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Friday, 03 April 2015 17:14

A selection of Good and Outstanding Kent Non-Selective Schools: Kent On Sunday 22nd March

Once again, we hear cries from certain politicians for more grammar school places across the country, the opposition responding by referring disparagingly to the creation of more ‘secondary moderns’. This of course takes us back to the 1950s, when the ‘sec mod’ only ran up to age 15, and most children took no examinations. Since then the landscape has changed dramatically, and the large majority of Kent’s non-selective (NS) schools are performing well to ensure that overall Kent’s GCSE performance is consistently above average.

This article makes no statement about the virtues or otherwise of the selective system in Kent, but in it I have been asked to look at some of the best of the non-selectives (NS) -itself an ungainly title. This is a personal choice, and I apologise to some very good schools I have been forced to leave out for reasons of space.......

 

Bennett Memorial 2               St Gregory                                                          

Leading the field have to be the two Tunbridge Wells church schools: Bennett Memorial Diocesan and St Gregory’s Catholic, both with Outstanding OFSTEDs and both regularly topping the non selective GCSE tables. Bennett has a strong church requirement that attracts many academically able children, as it became one of the most oversubscribed schools in the county, St Greg’s having a more mixed intake but still performing highly. The third TW non-selective school, Skinners Kent Academy is an example of what can be done with outstanding leadership, more important than the excellent new purpose built buildings it has recently moved into. For most of the past forty years, its predecessors, variously named in attempts to shrug off a poor reputation, struggled to attract students, but in the past four years the academy has become the eighth most over-subscribed NS school in the county, its headteacher, Sian Carr, being variously described as charismatic and inspirational.

skinners kent academy

Otherwise, in no particular order: further north in Dartford is the highest performing academy chain in the county, headed up by the Leigh Academy, until this year the most popular NS school in the county. Its first principal, Frank Green, has gone on to become Schools Commissioner for England. The Academy Trust has taken over two other NW Kent schools, Wilmington Academy which it has taken from Special Measures to Good, at the same time seeing its GCSE results soar to amongst the best NS in the county in 2013, and Longfield Academy, previously an unpopular, struggling school which was one of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent in 2014.  

Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne, is the second most popular NS school in the county. Its Good OFSTED rating (it has also been Outstanding) is in no small part due to its headteacher, Alan Brookes, a fiercely loyal servant of the school, who joined as a junior member of staff 33 years ago and has now been head for 18 years.  

John Wallis CofE Academy in Ashford is perhaps a surprising choice, headed up by John McParland, who has the distinction of having also been head of one of Kent’s top performing NS schools, St Simon Stock Catholic School in Maidstone. His move was a surprise to many people as SSS was at the top of the tree, and John Wallis was a struggling school in a difficult part of town. However, SSS continues to maintain its excellent standards under the new(ish) leadership and John Wallis now fills, and has been at the top of Kent’s value added GCSE league table for two years, one of 9 NS schools in the top 20. This measure identifies the progress made by students between the ages of 11 and 16, but is  rarely given prominence, although it is the best indicator of the value added to children by their education, irrespective  of socio-economic standing.

Third highest NS GCSE performer this year is St George’s CofE School, Gravesend, also second highest across the county for Value Added, apparently on its knees just five years ago, having been placed in Special Measures, and lost the confidence of local parents. A new headteacher, Anne Southgate - previously deputy head, took over the reins and in three years raised the school to Good under OFSTED, saw its popularity and exam results soar, but retired in the summer, although the school still appears in good hands, having again appointed its deputy.

St Georges 2

The other six top VA schools are: Bennett; St Gregory’s; St Augustine’s Academy, Maidstone, St Simon Stock, St Anselm's, Canterbury; Hillview, Tonbridge; and Kent Skinners Academy.

The Canterbury Academy is led  by Phil Karnavas  who has been with the school for 25 years. It has totally changed from the previously troubled Canterbury High School, and includes a primary school, and an enormous range of sports facilities open to the public which have become a centre of excellence.  The school is now regularly oversubscribed, and in 2014 took on an extra two classes to cater for all the additional first choices he had unwisely offered places to at the Open Evening that year!  

Valley Park School in Maidstone is another centre of excellence, this time in Performing Arts, regularly in the top three most oversubscribed schools in Kent, historically with the tightest catchment area in the county. It has achieved that rarity for a non-selective school, of two consecutive Outstanding OFSTEDs. For 2015 entry, it changed the straight distance admission criterion to one giving priority to children whose nearest school was Valley Park (think about it!), initially confusing, but it makes sense.

My next choice is well outside the conventional view of a good school, except that OFSTED agrees, having found it Good on two consecutive inspections. This is Hartsdown Academy, Margate, led by an inspirational and outspoken Executive Principal, Andrew Somers. In passing, it has one of the best school websites I have visited. Mr Somers has passionately campaigned for improved premises after competing schools were rebuilt, and was rewarded two weeks ago when the school received government approval for funding  a significant premises development. Like the Marlowe Academy, Hartsdown has more than its fair share of deprivation, children with SEN, and with English as a second language. The difference is that he makes it work, as OFSTED confirms.

