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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.

  • Kent Test 2021: Initial Results and Comment

    The Kent Test results have again produced a pass mark with an aggregate score of 332, with an additional requirement to score 109 on each of the three sections - English, mathematics, and reasoning, one up on last year’s individual pass mark.  The level of pass marks is no indication of difficulty in the Test, rather a complex standardisation of raw scores against a national sample of children, comparing like ages with each other. The intention is to select 21% of the Kent cohort by this method for automatic selection along with another four per cent by Headteacher Assessment, as explained here, making up a target of 25%. In the event this year, 25.8% of the cohort, comprising all of Kent’s Year six cohort in primary schools, added to all Kent private school pupils who took the Test, were found selective. This is up from last year’s 25.4%, but down on 2019’s 26.6%. 

    There was an increase of 364 in the number of children taking the Test overall this year, with 159 additional children found selective over the 2020 figure, but I don’t yet have a further breakdown of the figures as I eventually did for 2020, as shown in the table below. What I have been told is that the differential between pass rates in East and West Kent has widened further, as discussed extensively in previous articles, most recently at ‘Covid-19 and the Kent Grammar School Selection Process for 2022 Entry’. This describes KCC’s complete failure to compensate for the effects of Covid on ‘ordinary’ and disadvantaged families in the selection process. I have still to learn the detail of this but have been told for example, that in Swale, an area with high numbers of socially disadvantaged families, the pass rate has slumped alarmingly. I have talked with a number of school leaders in the East of the county and there is no doubt that pupil absence, teacher absence and other factors over the past two years have played havoc with the learning of too many children, many of whom have the ability to thrive in grammar schools but have now been denied a place.

    Please note that this article was initially produced to meet the Thursday 4 p.m. deadline for the release of results and will be revised as I learn more details. I explore further below all the matters in the introduction, along with sections on Sources of Information and Advice on admissions and appeals, Out of County Children, Pressure Points and Finally

    Written on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 06:00 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Secondary School Applications to Schools in Kent and Medway for September 2022

    This news item is essentially a guide to a host of information and advice articles for local families looking to make applications for secondary school places in state schools in Kent and Medway next September, together with 2021 appeal outcomes. Across the country, families will be making use of their own Local Authority co-ordinated admissions schemes and make applications by the national closing date of Sunday 31st October, although Kent extends this to Monday 1st November. The co-ordination then spreads across county boundaries to take in cross-border applications, in a gigantic data handling mechanism.

    The most important news is that last year, whilst just 70% of Kent families were awarded their first choice school, this was an exceptionally low figure, caused by a one-off change in the application procedure because of Covid, the norm is nearer 80% and I would expect something similar for 2022 entry. Unfortunately, Medway does not issue this information, but I believe it will be higher.  

    Around half of all K & M families will apply for grammar school places, with the results of the Kent Test due out next Thursday 21st October. The Medway Test results have already been sent to parents, with the outcomes of the Review process to be posted on 22nd October.

    I am currently updating all the relevant articles, but even those still to be tackled can be highly relevant, although they may be up to a year out of date I am afraid. I am also preparing my article surveying 2021 appeals outcomes, although you will already find the data for every school that held appeals this year in my Individual Schools sections for Kent and Medway.

    There is also a list of all the key sections, with a link to them, on the right-hand side of this page, followed immediately afterwards by a link to become a subscriber to my news and blog items as they are published (no charges, no unwanted advertising).

    Written on Sunday, 17 October 2021 19:51 1 comment Read more...
  • West Kent Single Academy Trust Alliance (WKSATA)

    Five popular and successful West Kent secondary schools, Hadlow Rural Community School, Hillview School for Girls, Knole Academy, Tonbridge Grammar School, and Trinity School will announce today that they are joining in a formal collaboration to work closely together. Their aims in doing this are that the schools should together grow stronger and provide an even higher level of educational provision for their students, whilst keeping their individual identities and shielding them from the government target that all schools should come together in Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) of twelve or more schools.   

    The enclosed joint Letter to Parents and FAQ are very clear on the underlying principles of the Alliance. The five schools are all very different in character as outlined below and are in no doubt that the government drive for large MATs would change and damage those characters. 

    I heartily applaud this initiative which appears to have many benefits as set out in the above documentation for these schools. There is no doubt that many other schools have benefitted by the alternative MAT model, but this is a welcome reminder that there are others that would be equally effective. Also below, you will find sections on Government Policy on Academisation and Other Kent and Medway ‘Alliances’

    Written on Saturday, 16 October 2021 17:49 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Gordon Children's Academy in Medway sees teacher turnover at over fifty per cent last year, part of a pattern.

    New Query: Why has the New Horizons Teaching School Alliance website been closed. Can anyone help? In my own view, the article below sets out good reasons why the whole thing should be scrapped before any more potential teachers are disillusioned.  

