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Newspaper Articles

This page offers links to articles penned by me for local newpapers, mainly Kent on Sunday (KOS). Most were printed in full, several were the basis for informing news stories. I shall be adding archive articles as time permits.

Published in Downsmail: July 22nd 2021. 

Covid-19 and the Kent Grammar School Selection Process for 2022 Entry

Registration for the Kent Test this year has now closed, with many families wondering what contingency plans will be put in place this year to manage the expected rise in Covid cases amongst young people by 9th September, the date of the test. Sadly, the 2021 selection procedure was set in stone and no allowances were made for the education lost over the previous year, with the inevitable result. The then Education Cabinet Member claimed KCC would do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage. The Education Secretary made a similar promise.  These proved completely empty promises and nothing was done, apart from a delay in testing. As a direct result the proportion of children in receipt of Pupil Premium and those in East and Mid Kent who passed the Kent Test plummeted, boys in general underperformed, passes for children from West Kent, private schools and out of county increased.

One of the most startling outcomes was at Maidstone Grammar School which had 14 vacancies on allocation in March, whereas it was previously heavily oversubscribed. Oakwood Park had 32 vacancies. In contrast, 12 first choice girls were turned away from Invicta Grammar after not filling last year whilst Maidstone Girls, saw an improvement but still with 23 vacancies. 13 East and Mid Kent grammar schools had empty places on allocation in March. Appeals have now taken place. MGS will certainly have filled, whilst Maidstone Girls and Oakwood will have been very generous as in most previous years.

So what of entry for 2022? Social mobility, already damaged by tutoring and private cramming schools, will inevitably take another knock in this year’s assessment process unless the Education Department changes its attitudes. Shellina Prendergast, the new Cabinet Member for Education and a County Councillor for Maidstone Rural East, is well aware of the local issues, and Christine Innes, the new Director of Education bring fresh ideas, so the opportunity is there.

To be precise, unless there are changes in the selective assessment procedure we shall see another betrayal of ‘ordinary’ Kent children looking for a grammar school place.

Last year KCC Officers and politicians put forward the argument that there were just two models of selection available to them, the Kent Test followed by Headteacher Assessments in their current form, or assessment by headteachers without a test. I came up with a third without difficulty, requiring no change in regulations, which overcame some of the problems. I am sure there are others, but the refusal to contemplate any alternatives led directly to the present failure.

You will find details of all the data referred to above at: https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/news-a-comments/item/1404-the-kent-test-2021-in-the-face-of-last-years-failures.html

Update 15 November. I have now published my article looking across the whole of Kent and Medway, also containing a clarification of the Oakwood Park data.

I am in the process of producing a full article analysing school appeals across Kent and Medway, which will be published shortly. Some of the outcomes are posted on the Individual Schools section of my website. I shall get round to all, but am happy to post others on request.

A testing time for parents:

Column Heading

THE Kent Test, once the 11+, is upon us once more. What happens if your child fails? What happens if your first-choice secondary is oversubscribed? It can be a stressful time for parents. Between May and July every year, around 3,000 school appeal hearings take place in Kent, as families seek to change the schools to which their children were allocated. Some will be looking to win grammar school places, others in oversubscribed non-selective schools and a much smaller number trying again for the primary school of their choice. By way of illustration, 10 secondary schools in the Maidstone area held appeals this year, as follows. 

The Next Steps Magazine, published by Kent Messenger Newspapers is distributed across the county at the end of September. This article was used to set the scene at the beginning of the magazine. 

All Year 11 pupils across Kent and Medway schools need to make important decisions about their futures during the year, although many will not know their next step with certainty until after GCSE results. Young people aged 16-18 are required to remain in education, which not only includes full-time courses at school or college but also part-time college courses linking with apprenticeships and other types of scheme, such as volunteering.

Many choose to remain in their home schools if they achieve set grades. These include some three-quarters of pupils in grammar schools and nearly half in those non-selective schools with larger sixth forms. Last year a third of the 15,500 Year 11 pupils in Kent left school completely, a high proportion choosing full or part-time FE college education. For 2020 admissions several thousand pupils have already changed school at this stage. These include many at non-selective schools opting for a grammar school in the Sixth Form, and a surprisingly high number travelling in the opposite direction. There is a wide range of courses at the four Kent FE colleges focusing on vocational courses, with only West Kent College also offering A-Levels.