One of the rebuilt schools that competes with Hartsdown is King Ethelbert School, Birchington, although both are part of the Coastal Academies Trust which is led by Paul Luxmoore, previously head of Dane Court Grammar school and the inspiration behind another highly successful academy chain, now absorbing the closing Marlowe Academy. King Ethelbert is the fourth most oversubscribed NS school in Kent this year, having become more popular year on year.

A school very much in the news is Knole Academy, Sevenoaks, led by Mary Boyle. She has overseen the amalgamation of two disparate schools, and has worked through the merger with great success. The school sits in the middle of a political controversy, with the proposed Sevenoaks Grammar School Annexe to be sited just down the road, alongside the new Trinity Free School that has itself established an early reputation. Knole now runs a high profile grammar stream, and Mary Boyle works hard to establish the school as fully comprehensive with no need of extra grammar places in the town.

knole academy

Just two NS schools have consecutive Outstanding OFSTEDs, the second being Westlands School in Sittingbourne, lead school in the Swale Academies Trust, but although it has suffered a fall in popularity for 2015 admission, it remains oversubscribed.

I was given a generous word limit for this article, but it is apparent there are too many good NS schools in Kent to be covered in detail. Others include: Wrotham school, a pastorally strong, friendly achieving, small rural school;  St John’s Catholic Comprehensive in Gravesend –the fifth highest performing NS at GCSE, just behind St George’s CofE, also Gravesend, with every Gravesend NS having a Good OFSTED assessment; Hillview Girls, Tonbridge – always one of the highest performing NS schools – sixth in GCSE this year, and one of the most popular;  Sandwich Technology College, about which I know little, except that families think highly  of it with the recently retired headteacher, Veronica Gomez, receiving rave reports;  Mascalls in Paddock Wood, looked down by some families in West Kent for not being a grammar school, but clearly delivers a first rate education;  Abbey in Faversham which has taken years to throw off its dreadful reputation before the current headteacher, Catrin Woodend led it to two Good OFSTEDs; Herne Bay High, always oversubscribed, sometimes heavily, consistently achieving good Key Stage 2 results and Good OFSTED Inspection results; St Augustine's, Maidstone, has quietly become increasingly popular in Maidstone, is now full and has a recent Good OFSTED; and Dartford Science and Technology College, the only Kent secondary school to have improved by two grades in recent years, to Good in November 2012.

My apologies to those good schools I have overlooked primarily because of limited contact with them through parents or otherwise. In the academic year 2013-14, the 19 Kent NS schools inspected by OFSTED achieved an outstanding 79% Good or Outstanding assessments, way above the national average of 67%. They include seven not even mentioned above: Aylesford; Holmesdale, Snodland; Hugh Christie, Tonbridge;  Maplesdon Noakes, Maidstone; Pent Valley, Folkestone; and Sittingbourne Community. Oddly, the request from KOS to prepare this article is the first time ever I am aware of media attention being paid to the good work in so many of Kent’s non-selective schools. One has to wonder why?

Last modified on Sunday, 09 October 2016 05:12

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  • Kent and Medway School Transport in September

    Government Policy
    It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term.

    I wholeheartedly support the principle and the schools working incredibly hard to deliver it, but one of the many intractable Covid-19 related challenges facing some secondary schools and families when re-opening in September is that of pupil transport. Some Kent schools are vulnerable, for the county is rural in places with pupils having to travel long distances to their nearest school, whilst many faith and grammar schools also have pupils who travel considerable distance by public transport. Most readers will have seen or encountered the publicly accessible double-decker buses packed with pupils on their way to and from school in the past, but this won’t be the situation in September. For social distancing rules reduce the number of passengers on each bus by at least a half and there is not the spare capacity at this time to increase bus numbers to compensate.

    Most secondary schools will have worked out plans to manage a full pupil attendance if there are no further spikes in Covid-19, taking into account staggered starts and finishes to the school day, setting up year group bubbles, year group zones, staggered lunches and break times, year group entrances and exits, crowded corridor behaviour, cancelling assemblies and other large gatherings, strategies to deal with children or staff exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, PPE policy, cleaning, more cleaning, deep cleaning, etc, etc. All this on the twin assumptions that all pupils will turn up and there will be no spike in Kent cases.

    However, we are just four weeks away from the start of term and there is no sign of a solution to the transport difficulties, although I am not sure what it would be. KCC considers that: ‘the financial impact on bus services and operators has been significant so it could be that more services than usual are subject to change or cancellation. In addition, at the moment, operators are only able to let about half of the usual numbers of passengers on their buses and if this remains the case, then providing enough space for all passengers could be a problem, and so students that can travel in a different way should do so at the moment’. This will inevitably have major knock-on effects with a sharp increase in private traffic on the roads at key times.

