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Tuesday, 30 September 2014 00:00

Secondary School Applications for entry in 2015: KOS 23 September 2014

By the end of October, some 20,000 families in Kent and Medway will need to have selected their choices of secondary schools for their children (Kent allows an additional week of grace because of the half term immediately preceding the national cut off date of  31st October). In Kent you have up to four choices of school, and in Medway six, with overall around 97% of families getting one of their choices, around 83% their first choice.

This article looks at some of the factors around those choices for both non-selective and grammar schools and provides some general advice. It is very difficult to address specific issues in such an article, as circumstances change considerably between towns and areas, and individual family circumstances such as distance from schools, scores in the selection tests, or religious affiliation vary widely.

The first piece of advice is that you should always list your schools on the application form according to your preferences, as the method of allocation means there is no tactical way to improve your chances by trying a different order. Too many schools are still falsely advising that you can improve your chances to gain a place at their school by putting them first and if you don't you won’t be considered. Completely untrue.

The simplest way of explaining the process of allocation is that the child will be awarded a place at the highest school on their list for which they are eligible according to the school’s admission rules (yes, I know it still sounds complicated!). Schools are never told at what position on the application form they have been placed by an individual family during the admission process, so they are unable to take this into account when allocating places.

As indicated above, around five out of every six children get their first choice school so if you are confident you fall into this category, you can relax. However, this still leaves over 3000 children who won’t, and many more who will worry about not being offered their first choice, so this article is written for them.

There is a pile of information around to assist in your choices and finding out your chances of success. The secondary school admission booklets issued by Kent and Medway Councils and available on line (Medway’s is already out) are a good starting point with a section on each school, setting out its admission rules and how many children were awarded places last year. If the school of your choice had vacancies then you are very likely to offered a place this year.

The OFSTED website, or that of the school, will lead you to the most recent Inspection Report, although you will also find a summary on my website. The Department for Education website will lead you to a wide range of performance statistics enabling you to compare each school with others in the county. However, don't just look at the highest scorers, results depend greatly on the ability of the intake, and so the “improvement” tables are also a good guide. My website www.kentadvice.co.uk has further information on each school, including an indication of the number of children turned away, if any, over the past few years. You will find this in the section called “Individual Schools”. Searches on this website for particular schools will often produce more detailed information and comment.

Other parents are of course also a guide, especially those with children at the school. However, beware of “urban myth”, as false tales can spread rapidly about individual schools. One very good West Kent grammar is regularly unfairly pilloried by status obsessed parents seeking to justify their choice of more prestigious schools. It can take just one bad year for a school to lose its reputation, but five or more to recover it, there being many examples of this.

Then there are the Open Days and Prospectus. Remember the school is selling itself, sometimes just to the type of student it wishes to attract. However, a visit to the school is essential if only to catch the ethos, see how students present themselves and how staff react with prospective students.

So, you have now worked out which schools you want for your child. Now to determine if they are likely to get a place. The first step is to look at the school’s admission rules that decide who gets places if too many children have applied to the school. The majority of schools, including grammars, will place a priority on distance from home to school. However, many other factors can come into play. Eight grammar schools out of the 38 give priority to highest scorers in the Kent or Medway Tests to all or some of their entrants who have passed the test. The cut off score is not known until March 2nd 2015, National Place Offer Day. Cut offs have changed sharply over the last few years (my website provides them!) but, with the Kent Test having changed format this year, are even more impossible to predict with confidence. Most church schools give priority to some or all children who come from a faith background. Each church school has its own rules and these differ widely, so check carefully. I once got into trouble for frivolously suggesting children should be baptised into both the CofE and the Catholic Church! It is advisable to find out which categories of children were offered places previously as a guide, but this can of course change from year to year. There is also a wide range of other priorities applied by some schools such as: preference for siblings, scores in a test to admit a proportion of children in some non-selective schools; talent in a particular field such as – sport, music, other performing arts; children from named primary schools, catchment areas; or children of staff. Some schools will use random selection from children allocated to several bands of ability by a test, to ensure a mixed ability spread. All schools will give a priority to children who are or have been in Local Authority Care (far too few take this option up to get into a good school, rather than their nearest) There is also a high priority for children who have a particular medical or social need to go to a specified school (this is difficult to prove and will require medical evidence).

