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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.

  • Proposal to Turn three Medway Grammar Schools Co-Educational is based on falsehood.

     Update: I have now included the correct link to the Consultation Document below and made several additions as a result of comments (9th May). 

    Medway Council is now consulting on a proposal to turn three of the five Medway single sex grammar schools into co-educational schools, and increasing the selection rate to reduce the pressure on non-selective school places.   I first considered an early version of this proposal in a previous article, but the consultation document is now published for public comment. It is riddled with false statements. The main falsehood is the claim that there is a shortage of Medway grammar school places for Medway Boys, apparently demonstrated by there being 454 Medway girls in Year 7 of local grammar schools last September and 402 boys. The reasons for the differential  are quite simply:The Medway Test is not fit for purpose and annually allows more girls than boys to pass, 2022 entry being typical with 445 Medway girls and 388 boys being found selective. For 2021 entry, not a single boy who had been unsuccessful in the Medway selection process was offered a Medway grammar school place on appeal. At least 38 girls were offered places. Previous years have a similar pattern.

    As a result, because there were insufficient local boys coming forward, Holcombe Grammar topped up with 64 out of county (ooc) boys on allocation this year, mainly from Bexley and Greenwich. The section in the Consultation on ‘How will this impact Medway girls?’, is quite simply a nonsense from beginning to end. Two separate proposals to change Holcombe Grammar to become co-educational have been put to the Schools Adjudicator in recent years. Twice they have been rejected, with myself quoted as the main objector, most recently here. This new proposal presents an even weaker case than these.

    Written on Friday, 06 May 2022 11:50 7 comments Read more...
  • Kent County Council’s special-education system is on its knees
    This is the heading from the first of a series of articles about pupils with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Kent, published by the campaigning website Shepway Vox, analysing the pressures on the system in the county. It is part of a co-ordinated focus by an investigative network of journalists nationally, called The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, exploring the current crisis in Special Education. The national education website Schoolsweek has published: ‘Investigation: The broken special needs system’. The Kent Messenger Group has published its own article, including a defence of KCC practice by Mark Walker, the Head of the county’s Special Needs Service which seeks to put the blame on everyone else including parents and schools.  This in its turn has led to an open letter from John Whitcombe, CEO of the Swale Academies Trust, to Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education, which is highly critical of KCC’s approach to SEND provision. Currently, there is a deficit in the KCC SEND budget of over £103 million and rising, to the extent that the government has decided to intervene with financial support, but taking some control over KCC's management of the service. The KM article reports that 'The huge shortfall has been attributed to expensive transport taking children miles away from home and an alleged broken tribunal system for failed Educational Health Care Plan applications'.
    All this follows a Government Green Paper headed ‘Ambitious reform for children and young people with SEND’, published in March. This is clearly a fast developing story and there is a large amount of material via the above links. The following is therefore deliberately quite brief at present, but I will either update or expand it later.
    Written on Thursday, 28 April 2022 13:00 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Oversubscription and Vacancies Medway Primary Schools: 2022

    The number of Reception places offered in Medway primary schools is the lowest since 2014, apart from 2018, despite population numbers rising. Overall, 17 more local children were offered places outside Medway than coming the other way. Two un-needed primary schools have closed their doors which, along with removal of other surplus places has seen a fall of 145 places in the total available. Otherwise, the pattern of offers is fairly similar to that for 2021 admissions, except that the number of Local Authority Allocations has increased to 69, probably as a result of the falling number of places available.  You will find an updated and comprehensive table of allocation data for the last three years in my initial admissions article here.

    The most pressured area is the Hoo Peninsula, with three of Medway’s five most oversubscribed schools, two of these in the village of Hoo St Werburgh, with 6% vacancies overall. The most oversubscribed school  for the second year running is The Pilgrim School in Rochester which had 33 disappointed first choices, followed by The Hundred of Hoo all-through Academy, 27, and Barnsole Primary in Gillingham with 23. There are still seven schools with over a third of their places unfilled at this stage, down from 11 in 2021. The same school heads the list for each of the last three years.