    Written on Friday, 07 August 2020 19:47 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Comprehensive Future Knowingly Re-Publishes False Data about Grammar Schools and Pupil Premium

    Two years ago, Comprehensive Future published as a fact that: When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  This claim was picked up by the media including the BBC. Unfortunately, this is twice completely false, as I demonstrated in an article last month after the organisation publicly attacked me for querying the data, repeating it in the process. False firstly, because the organisation had quoted completely the wrong data column from their own database, and secondly because the whole database is self-evidently rubbish, see below. As I wrote then, a prime example of the ICT mantra Garbage in, garbage out.  

    I have now been informed by CF’s Chairman, Nuala Burgess, that CF is not prepared to discuss the matter further, the bogus claims remain on their website and that of the BBC and so this must cast doubt on any other claims made by CF on data they have harvested to forward their aims.

    Written on Thursday, 06 August 2020 15:25 2 comments Read more...
  • The Kent Test 2020: Throwing down the gauntlet

    I had an extended interview on Radio Kent last week about the unfairness created towards ‘children of ordinary families’ in the Kent Test for this extraordinary year. At the conclusion, Julia George who was interviewing asked me to ‘throw down the gauntlet’ with KCC over my deep concerns, repeated several times over recent months. I did this by simply challenging the Council to respond to the recently published Government Guidance to Admission Authorities, Kent County Council being one of the largest in the country. KCC’s response to the BBC over the challenge wrongly dismisses the guidance because it ‘will cover individual schools and consortia which test far fewer children’. More importantly, it completely ignores the main part of the guidance and my concern, which focused on the unfairness created for lower-income families in Kent, as explained below.

    At about the same time, Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education at KCC replied to a letter from Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, which echoed my concerns. This response covers somewhat different territory, but again completely ignores any strategy for promoting fairness for disadvantaged families as laid down by the government advice. Moreover, he dismissed my idea for creating flexibility in these increasingly uncertain times and of supporting ordinary families, or any alternative, having set up a false description of it to dismantle!

    Written on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 10:35 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • The Struggling Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey Appoints its Fourth Leader in Seven Years.

    Oasis Academy Trust is trying once again to reverse the inexorable decline in the fortunes of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS) by bringing in a new Executive Principal over the head of Tina Lee, the current Principal.

    Oasis Sheppey

    Ian Simpson, currently Principal of Oasis Academy Lister Park in Bradford, makes the eighth leader since the school became an academy in 2009. Most of his predecessors have been moved on after failing to turn the school round. Both of the previous two post holders were appointed from within the school only after the Trust failed to attract anyone from outside, despite extensive advertising. Both have been a disappointment. It is not clear if the role of Executive Head is permanent or just a short term firefighting job.

    All this is taking place in the context of a forecast crisis in the provision of non-selective places in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which will come to a head in 2021, if it has not already arrived. 

    Written on Friday, 31 July 2020 06:45 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Government 'Expectation' on Managing Selection Test Arrangements in Kent and Medway

    Hot on the heels of Kent County Council's confirmed arrangements for the Kent Test, as reported in my previous article, the government has now released its formal advice on assessment processes for selective school admissions. This is quoted extensively below in blue and italics. It greatly expands the frameworks set out by KCC and Medway Councils, urging admission authorities to look closely at minimising disadvantage for protected groups, socially and economically disadvantaged children and children who are unable to attend the test centre, as I had hoped KCC itself would. The current KCC proposal heavily discriminates against lower-income families who can't afford private education or extensive private tutoring.  It remains my conviction that, if KCC were to adopt a model such as the one I have proposed before, it would go a considerable way towards meeting the requirement to minimise this acknowledged disadvantage in the current circumstances which has not yet been addressed. However, there is still the flexibility to do so. Medway Council has a more structured procedure for assessing children, but no apparent will to change it as this document advises, so I have little hope that greater fairness will emerge there.  

    Several pieces of government advice, considered further below, relate to the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers which is likely to be magnified by their absence from school during the coronavirus outbreak’. In particular, ‘we therefore strongly advise that tests for grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into late October or to November if local admission co-ordination processes allow’. Along with the other recommendations below which now need addressing, this is considerably more radical than the KCC and Medway decisions which place the revised test dates in the first half of October and offer no further mitigation of disadvantage. 

    The immense logistical problems faced by KCC and, to a lesser extent by Medway Council, in providing facilities to test some 5,000 out of county candidates are also explored further below.

    Written on Saturday, 25 July 2020 11:59 3 comments Read more...
  • Education, Health and Care Plans in Kent

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    Further Update: KCC and government have announced the opening of a new secondary special school on the Isle of Sheppey for September 2022. 

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    Written on Friday, 24 July 2020 15:54 1 comment Read more...