Over half of those who took the Kent or Medway grammar school tests will be unsuccessful. If this applies to you, do you list one or more grammar schools so, that after you are turned down, you can appeal? Over 40% of grammar school appeals are successful, but this includes appeals by children who have passed the test, but been turned down because the school is full. Appeal success rates vary widely from school to school and year to year. For 2013 entry, the range was from 0% to 89% success rate (for non-selective schools it was very similar). I am often asked what test scores are likely to be successful in a grammar school appeal. This is an impossible question to answer for Appeal Panels will wish to take other factors into account. These may include: what special circumstances do you have that will convince a panel there has been a miscarriage (there is no point in producing peripheral issues); what alternative evidence do you have to demonstrate that your child is of grammar school ability; is the school oversubscribed or does it need additional pupils; is the school 'superselective'; is it in East Kent or West Kent; what support is forthcoming from the primary school; does your child have Special Education Needs? You are most unlikely to achieve success at a grammar school appeal if no score is above the cut off. Expectations for oversubscribed grammar schools can be far higher than if there are vacancies.

Two of the most significant factors that parents can put forward are: (1) is there information not seen before that affected performance – e.g. medical condition or family circumstances not reported which affected the child's performance, but can be demonstrated; (2) independent proof that your child is of grammar school ability. You may also succeed if these do not apply but marks are near the cut off and you find a sympathetic appeal panel. If none of the above applies, your chances are low; so plan an alternative route for your child’s secondary education.

For Medway grammar schools there is an additional stage in grammar school selection in which parents can get involved. When test results are sent out on 3rd October, if the child has been unsuccessful, parents can apply for a Review of the child’s work over the next week. This can be a stressful time for parents as if the Review is unsuccessful, some grammar schools will not give a full appeal hearing, focusing instead on whether the Review was fair. As a result, in some cases it is best not to go to Review. The issues here are fully explained on my website. A further obstacle to successful appeal in Medway is that schools are sent full information by Medway Council from the application form for appellants. Most schools pass this on to the appeal panels. This includes the order in which you have placed the school, and any information you have given about why you have chosen particular schools.

In nearly all cases, my advice for applications is don’t provide reasons for choosing a particular school. It cannot be taken into account unless it relates to health reasons, in which case you need to add in medical evidence. Where you wish to be considered under a particular priority, such as church commitment, the school will supply a supplementary form to fill in. If you don't fill this in you won’t be considered for that category of application.

However, my first and last piece of advice is “don't panic”. There is no advantage in getting your form in early. Seek advice, talk with your primary school headteacher (but don't always agree with them!), I find Kent County Council Admissions department is nearly always very helpful; I run an admissions advice telephone consultation line.

All systems try and give priority to parental preferences, but sadly not all can be met. This article has looked at possible issues for those who find decision making difficult but, as I began - five out of every six families will get their first choice secondary school. That is good news for most.

Last modified on Monday, 28 September 2015 22:35

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  • Medway Council Scraps Testing for Late Applications to Grammar Schools

    Some children of families who are amongst the many re-locating to Medway,  and local children who are late developers, may be denied  grammar school places this year as there is no facility to sit the Medway Test late, contrary to previous practice.  This is because the Council quietly changed its selection procedures last year so that only children who are registered at the correct time can ever sit the Medway Test, which takes place in September.

    Medway

    Late applicants are therefore effectively barred from being considered for Medway grammar school places which require a Medway Test outcome for admission (the two Chatham grammars have a secondary route via the Kent Test). Most grammar schools have not made arrangements to put an alternative form of testing in place for admission this September, the combination being contrary to Medway's own co-ordinated scheme for secondary admissions.    

