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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 01:48

KOS: Personal Review of Education Stories of 2015

As part of their Review of 2015, I was asked by Kent On Sunday to write an article about Education in Kent and Medway for the year. 

The article appeared under the following photo, taken at the recent Conference on the Kent Test, headed: "As pressure grows on teachers, is 2016 going to provide any relief? - Probably not according to former headteacher and education adviser Peter Read in his year report". 

KOS WK 44 15 Kent Test 0754 (2)

 

This is my personal choice of education stories affecting Kent and Medway children in 2015, most featured elsewhere on my website where you will find further details of all the items via the links. 

The key themes are the pressure on school places, the inexorable drive for higher examination performance, and  the frightening increase in turnover of teachers and headteachers - all certain to remain amongst the major stories in coming years.....

Pupil numbers are rising sharply, with the recent increase in primary demand now about to hit Kent secondary schools, whilst several in Medway struggle at the end of a sharp fall in numbers. A new six form entry secondary school in Maidstone has been approved for 2017, with many popular schools expanding. Against this are set the sudden closure of Oasis Hextable Academy, the long anticipated demise of Marlowe Academy, Ramsgate, and the consultation about the surely inevitable closure of Pent Valley Technology College in Folkestone, all in 2015.  As with Chaucer Technology College in Canterbury which closed last year, the plan is to mothball the Pent Valley site until demand for places leads to a new school being built in 2018.   

Two new 14-19 university technology schools have opened in the past two years, one in Dartford, the other in Chatham. An increasing proportion of Kent children now transfer to grammar schools, currently running at 30% of the population (29% in Medway), which has a negative impact on the non-selective schools. In addition, Government pressure is forcing these schools to adopt a more academic curriculum, unsuitable for too many children, producing what government regards as an unacceptable fall in their examination performance, with the number of Kent schools failing to reach 30% A-C Grades at GCSE nearly doubling to 15 in the past year. St George’s CofE, Broadstairs, is about to become an all through 4-19 school, joining Folkestone Academy, John Wallis School in Ashford, and Hundred of Hoo School in Medway. Chatham Grammar School for Boys is controversially proposing to go mixed from September and to admit children on assessment by a Governors Committee if it has places vacant after normal allocation.

The biggest pressures in primary schools come in urban areas, with no vacant spaces at all in Reception classes on allocation last April in urban Dartford, Folkestone and Sevenoaks schools and just 2% in Ashford, Gravesham, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells. 

In terms of quality of education, Kent and Medway are heading in different directions in terms of primary school performance, with Medway Council clearly not fit for purpose, being the worst authority in the country in both OFSTED outcomes and test performance in 2015, underlining a situation that has run for far too many years. Kent, which shared poor performance a few years ago, has now improved following tough action by KCC and is now producing results at the national average, although could still do better, as shown by secondary pupils in both Authorities who continue to perform well above the national average at GCSE.

However, the intense pressure to improve standards has more than its fair share of casualties, with five of the headteachers of Kent’s 18 coastal non-selective schools losing their jobs this year, four in 2014, another three at risk and two schools closing, mainly because of poor results. A high number of primary headteachers have also lost their jobs in the drive for higher standards. Headteachers’ posts advertised are attracting fewer and fewer applicants as it has become a high risk job in many areas. We not only have a serious shortage of good applicants coming forward for all teaching posts, but the turnover of classroom teachers, citing overwork, pressure from above, bullying, and lack of appropriate training and support in some schools, together with lack of respect for the profession, is frightening, with four in ten newly qualified teachers leaving the profession in their first year. In some primary schools as many as half the staff left at the end of the summer, so it was pleasing to see the main leader article in Kent on Sunday earlier this month highlighting these vital issues.

Inevitably, the selective system has featured, the proposed Sevenoaks Grammar School annex still waiting, at the time of writing, to see if a legal challenge is forthcoming. For what it is worth, I think the proposal will go ahead, creating up to another 120 girls’ grammar school places in West Kent. This still leaves a growing shortage of boys’ grammar school places over the next few years in West Kent, although many grammar schools have expanded their intake to meet demand. It is good to see Kent’s most selective school, The Judd in Tonbridge, changing its admission rules to give priority for 85% of its places to local boys, the two Wilmington grammars having been down this route for 2015 easing the pressure on places for local children. There are increasing demands to widen social access to grammar school places, and KCC is setting up a Select Committed to explore ways forward.   

The biggest success story in Kent is surely its Special School sector, with nearly half of all schools currently graded ‘Outstanding’ by OFSTED. The only blot on this landscape was KCC’s mismanagement of Furness School, catering for children with High Level Autism, leading to a very public failed attempt to shut down the provision.

