more children) and Bennett Memorial School (16 children). Most of these schools have not declared their intentions for admission next September, so parents are left uncertain of their chances of winning places at their school of choice. Parental choice is of course even greater this year as the Trinity Free School in Sevenoaks joins the Kent admission scheme. I anticipate that within two years this mix will also see the arrival of the proposed satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks.

The three new Free Schools, Trinity, Wye Free School, and Hadlow Rural Community School added a further 240 places, creating a total expansion of nearly 600 new places.

Not surprisingly, this saw KCC able to claim the highest proportion of satisfied families in recent years, with a record high of 84% of children getting their first choice school.

I anticipate that this trend will continue, as even more of the popular schools choose to admit more children, giving them additional finance and clout in the educational world.

Already for 2014 entry, with some of these schools making their enlargements permanent, and others joining them, I count 525 additional places confirmed since 2012, with another 140 probable and others expected to join this great monopoly game......

The fastest expansion is at Valley Park School, Maidstone, which has added 60 places in the past two years, the largest Kent school, Homewood School in Tenterden ensuring it keeps its crown by expanding its intake from 360 to 390 students over the same period.

Other major changes are at Folkestone Academy and Wilmington Academy, each increasing by 30 students. You will find a full list of changes at www.kentadvice.co.uk.

 Two consequences of these changes are, firstly that parents have lost a great deal of certainty about their admission choices, although with more getting their first choice there should not be too many complaints.

The classic case is The Judd School, which increased its intake to 155 last year, but has fallen back to 125 for 2014 entry.  As a result, many boys who did not expect a place at Judd found themselves with one in March or through reallocation in April. Others were cross because they didn’t apply, fearing the required score would be too high (it depends on the number of boys applying and their aggregate scores in the Kent Test, so is not known until March). There are several clues about the school’s intention and I believe they will once again admit the higher number of 155 boys, but it be that the school has itself not yet decided.

Secondly, whilst government policy allows popular schools to expand there is a mirror consequence that those at the bottom of the pile are likely to spiral into further decline in numbers. I anticipate that there will be closures within a couple of years. Kent has already seen one effective closure this year, with Castle Community College in Deal swallowing up Walmer Technology College because of falling numbers of applicants to the two schools.

Two other schools have already cut their admission numbers, Chaucer Technology College in Canterbury reducing its admission number from 235 to 150 in the last few years, and Pent Valley school, Folkestone, which has dropped from 240 to 180.

Over the border in Medway, which has now reached the bottom of a sharp drop in numbers, there is little change. The one school which increased its intake last year was Rainham Mark Grammar school, taking in an additional 30 children, but this is likely to be a one off releasing another class of children this year to the other grammars, three of which had vacancies for 2013 entry.

Whilst it may be difficult to predict precise outcomes  in terms of school places offered in Kent for the coming year, there is no doubt that once again the school landscape will look very different with new winners and losers. We mustn’t forget that in the middle of all this are the children!

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