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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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  • 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.

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    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.

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  • Education, Health and Care Plans in Kent

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