See Original Article here

Back in 2014, SchoolsCompany had been advising the predecessor Castle Community College as it tumbled from Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Special Measures’ in three years, hardly an endorsement. It was difficult to pin down the history of the company owner, apart from establishing he had been involved in several companies which had folded. I was not alone in being surprised when Government decided SchoolsCompany should take on Goodwin Academy on the basis of it having run three small Pupil Referral Units in Devon for a short period. Although SchoolsCompany expressed its wish to expand its Academy business and there is a shortage of suitable sponsors around, Government has not seen fit to award it any other academy! Instead in 2017, the owner opened six new companies and was awarded a contract to build and run a Nigerian state government college, the Royal Academy for Construction and Fabrication.

Please note: this is a copy of an article published in December 2017, reproduced here in the Newspaper Articles section to explain in answer to questions why there is no more from Kent on Sunday.  

Sadly, Kent on Sunday closed at the end of November 2017 as ‘it was no longer economically viable’.

Of particular interest to me and many browsers of this website was its focus on education as, often in conjunction with myself, it ran many educational stories in depth and conducted important campaigns.  

For KOS has surely been exceptional for a local free paper, in its willingness to provide such detail in its stories and campaigns, being prepared to devote up to three pages of news, analysis and political insight to an issue for the thoughtful reader, rather than go with the fleeting headline for those with a low attention span. Perhaps that has been its downfall but, on the way it has secured many prestigious newspaper awards, being the first free paper to win London and SE Regional Newspaper of the Year, UK Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year (six times) and, most recently in 2014, Regional Free Newspaper of the Year again.....

UPDATE: Whilst this article draws on a number of previous articles on the issue, the most recent contains an important clarification by government of the law, leaving no room whatever for ambiguity, not available when the following was written.

The original article in the Kent on Sunday Education Supplement has unfortunately vanished with the closure of the newspaper, but you will find the original article on my website here.   

Back in January I wrote an article for Kent on Sunday, about the illegal actions of Invicta Grammar School in permanently excluding up to 22 Year Twelve students for not achieving high grades in their AS Exams last summer. The parallel article on my website has attracted a record 24,722 hits to date, and a flood of comments from students affected. The school dismissed my concerns out of hand, the headteacher commenting: “This is an ‘interpretation' by a couple of students- it is not accurate".  

In the last few weeks, a parallel case has arisen at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington where 16 girls were thrown out as covered in KOS last week. Several parents took legal action and the Department for Education, which refused to offer a view earlier in the year, issued the following statement: ‘Our regulations make clear that schools are not allowed to remove pupils from a sixth form because of academic attainment once they are enrolled. Excluding pupils temporarily or permanently for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful’. As a result, the school relented and all the students were reinstated, if they wished to return.

Whilst this is no consolation for last year’s students from Invicta and some other local schools, many of whom saw their career plans ruined, it is a green light for the many students in similar positions this summer to challenge any exclusion. As one parent wrote to me this week: ‘What happened to our daughter has had a massive impact on her; she is still limping along. To be honest her confidence was so damaged we don't know if she will ever believe in herself in the same way again’. What an indictment of the practice, but certainly not alone, as career dreams are shattered.

I find the criticism of a Labour Member of Parliament living in the selective county of Kent, for sending her children to grammar school when she disagrees with academic selection, quite bizarre especially as no alternatives are offered by her critics (the link is just one of many online articles). 

What follows is not, I believe, a political view but one that is purely pragmatic. In Canterbury, where this issue has arisen, 30% of the state school population go to grammar schools at the age of 11, well over the county standard of 25%. So, even the technically comprehensive church schools will have a limited number of children assessed to be of grammar school ability at that age, even assuming that a school whose philosophy is underpinned by faith is an option.

Irrelevant Fact: This is the 1000th item of news and information posted on this website. 

You will find the original article on which this item is based, here

In 2009-10, Kent schools permanently excluded 126 pupils, rising to 210 two years later, but falling every year since then, to a low of 58 in 2015-16. Over the same period Medway school exclusions rose from just three pupils excluded to an appalling and record figure of 81 in 2015-16, up 35% on 2014-15. This is the highest exclusion rate in the South East of England, with the secondary school exclusion rate being over twice as large as any other Local Authority. Nationally, Medway is joint 7th worst in the country for permanent exclusions. Further, the average number of days of fixed term exclusion per Medway pupil was 7.3 days, the highest figure in the country. 

In both Local Authorities, the number of families ‘choosing’ Elective Home Education is astonishingly high, with Medway seeing an incredible rise in families taking their children out of school, soaring from 38 to 377 in two years. For some reason, Medway Council is desperately trying to hide the identities of the schools where the worst problems exist.

This article explores the reasons for the stark contrast in outcomes in the two Local Authorities. Government policy is to reduce the number of children excluded from schools, with permanent exclusion (expulsion) used only as a last resort.

Latest News & Comments

Just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed. If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment. Also feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk. News items appear as and when I have time in a very busy schedule, for I run this non profit making site single-handed.