Kent and Medway now have eight new Free Schools between them, with two more to come in the next two years and. in contrast to some other parts of the country, these are generally proving to be a success story adding to the level of quality provision.

Government wants all schools converted to academy status by 2020, in spite of the limited evidence that academisation improves standards. Currently, 81% of Kent secondary schools or in process of conversion, with 32% of primaries. For Medway the figures are 88% and 38%. Over half of the 23 Kent primary schools who failed to reach the government floor standard at Key Stage 2 this summer are academies, many of which have had a troubled time since their change in status, with three being forced to change sponsors after failure by their original ones. This is a part of the ‘game’ of Academy Monopoly, as too many Trusts seek to emulate successful businesses in their dealings with schools, effectively engaging in takeovers, mergers and transfers as reported on my website. Three Academies: Astor College in Dover; Chantry Primary in Gravesend, and Oasis Skinner Street Primary in Medway have all received heavy warning letters from government in the last year about their poor performance,  the last two having been threatened with closure if they do not improve.

What is certain is that the education map is changing faster than at any time I can remember in my forty years of working in the county, with government more firmly in the driving seat than ever before. I see no sign of relaxation of this centralised and politicised grip in the near future, so hang on for another bumpy ride in 2016. 

Last modified on Sunday, 26 February 2017 18:00

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  • Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Non-Selective Schools 2021

    There was only a small increase of 37 in the number of Kent primary pupils allocated places at secondary schools this year but with 267 additional secondary places created. This leaves 724 empty spaces, a 5.1% vacancy rate overall, well up on last year's 3.5%. As a result, across the county, there were few extra pressure points in Non-Selective (N/S) schools. Key areas were Canterbury, Gravesham and Sevenoaks which had just five vacancies across their 15 schools, but Ashford, Dartford, Swale and Thanet all have localised problems created by polarisation of choices. Unfortunately, misleading information by KCC appears to hide a large shortage of places in Tunbridge Wells (TW). The converse problem exists in Thanet, where KCC is promoting an unnecessary new school in Margate.

    The unpopularity of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey with its 108 Local Authority Allocations has propelled Fulston Manor and Westlands to the top of the oversubscription table.  These two schools are followed by Knole Academy, Meopham School, St George's CofE Foundation (Broadstairs) and the recently opened Stone Lodge School. Most of the others were also present in the table last year, apart from newly arrived Canterbury Academy, the new School of Science and Technology Maidstone (SSTM), The Lenham School and Skinners Kent Academy

    There are 393 OOC children offered places in non-selective schools across the county, Knole Academy, Homewood School and Bennett Memorial Diocesan School all offering over 50 places to OOC children, with 252 travelling the other way 

    The schools struggling to attract pupils are also broadly the same as last year, in most cases propped up by Local Authority Allocations of children who have not been offered more popular schools. 

    I explore all these matters further, below, together with a survey of allocation patterns in each of Kent's Districts.

    Written on Sunday, 11 April 2021 19:53 3 comments Read more...
  • The Disgraceful Behaviour of the Governors of Fairview Primary School

    Update 9th April: I have included a section on Government advice for the appointment of new headteachers, below. 

    This article considers the appointment of a new Headteacher for Fairview Community Primary School, a process that is lasting for just three and a half weeks, from posting the advertisement to concluding the interviews at a school whose status in September is unknown. The only way this is not madness is if Medway Council and the Governing Body already know who they are going to appoint. Why would anyone else apply?

    In my previous article about Fairview a month ago, I reported on a letter from the Board, dated 24th February, that ‘Governors will now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’. 

    This regular communication amounts to a brief letter from the Chairman of Governors, dated the last day of term, informing parents that a permanent headteacher is to be appointed, without mentioning any of these promised themes. The job advertisement fails to mention the rather important point that the school is planning to academise with the Westbrook Trust and so the successful candidate could be removed if their face doesn’t fit. This is either gross incompetence or alternatively, with interviews set for just three days after the closing date for applications, the whole thing is a disgraceful fix! This article finishes with four important questions to which parents need to know the answers. 

    Written on Thursday, 08 April 2021 06:35 8 comments Read more...
  • Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Grammar Schools 2021

    The pattern of grammar school allocations reveals chickens coming home to roost – but never mind the children. I have regularly written since last June about the unfairness of the Kent selection procedure that would be created by the coronavirus effects on schools unless changes were made, and so it has proved. My previous article on the Kent Test demonstrated a built-in bias towards children in West Kent and girls as a result, with further discrimination against children attracting Pupil Premium, suggesting that children from ‘ordinary families’ would also suffer.