     The consequences of this decision by Medway Council are wide ranging and may well spell the end of the Medway Test as an objective standard for grammar school entry in Medway, with each grammar school defining the standard and setting its own test for entry, as explored further below.  

    Also, the Council has also been acting unlawfully for years in putting conditions on late admissions to other Medway schools, although these appear to have been withdrawn from 2020/21.

    Read more...
    Written on Sunday, 17 March 2019 20:33 Be the first to comment! Read 75 times
  • Kent Secondary School Allocations for September 2019: Initial Information and Advice
    The initial data for applicants for Kent secondary schools shows that 79.1% of  those from Kent were  offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least nine years. 837 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.7% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least nine years, up on last year’s 765 and up by 75% over the 2016 proportion of 2.7%. The proportion of children being offered one of their top two preferences at 90.3% is down on 90.7% in 2018, and again lowest for nine years. 

    17,959 Kent children applied for places in Kent secondary schools, 517 more than in 2018, with 79.1% of them being offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least nine years, a further 0.6% down on last year. 837 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.7% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least nine years, up on last year’s 765. I know that a number of additional school places have been created at pinch points across the county, but I anticipate hearing of some very difficult situations for some of the children with no school of their choice.

    In spite of the inexorable increase in out of county applications to Kent schools, up 225 to 3,514, exactly the same number, 818, were offered places, as in 2018. As always this  will have been partially balanced by around 500 going to schools outside Kent.

    You will find more information, including a look at some of the pressure points as they become apparent, below. These include North West Kent both selective and non-selective, and non-selective Swale, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells.  You will also find required scores for super-selective schools (all information on both situations welcomed) together with the tables of outcomes

    There is initial advice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

    There is also a link to the limited telephone advisory service I now offer. 

    Read more...
    Written on Friday, 01 March 2019 06:05 3 comments Read 2437 times
  • Meopham School Outstanding Ofsted - And then there is Holmesdale

     Swale Academies Trust (SAT) has secured a second Ofsted Outstanding school, after Meopham was found Outstanding in January (published earlier this week). This makes KCC’s decision to block SAT from taking over the failed Holmesdale School for most of 2018 look even more shocking as the school blundered from bad to worse under its control during the year. 

    Meopham School had suffered from poor leadership for as long as I can remember, culminating in 2012 when it was placed in Special Measures. An ‘Anywhere but Meopham’ cry was regularly made to me by parents seeking advice on how to avoid the school. SAT took it over the following year. It has rapidly improved ever since, with a ‘Good’ Ofsted Report just two years later, followed by a Short Inspection last year. Meopham has been delivering excellent GCSE results for its pupils for the past three years, being the second and third best performing non-selective school in the county at Progress 8 and in the top seven for Attainment 8 in each year. Rightly it has now seen last year’s Short Inspection converted to Outstanding. Not surprisingly, it has become heavily oversubscribed with 224 first choices for its 140 places for September. A new Chair of Governors was appointed last September, Diana Choulerton, an Education Consultant who until recently was one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. Swale Academies Trust doesn't take chances!

    By contrast, after Holmesdale School was placed in Special Measures a year ago, the school and its pupils were disgracefully hung out to dry by Kent County Council. KCC refused to hand the management of the school over to SAT even though it had been selected as the Sponsoring School when Holmesdale was served with an Academy Order and left it devoid of proper support until grudgingly yielding it to SAT at the end of November.

    As well as further details below, I also look at the performance of Swale Academies Trust in an attempt to see why KCC was so strongly opposed to them  being involved with Holmesdale School. 

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 21 February 2019 18:45 3 comments Read 494 times
  • Medway Secondary School Allocations for September 2019: Initial Information and Advice

    The 2019 Medway Council Press Statement on secondary school allocation appears to cover up a large fall in the proportion of pupils offered a place at one of their preferred schools. This is accompanied by another fall in the proportion of children being offered their first or second choice.