  • Two Warning Notices issued to Governing Body of Fairview Community Primary School by Medway Council

    I have discovered that the Governing Body of Fairview Community Primary School has been served with two separate formal Warning Notices about its disgraceful conduct by Medway Council. These along with other correspondence supplied to me by a Freedom of Information Request leaves no doubt that Medway Council needs to take urgent action to dissolve the GB.

    The first Warning Notice, issued in January, considered that: ‘In the council’s view there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed.  The second Warning Notice, three months later, contained:  'I am writing to you as the significant concerns to which I referred in the warning notice I issued on 4 January 2021 have not been adequately addressed by the Fairview community primary school governors'. The second also formally warns the Governing Body that if its tough requirements are not met within a strict time limit, Medway Council will ‘consult on the authority’s intention to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members’, i.e. sack the GB.  The correspondence demonstrates a GB attempting to carry on regardless of these two official notices.

    Fairview Community 

    It is difficult to comprehend the arrogance of these people, few with any educational background, who wish to keep control of Fairview Primary when they clearly do not have the competence to do so.  The appointment of an assistant caretaker as the staff governor (with no disrespect to him personally) and no other candidates put forward surely reflects the contempt of the teaching staff for the GB.

    I have never in my sixteen years of advising families and others about education issues in Kent and Medway seen anything like the litany of failure described in the second Warning Notice about the conduct of a school Governing Body. 

    Written on Tuesday, 20 July 2021 19:21 2 comments Read more...
  • Pre-Appointment Hearing for Dr Jo Saxton's New Appointment: Education Select Committee

    The Pre-Appointment Hearing covered many issues relating to the role of Chief Regulator of Ofqual but for Kent families, those relating to Dr Saxton’s leadership of Turner Schools between  2017 and 2020 were particularly relevant and illuminating. The questions posed about that leadership by the Labour MP, Kim Johnson were clearly based on my previous article about her appointment here. This looked objectively at Dr Saxton's performance as CEO and focused on three key themes I had raised: Finance, Discipline and the Haemorrhaging of Pupils, which I explore further below. Her performance began and ended with 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools'.

    Written on Saturday, 10 July 2021 17:25 5 comments Read more...
  • Lynsted and Norton Primary: Ofsted Inadequate*

    Update: As well as the four primary school inspections listed below, Ofsted are today (9th July) inspecting Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey.

    Lynsted and Norton Primary School, in Swale, has been found Inadequate by Ofsted in May in a Report published this week, one of just three Kent primary schools inspected and reported on since the end of lockdown. This follows a remote monitoring inspection in January that found that ‘Leaders and those responsible for governance are taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances’, which suggests that the remote inspection was itself inadequate. 

    Four months later the new Report reads, ‘the curriculum for all pupils is not fit for purpose. It is jumbled and does not set out what knowledge pupils will learn. Some teachers do not have the subject expertise to be able to take confusing plans and turn them into learning that develops and builds pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding successfully. Standards are lowSome teachers’ expectations are low. Assessment has relied on commercial schemes that are not linked to what pupils have studied. As a result, staff do not have a clear understanding of what pupils already know or need to learn next. 

    Lynsted and Norton Primary (2)

    The previous headteacher left suddenly in February after 'Trustees recognise the need to improve their oversight of provision. They have acted robustly since identifying the issues in February 2021' according to the Ofsted report, but clearly too late to avoid this outcome. The school's previous three Ofsted Inspections have all been 'Requires Improvement' and it has changed headteachers after each. A new headteacher has been appointed who will be the seventh in eight years. Not surprisingly, the school is not popular with families, having failed to fill even half of its Published Admission Number of 20 places in any of its Year Groups. Year Six currently has just four pupils and Year One six.  

    Written on Wednesday, 07 July 2021 13:03 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Academy and Free School News July 2021

    The biggest news since my previous round-up of academy news in February is that the conversion of The North School and the sponsorship of The Holmesdale School, both to join Swale Academies Trust, is now set to happen for September as all obstacles to academisation have been removed. It also signposts the freedom for all of the other eight PFI schools to convert if they wish. These include Royal Harbour Academy in Thanet, a maintained school despite its title, for whom government approval to proceed has now been given under the sponsorship of Coastal Academies Trust.

    In March, Worth Primary School joined the Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust. In April, Chartham Primary and St Stephen’s Infants in Canterbury came together to create the Inspira Academy Trust, Sandwich Infants joined Aquila, the Diocese of Canterbury Academy Trust, and Fleetdown Primary in Dartford joined the Galaxy Trust, all five as converter academies. These take the proportion of Kent primary schools having academised to 43%, with the government proposing to put more pressure on schools to convert (see below). Mundella Primary School in Folkestone has had its application to join the Verita Trust in Deal approved and it is proposed that Will Adams Centre, an Alternative Provision School in Medway will join the Alternative Learning Trust.  Approval for the controversial new Free Secondary School in Thanet is further delayed.

