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Saturday, 01 April 2017 22:17

Kent and Medway Secondary School Allocations 2017: Kent on Sunday 1st April 2017

This article is based on four more comprehensive ones, elsewhere in this website: Kent Grammar Schools; Kent Non-Selective Schools; Medway Grammar Schools; Medway Non-Selective schools. 

The allocation of secondary school places took place at the beginning of March and this article surveys some of the consequences of the decisions taken.

The two biggest pressure areas appear to be in Thanet non-selective schools and North West Kent grammar schools, but there are plenty of others.  

The problems in Thanet are caused both by an influx of pupils and a massive polarisation of popularity with every one of the six non-selective schools full on allocation. Many parents try to avoid two schools, Royal Harbour and Hartsdown Academies and as a consequence these two were allocated 166 children who had no school of their choice, more than a quarter of the total in the county. These will include a large number of Children In Care, dispatched by London Boroughs; others are children from the EC and refugees, all bringing their own challenges to the schools. As a direct consequence, three schools are massively oversubscribed, with St George’s CofE, King Ethelbert and Charles Dickens (last Inspection – Special Measures proving no obstacle!) turning away 186, 126 and 53 first choices respectively. The first two are the first and third most popular non-selective schools in Kent, split by Valley Park in Maidstone, which turned away 179 first choices.

At the other end of the county, the pressure on North West grammar schools is intense, brought about through London families looking to secure grammar school places. The six schools have offered 280 out of county (ooc) places between them, including some from north of the Thames, with a further 62 at four Medway grammars. Dartford Grammar School, has placed a limit of 90 places for local boys, selecting those with the highest scores. It has offered places to 79 ooc boys, with many grammar qualified children being denied places at their local school. Dartford Grammar school has gone down the same route, allocating 100 places to local girls, alongside 55 oocs. 

There is heavy oversubscription at all four Dartford grammars, with Dartford Boys, the most popular school in Kent, turning away 257 grammar qualified first choices, by some way the highest number in the county, followed by Dartford Girls with 188. Next come three West Kent grammars: Tonbridge (151); Skinners (143); and Judd at (102), and then Wilmington Girls (Dartford) at 58.

Polarisation of parental choice is seeing the most popular schools receiving ever more applications, at the expense of those at the bottom of the pile. This trend has already seen the closure of four schools in recent years: Chaucer Technology School, Canterbury; Marlowe Academy, Thanet; Oasis Hextable Academy, serving Dartford; and Pent Valley School, Folkestone – all areas where there is now a critical shortage of places. The evidence suggests these will not be the last. The Chaucer and Pent Valley sites are planned to see replacement Free Schools.

There are three new provisions for September 2017, the first being the Weald of Kent Sevenoaks Annexe for girls, providing 90 new places. Many other grammar schools have expanded, with the super-selective Judd School adding 60 places over the past five years (now 180). Tunbridge Wells Boys has added 30 places to complement the girls’ increase in the annexe for West Kent children.

Cranbrook School, the last 13-18 grammar school in the County has at last begun a tentative change to entry at age 11, with 30 of its 90 day places (it also has 30 boarders) now being reserved for 11 year olds. I was surprised to see just 24 first choices turned away.

The third new provision appears almost accidental. The Leigh University Technical College, for 14-18 students choosing a vocationally oriented school, has failed to attract 50% of its planned intake in any of its first three years since opening, dropping to 25% in 2016. The rescue plan is to ditch the core philosophy and recruit at age 11, so the Inspiration Academy at Leigh UTC has rapidly come into being, proving a popular choice and attracting its full complement of 120 places. This has damaged Ebbsfleet Academy  for, although performing well, it has never been popular and now has 40% of its new Year Seven places empty, the only non-selective school in Dartford with vacancies.

The only completely new school approved so far is Maidstone School of Science and Technology, a Free School with an intake of 180 pupils, to be opened on the campus of the sponsoring schools, Valley Park and Invicta Grammar schools due to open in 2018.  This will coincide with extensive housing developments in the District, but threatens the survival of nearby New Line Learning Academy which had just 96 pupils choosing it, fewer than half of its Admission Number of 210. These were topped up with 50 Local Authority allocations, two thirds of the children in Maidstone with no school of their choice.

The urban myth that all grammar schools are oversubscribed, happens to be true for the first time ever in Medway, partially as a result of the London effect. This is in spite of four of the six grammars adding a total of 70 new places between them. Four schools are heavily oversubscribed, the most popular being the two super-selectives, Rochester Grammar (87 turned away), and Rainham Mark Grammar (62).

Altogether there is a net increase of 192 grammar school places across Kent for 2017, together with 70 in Medway. One puzzle is the £4 million investment by KCC at Maidstone Grammar to create another 30 places for boys, although the school is not oversubscribed this year. More importantly is the damage this has done to Oakwood Park Grammar in the same town, which has lost 30 boys as a result, leaving it with 65 vacancies. Meanwhile Maidstone Girls’ Grammar has 42 vacancies and Invicta Grammar has just filled by virtue of reducing its Admission Number by 20 girls. Plenty of room in Maidstone, contributing to a total of eight grammars in Kent having vacancies. 

Altogether there are six schools with over a third of their places empty, headed by Duke of York’s Royal Military School, a boarding Academy in Dover, having recently completed a £25 million building project built for an Admission Number of 104. The school carries a highly controversial reputation that has seen its intake dive to 12 pupils at this stage although historically this figure increases considerably with children transferring in at older age groups.

The other five also have a history of low admission numbers and will tend to lose further children as the system shakes down in coming months:  SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy, Walmer (43% vacancies – now out of Special Measures); Holmesdale Technology College, Snodland (42%); Ebbsfleet Academy (40%); Astor College, Dover (40% - until this year run by the same leadership as Duke of York’s); and High Weald Academy, Cranbrook (38%).

In Medway, there is also a growing pattern of polarisation, with Brompton Academy, as usual being the most oversubscribed school turning away 177 first choices, followed by Thomas Aveling with 53. Three schools account for over 100 of the Local Authority Allocations: St John Fisher RC; Victory Academy and Robert Napier, but all are over 70% filled.   

Last modified on Thursday, 27 July 2017 16:23

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