    All we are allowed to learn is that all 3300 Medway children who applied for secondary school places received offers, that 89% of them received a first or second choice, with over 90% receiving one of their preferences, and that 736 children from outside Medway were considered for places.

    For 2018 entry, the equivalent statement recorded that over 95.5% (actually 95.6%) of Medway children received a preference, so this appears to be a sharp and worrying fall, with nearly one in ten Medway families being allocated to a school they did not choose.

    Medway

    Once again, the council continues its attempts to hide the facts from local residents (not serving you), but the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services is ‘very pleased that many have been allocated a place at one of their preferred schools’. Unfortunately, too many have not! He continues: ‘it a testament to the team’s hard work that the majority of families receive offers at one of their preferred schools (an ‘is’ would have been helpful from the Council’s education leader), both statements suggesting the great disappointment that these figures imply. This follows on from the scandal of the Medway Review I highlighted recently.

    There is initial advice at the foot of this article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. There is also a link to the limited telephone advisory service I now offer.
    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 02 March 2019 15:39 Be the first to comment! Read 625 times
  • Medway Test Analysis for 2019 Admission: Review fails Medway children again

    The problems with the Medway grammar school selection process just keep recurring, with the Medway Review procedure proving yet again to be not fit for purpose. You will find an analysis of outcomes below. 

    The headline is once again the failure of the Review procedure, with  the Council announcing as always that up to 2% of the cohort of Medway children would be successful at Review, in addition to the 23% who passed the Medway Test directly. In the event, just four children from 159 hopeful Medway families that went to Review were successful for 2019 admission, just 0.12% of the cohort. What a farce, being short of the target by 63 children, but a very sad one for all those who falsely thought they were in with a chance. Not one of the 43 candidates from local private schools or outside of Medway was successful at Review.  

    It is also an indictment of the work of Medway Primary schools according to the Review Panels which are made up of local secondary headteachers, who found work submitted by local primary schools to be so poor that almost no further children were found worthy of a grammar school place through the process from the 159 considered. 

    Sadly, it gets even worse for those families. The School Admission Code of Practice rules that children who are unsuccessful at a Review process cannot have an appeal upheld unless there has been unfairness in the process (rarely proven). There are a few exceptions as explained below, but for the majority of the 155 families unsuccessful at Review, there is now no chance of winning an Appeal.

    The two areas of bias in the Medway Test remain: older pupils do much better than those born towards the end of the school year; and girls do better than boys.

    Read more...
    Written on Monday, 04 February 2019 12:11 2 comments Read 385 times
  • Maidstone Grammar School Ofsted: Down from Outstanding

    Update (11/3) Oakwood Park Grammar has also had a recent Inspection and seen its Outstanding lost to Good probably because of disappointing GCSE results, although the Report acknowledges the great improvement for 2018, as reported below, in spite of its two Outstanding categories, compared with the MGS one. I understand that a third Kent school has also lost its Outstanding status, although not yet published., 

    Maidstone Grammar School (MGS), one of Kent’s flagship selective schools, has lost its Outstanding Ofsted status following its recent Inspection with Report published yesterday. The Inspection was presumably triggered after 'legitimate concerns' (according to Ofsted below) had been expressed about the decline in its academic performance.

    MGS3

    The headlines of the Report, published in January, refer to disappointing GCSE results in 2017. However, they choose not  to mention that those for 2018 were  considerably worse. These saw the school delivering the fourth lowest Progress 8 score of any of the 38 Kent and Medway grammar schools, the government’s preferred measure of performance. It was eighth lowest for Attainment 8. The results come from a school that selected most of its pupils by setting a high pass score in the Kent Test, and yet still performed worse on both d than the other local grammar, Oakwood Park which recruits a significant number of pupils from appeal.  You will find an article on performance of  Kent grammar schools here including details of MGS relative performance, and background to Maidstone Grammar data here.

    This Report also comes with a mystery, as explained below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Tuesday, 12 February 2019 06:56 8 comments Read 1255 times