    Now, every West and North West Kent grammar is full, and all but one are oversubscribed with first choices, even though between them they have added on an extra  184 Year Seven places from last year. At the other end of the scale, there are 257 empty spaces in 13 East and Mid Kent schools, up from 123 in six schools in 2020.

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    There is an increase of 51 children from outside Kent to 466 in total, were offered places in Kent grammar schools, the main rises being at Gravesend, Maidstone, Maidstone Girls, Mayfield and Tunbridge Wells Boys, partly compensated by a sharp fall at Weald. 

    I look below at the outcomes by area in more detail, including levels of oversubscription and vacancies. You will find full details of the Kent test process for 2021 entry here

    Written on Friday, 19 March 2021 18:53 3 comments Read more...
  • Halling Primary Crisis: Latest Developments

    Update on even fresher and major developments below, most recently today, 2nd April: Job Description for EYFS Lead Teacher (they keep coming!)

    A comment on my previous article about Halling Primary begins: 

    Watching even more children leaving school today crying because even more staff are leaving (that the school haven’t told the parents about!) is genuinely heartbreaking.

     Meanwhile, the Chair of Trustees considers that ‘The atmosphere within the school is now one of great enthusiasm and determination'. A front-page article in the Medway Messenger on Thursday has stoked the fires featuring the same Chair claiming ‘staff not up to the challenge’. The Trust has called a meeting of Halling parents for next week, although this is primarily to introduce the new staff - should be interesting. At the meeting, the Trust will also discuss the adversarial and threatening Social Media Policy.

    Ex-members of staff have now lodged formal complaints about the shocking public attack on them, which appears to be an attempt to cover up the resignation of over three-quarters of the teaching staff mid-year. Those departing next month include the highly respected Deputy Headteacher and Head of Early Years, both leaving 'for personal reasons' with no job to go to at present, together with support staff. Several of the Teaching Assistants have chosen to leave in the next few days before the end of term. 

    All this is far away from the school’s highly publicised values of

    Compassion • Integrity • Thankfulness • Respect • Resilience

    Written on Thursday, 18 March 2021 20:28 7 comments Read more...
  • Academies and Free School News: Part Two

    This article follows on from my previous Academy and Free School News February 2021 Part One, and looks at other developments of new Academies and Trusts, together with various items of Academy news. As well as those mentioned in my previous article, Leigh Academy Rainham is opening in September, other new schools on stream including: Alkerden All Through School, Ebbsfleet, planned for 2023; Barton Manor School, Canterbury, opening in September 2022: Chilmington Green Secondary, Ashford, planned for 2022 but delayed; Maritime Academy, Strood, opening in 2022; Park Cresent Academy, Margate, planned for 2023; new Special School on Sheppey planned for 2022.

    LAR Projection

    The Potential in Everyone Academy Trust and The Village Academy comprising ten schools between them are merging, although a bid by Brockhill Park Performing Arts College & The Abbey School (Faversham), to merge was turned down.

    Other items looked at are about Infant and Junior School Trusts, the Brooke Learning Trust, The Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, Fairview Community Primary School and Halling Primary School.

    With too much news arriving and too little time, I have decided to publish this item now before items become out of date, with a third instalment to come. 

    Written on Saturday, 13 March 2021 04:58 1 comment Read more...
  • Leigh Academies Trust to take over (merge) the Brook Learning Trust

    Update 22 March: 

    Kent Secondary School Allocations
    for September 2021
      PAN Offers
    1st
    Choices
    LAA
    Ebbsfleet 150 132 58 47
    Hayesbrook 151 148 51 51
    High Weald 151 73 56 5

    PAN= Published Admission Number; LAA= Local Authority Allocation

     Plans have been announced for Leigh Academies Trust to merge with (take over) the struggling Brook Learning Trust. I have regularly looked at the failures of the three Brook schools for too many years: Ebbsfleet Academy; Hayesbrook Academy in Tonbridge; and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook. Although I have doubts about such large Trusts, the children attending these schools and those who will follow them would surely have a much better future under Leigh Academies Trust. 

    I look in some detail below at the many challenges facing Leigh if they follow this takeover through, but this is a very thorough and professional organisation and its leaders will surely have carried out due diligence and know the size of the task before going ahead. 

     

    Leigh Academy Trust (2)

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    Written on Thursday, 11 March 2021 19:47 1 comment Read more...