    The Gordon School Children’s Academy in Strood saw 15 of its 25 teachers leave last year, part of a list I have of over 50 names departing in the past four years.  I have been sent several sets of grievances from different staff which add up to a consistent pattern and may go to explain these startling facts but, without corroborating evidence, it is inappropriate to quote these. The astonishing turnover of headteachers at the school, with seven in seven years, is also indicative of the pressures under which they are placed to deliver results. However, the enclosed letter sent to all teachers earlier this year is indicative of the style. The use of non-disclosure agreements for some Gordon managerial staff who have left the school has not been helpful with regard to this article. The turnover of other staff, especially Teaching Assistants is also very large. The pattern of demanding ever higher standards across the Trust's Medway schools appears common, whatever the cost to teachers and their careers or, in the case of the grammar schools of pupils who may struggle, and through the selection procedures. The high turnover of headteachers is also common in at least three other TSAT schools.  

    The headteacher of Gordon, Mrs Murphy, is in her second year at the school, having transferred from the New Horizons Children’s Academy where she was succeeded by her husband. She may not remain there as she is also Principal of the new Maritime Academy, also in Strood, opening next September, although I am not aware of her secondary school background. In the meantime, New Horizons Children's Academy also appears troubled, with 11 of its 24 teachers (two part-time) having left last year. I am concerned about a detailed allegation I have received about SAT performance there, but again have no verification.  

    Unsurprisingly the popularity of both schools is falling, Gordon having over a quarter of its places unfilled on allocation in May this year. New Horizons which opened in 2014 had been heavily oversubscribed for some years but had 16% empty places on allocation for this year.

    Concerned staff have now been blocked from talking with me, with the Trust taking disciplinary action against at least one member, despite their having had no contact whatever with me.

    So what is going wrong at the Thinking Schools Academy Trust?

    Written on Friday, 08 October 2021 22:10 9 comments Read more...
  • Medway Test 2021 Results Published with Advice on Review and Appeal

     The Medway Test results have now been published, with successful candidates achieving an aggregate score of 487 across the three Tests. The pass mark is set to allow a target of 23% of the Medway cohort to be successful, with 833 Medway pupils passing out of a cohort of 3605, a success rate of 23.11%. It is likely that once again well over a thousand out-of-county children will have passed the Medway Test, with more than 200 of them taking up places, including at Holcombe Grammar, blocking local boys hoping to win a  place on appeal.   

    All the information at present available is in the table below, along with the results of the two previous years. I am awaiting a more detailed breakdown of information from Medway Council, and will publish this as soon as it is available.

    What we do know at this stage is that for the second year running, no consideration whatever has been given to the consequences of lockdown and coronavirus on the performance of children, and indeed no mention of these in the Council Press Statement abut Medway Test results, as distinct from last year, presumably best forgotten as an inconvenience.

    I also provide details of the shocking outcomes of the appeals process which saw no appeals upheld for children who did not pass the Medway Test, except at Chatham Grammar School, apart from possibly but unlikely at Rochester Grammar. There were no successes at all for boys who had not passed the Medway Test. 

    You will find plenty of further information and advice below and via the links, relating to the Medway Test, the appalling Review process, appeals and application to grammar schools.

    Written on Wednesday, 06 October 2021 02:29 5 comments Read more...
  • Does Sheppey Need a New School? and other Swale Difficulties

    Updated: 4th October

    Last week Kentonline published a dramatic story headlined: ‘Shock u-turn as KCC agrees Sheppey needs another secondary school to take on Oasis’. The sub-heading on the web address reads ‘shock as kcc bows to parent power in education shake up’ No such agreement has been made, as I know from notes of the meeting where this claim originated. However, the enthusiasm of KCC for the idea is contained in both the notes and the paperwork for the meeting enclosed, including a lengthy statement from Gordon Henderson, MP for Swale also arguing for a two-school solution, and also in a briefing paper for the meeting from Swale Borough Council.  None of these make any reference to parental views, so where 'parent power' comes from is anyone's guess. Tucked away at the foot of a subsequent KM article without comment or even a header, is a quotation from KCC rightly refuting the claim, although their support for the concept may have misled the newspaper reporter. KM has not retracted the story and so, according to Director of Education, Christine McInnes, further correspondence is being prepared.  

    As explained in a previous article, there is a crisis in secondary provision in Swale with the number of pupils in Sittingbourne and Sheppey rising sharply year on year, and the Sheppey area meeting of Swale Council on 14th September explored this issue as the main agenda item. This September, 71 Sittingbourne children have crossed the Swale to start their secondary education at OAIOS, probably nearly all from the 108 children allocated there who had not applied for the school.  They are also likely to have been amongst the 134 first choices turned away from Fulston Manor in Sittingbourne or the 110 from Westlands. The meeting notes also explain the bind which is preventing a new school in Sittingbourne from being built. So the claim by the CEO of Oasis Community Learning that the increase in numbers at OAIOS of 100 pupils (actually it is only 65) is due to the good job being done there is false as it is purely down to an increase, coincidentally also of 65, in the number of pupils in the cohort attending Sheppey primary schools.  

    I explore all these issues further below.

    Written on Friday, 01 October 2021 19:56 2 comments Read more...