    I look more closely below at key issues and for each Medway area separately, with links as follows: Oversubscription; Vacancies; Appeals; Out of County Applications;  Chatham; Gillingham; Hoo Peninsula; Rainham; Rochester; Strood, Walderslade, together with the situation for Junior Schools, here

    Written on Wednesday, 20 April 2022 17:48 3 comments Read more...
  • Kent and Medway Primary Allocations 2022: Initial News and Comment
    Update: I have now published the full data for Medway Primary School admissions in 2022 here
    There is good news for most Kent families applying for reception class places in primary schools this year with 90.2% of families offered their first choice school, the highest proportion for at least ten years. Whilst, sadly, there are still 388 children with no school of their choice, this is still the lowest number for at least the last ten years, the figure gradually decreasing over the years from a hefty 818 in 2012. Most of these details are contained in the 2022 Kent Primary Press Release. The number of Kent children offered places at a Kent primary school is slightly up on past year, otherwise it is the lowest figure since 2014. 

    The Medway Council press release offers the usual minimalistic information from which we learn that 3,292 Medway children have been offered school places in or out of Medway, that over 97% were offered a school on their application form and that over 91% were offered their first choice school. It doesn't mention the 69 children offered no school of their choice. For parents wishing to make late or fresh applications to Medway primary schools, the Council's advice is unlawful so don't be put off. I have now received more comprehensive information for Medway allocations, which you will find in the table below

    You will also find below information and advice on possible next steps, together with appeals, also covered in more detail here. In summary, if your school is one of the overwhelming majority where Infant Class Legislation applies, I am afraid that chances of success are negligible.

    Unfortunately, KCC falsely claimed that it did not have the more detailed information I requested about primary allocations when I submitted an FOI asking for it eight days ago. (see below for details) As a result of this obstruction, the many parents who consult this website annually for information and advice will have to wait longer than usual to find these out. Meanwhile, Medway Council has supplied the parallel information today, and I will publish this as soon as I have analysed it. 

    You may find the equivalent picture for 2021 allocations helpful, as it conducts a detailed survey of the issues in each of Kent's 16 Districts. This forthcoming article for 2022 is, year on year, the largest on the website and one of the most read. The equivalent 2021 Medway article is here

    Written on Tuesday, 19 April 2022 07:09 1 comment Read more...
  • Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Non Selective Schools 2022

    The number of places available this year in Kent Non-Selective (N/S) schools has increased by a net 52 places to 13,982, the closure of High Weald Academy and the opening of the new Barton Manor School in Canterbury, cancelling each other out. The number of places offered has increased by 392 to 13,828, leading to a sharp fall in the number of vacancies, down to 154, or 3% of the total. Over half of these are at one school, Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey. The number of vacancies will increase after successful grammar school appeals by parents, which take some 600 children out of the N/S system annually.

    SSTM
    The most oversubscribed school this year was the new School of Science and Technology Maidstone, with 156 disappointed first choices, followed by Fulston Manor with 119, St George’s CofE in Thanet with 119, and Canterbury Academy with 103. As always the most difficult town is Tunbridge Wells whose three schools are all heavily oversubscribed.

    368 OOC children have been offered places in non-selective schools across the county, Knole Academy and Bennett Diocesan Memorial  each offering over 40 of these, with 297 travelling the other way. 

    I explore all these matters further, below, along with the number of vacancies in each school and across each District (there are none at all in Canterbury, Folkestone, Maidstone or Sevenoaks at present), and a look at the Kent academy with a deficit budget of £1.5 million. 

    Written on Sunday, 10 April 2022 05:25 3 comments Read more...
  • Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Grammar Schools 2022

    For the second year running the effects of a disrupted education because of Covid have once again had a disproportionate effect on grammar school admissions in the less prosperous parts of the county. This is also highlighted by another year of fewer children who attract Pupil Premium being found selective. Every grammar school in the West and North West of the county is oversubscribed, with Dartford Grammar turning away a record 444 grammar qualified first choices (nearly a hundred more than in 2021) followed by Dartford Girls with 250 (up by 52). There appear to be no plans to expand grammar school provision further in NW Kent, which suggests an imminent crisis in provision. KCC's solution at present is to use places in neighbouring Districts to meet demand (see below).

    Altogether there were 5,516 children offered Kent grammar school places within the 5,735 available, capacity increasing by just 30 places over 2021. These included 381  allocated places by virtue of success in one of the additional local tests offered by six schools. There are 220 empty spaces across ten schools before appeals, all in East and Mid Kent, whereas there were just 123 vacancies in six grammars in 2020 at this stage pre-Covid. 45 of the vacancies are at Maidstone Girls Grammar (despite 23 offers to OOC girls). 

    I look  at the outcomes by area in more detail below, as well as levels of oversubscription and vacancies. You will find full details of the Kent test outcomes for 2022 entry here

    Written on Friday, 01 April 2022 11:24 10 comments Read more...