    Other items look at: Halling and Fairview Primaries in Medway; the proposed merger of All Hallows and Stoke primaries on the Hoo Peninsula; Kent Catholic Schools  Partnership; other recommendations by the SE and South London Headteacher Board; Copperfield Academy's Good Ofsted; and expanding academies. 

    The article concludes with a look at new government policies working towards seeing all schools becoming academies, with several local mentions.

    Written on Friday, 02 July 2021 20:11 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Mistaken Claims in Press Release by Turner Schools

    The comment below from Former FA SLT is well worth reading to understand the sentiments of those caught up in the issues created by Turner Schools at Folkestone Academy. 

    My previous article about Dr Jo Saxton and her nomination as the preferred candidate to be the new chief regulator of Ofqual has clearly struck home at Turner Schools, with the Trust issuing a press release explicitly attempting to refute my evidence of its problems. Unfortunately, this is factually wrong on most points, which is strange as in his accompanying letter to staff the CEO warns that ‘disinformation and falsehoods are being spread about our schools’ (I have never seen any of this).

    In particular, quoted data about school exclusions is wrong according to official KCC figures, whilst the statement about the number of pupils joining Folkestone Academy in September appears to be based on a false manipulation of the data to hide the fact that fewer families than ever before want to join the school, or else the school simply doesn't understand how the admission system works. 

    The press release covers my themes about  GCSE performance, stability in leadership teams, and finance, all central to the concerns I expressed in the article. It also wrongly claims that a number of Folkestone schools had been failing for many years before Turner Schools took over. Whilst I remain unaware of any of the claimed disinformation or falsehoods being spread about Turner Schools, t am completely bewildered as to why the Trust seeks to go down this route. As pointed out before, I am always more than happy to make corrections to any factual errors in my articles if they are pointed out.

    Written on Saturday, 26 June 2021 19:15 5 comments Read more...
  • Dr Jo Saxton is the preferred Candidate to be new chief regulator of Ofqual

    Warwick Mansell's Education Uncovered analysed Dr Saxton's appointment, drawing extensively on KentAdvice articles. 

    Update from Pre Appointment Hearing (24 minutes in) for the Post of Chief Regulator of Ofqual: In answer to a question about criticisms of her leadership of  Turner Schools: 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools' In terms of specifics: Finance - we saved many thousands of pounds.  Problems were all down to a temporary move of the Sixth Form into temporary accommodation (£10 million); There was a year of particularly high exclusions in one of the secondary schools when there was a serious behaviour difficulty. They stopped. That was a temporary measure to reset behaviour for learning. In response to a question about Folkestone Academy hemorrhaging students. It was a very challenging school when I found it that had really lost its way. Working with the Local Authority we agreed to open a new school nearby and would balance them to be two schools of equal size, one putting pupils on a pathway to apprenticeships and vocational learning, and the other success without selection, more conventional approach. So absolutely no hemorrhaging of pupils. In answer to 'so everything is hunky-dory in Turner Schools'. 'I am incredibly proud of everything the Turner Schools have achieved'.     

    See Press Release from Turner Schools challenging the facts put forward below, and my riposte, here

    Dr Jo Saxton, erstwhile Chief Executive of Turner Schools, the struggling Academy Trust set up by her in Folkestone, is Gavin Williamson’s preferred candidate for the key national education post of Chief Regulator of Ofqual. On the surface, she is an ideal candidate with a powerful background of holding important positions, so the chasm between her rhetoric and the outcomes at Turner Schools may fit in with the DfE’s needs in the role.  

    It is hard to know where to start a performance analysis of her time in Folkestone, but this article concludes with links to the eighteen articles I have written about it, which are replete with startling factual material about the Trust and its four schools. My final article on her period in office begins: For the last three and a half years, Turner Schools has been one of my most prolific themes for articles on this website, aided and abetted by its CEO and founder Dr Jo Saxton, whose passion for promoting the Trust (named after her grandmother) and making fantastical claims for its performance and future prospects was simply breathtaking, as demonstrated in my incomplete collection of slogans, mottos, motivating messages and false claims.

    You will find a list of Turner Schools ‘achievements’ during Dr Saxton’s leadership here, with some of the most striking repeated below and others in the list of news items at the foot of this article.

    Written on Saturday, 19 June 2021 04:50 7 comments Read more...