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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.

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.

This newspaper article is based on a more comprehensive one, elsewhere in this website. 

2017 has seen a remarkable fall in the number of children applying for places in Kent primary schools, a drop of 679 or 3.8% of the total. As a result, there are 11.1% vacant places in Reception classes across the county, rising sharply from a figure of 6.5% in 2016.  

There are still local pressures focused on several towns including: Tonbridge with just one vacancy in one school; Ashford, two vacancies, apart from 14 in a school on the outskirts; Sevenoaks, full apart from 18 places in one school on the outskirts of town; and Tunbridge Wells just one school with 24 vacancies. However, overall there is a far better picture than last year. Contrast these pressure points with: Ashford Rural; Faversham; Maidstone Rural; Shepway Rural & Hythe; and Swanley & District; all with a fifth or more places empty across their schools.

The most popular schools vary considerably year on year, with just Great Chart, Ashford and Fleetdown in Dartford in the top ten both years. Most oversubscribed school is Slade Primary in Tonbridge, turning away 43 first choices, followed by Great Chart, Ashford, with 41. Then come: Cobham, Gravesham with 35; Cecil Road, Gravesham, East Borough Primary, Maidstone, and St Mildred's Infants, all with 34 disappointed first choices; St John's CofE, Maidstone, 32; St Mary's CofE Primary Academy, Folkestone, 30 (a remarkable turn round from 2016 when the school had six vacancies); and Fleetdown and West Hill Primaries, Dartford, along with Langton Green Primary, Tunbridge Wells, all with 29.

At the other end of the scale, 18 schools have more than half their places empty, a sharp rise on last year.  Seven Kent primary schools have had at least two years being half empty or more.

KCC offered places to 404 children in schools they had not applied to as all their choices were full; known as Local Authority Allocated (LAA) children.

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 2020: Initial Results and Comment

    I was interviewed on Radio Kent on Friday morning, followed by the KCC Education Cabinet Member, Richard Long who provided some additional data reproduced below.  You can find the interview here, 1 hour 37 minutes in.  

    The Kent Test results have produced a pass mark with an aggregate score of 332, slightly higher than last year, with an additional requirement to score 108 on each of the three sections - English, mathematics, and reasoning. This is slightly lower than 2019’s requirement for 110 on each paper. 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, 25.4% 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, down from last year’s 26.6%.

    Although there was a fall of 522 in the number of children taking the Test overall this year, 194 additional children were found selective over the 2019 figure. This is purely due to an increase in the number of out of county passes, with 74 fewer Kent children found selective, details in the table below.  In addition, there was a worrying fall of 12% in the number of children being found selective by the HTA, with the great majority of HTA children coming from Kent.  

    The Test, taken a month later than planned because of the Coronavirus pandemic, will certainly have seen a slightly different profile of children passing, as explained in previous articles here, most recently here. However, until I get more detailed data on outcomes later this year it will not be clear how different. The KCC Press Release describing the Test carefully focuses on the view of Richard Long, Cabinet Member for Education that: ‘Kent has done everything in its power to ensure that families were given a fair and safe way to apply for Kent Secondary schools this year’ referring to this fact twice, but without mentioning what KCC had done if anything to make the Kent Test as fair as possible, the subject matter of the article. In his interview, Mr Long gave data showing that, unsurprisingly, the number of children passing the test from private schools rose by 12% to 862. Also, the proportion of children on Free School Meals who took part in the Kent Test assessed as suitable for Grammar School this year rose slightly to 23%  compared to 22.8% last year. However,  without knowing the numbers of children in both years, this doesn't yet add anything to the picture.

    Written on Thursday, 26 November 2020 11:31 2 comments Read more...
  • Needless School Closures and Coronavirus

     Update 24 November:   A full list of school closures I know about below, latest in blue. 

    Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director, Education and Young People's Services for Kent County Council, has managed to upset a wide range of Kent headteachers, with a comment as politically insensitive as Boris Johnson’s recent crass remark on Scottish devolution.

    He has told headteachers in a lengthy and somewhat patronising letter to make sure they understand coronavirus guidelines so pupils and staff are not sent home "needlessly".  "While it remains the case that decision making on the running for your schools is for you to take with your governing bodies and Trusts, it is becoming clear that there are considerable differences in decision making at a locality level, and that does cause some problems at community level, and for some families. Quite simply, it is perceived that some schools are closing when other local schools facing similar or the same challenges are not."

    It is an unfortunate coincidence that whilst part of his focus appeared aimed at Fulston Manor School, as reported in Kent Online, the school is in Swale which last evening was named as third most infected areas in England, and I am informed that other local schools may shortly follow suit in closing. I doubt this letter will discourage them. Other secondary schools currently closed for fourteen days include Dartford Science and Technology College; Greenacre; Howard, Hundred of Hoo, Rainham Girls, Robert Napier; Sandwich Technology School; St George's CofE Comprehensive, Gravesend; Sir Roger Manwood's School, Sandwich; and Strood Academy; along with Special Schools - Bower Grove, Maidstone; and Orchard, Canterbury; together with primary schools - Cobham Primary, Iwade Primary, Meopham Community Academy, Queenborough School, Sholden CofE Primary, Thistle Hill Academy. The multiple Year Group closures are too many to list.

    Written on Wednesday, 18 November 2020 00:04 9 comments Read more...
  • Dismissal of Kent Headteacher for Gross Misconduct

     Update 28th November: To few people's surprise surely, Mrs Aquilina's actions have led to a proposal for the KCSP to bring St Thomas Catholic Primary School into a cluster of West Kent schools. See below for details. 

    It was announced today that the Headteacher of St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, Mrs Claudia Aquilina, has been dismissed for gross misconduct by her employers, the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership. This follows her suspension from the post earlier this year on June 17th. The decision to suspend was highly controversial amongst some Catholic parents as she had a loyal following who thought her wonderful. The record 89 comments attached to my initial article, which with its predecessor has now been read over thirty thousand times, indicate the depth of feeling she aroused, both positive and negative.

    St Thomas Sevenoaks 2

    Over the many years I have been commenting on Kent and Medway education matters, I have seen a number of headteachers removed from their posts, but cannot recall any dismissed as bluntly as this, indicating the seriousness of the case.

    Written on Monday, 16 November 2020 19:58 21 comments Read more...
  • School Appeals: Kent and Medway 2020

    This article looks at Year Seven and primary school admission appeals in Kent and Medway. 2020 has seen a very different way of conducting appeals because of coronavirus, which I have explored in several previous articles most recently here. In the event, the large majority were conducted in a paper hearing, without direct parental involvement. The number of appeals for both grammar and non-selective schools were very similar to 2019, although the success rates for both in Kent schools fell,  grammar from 29% to 22%, non-selective from 24% to 19%. The number of complaints against appeals has fallen, suggesting a level of acceptance about the different process. 

    There is no pattern with Medway schools, Chatham Grammar upholding an astonishing 94% of appeals, Holcombe Grammar one out of 53, and Rainham School for Girls putting all 37 appellants through after a group hearing.  

    The most difficult area to win a grammar school appeal is once again in North West Kent, although the two Thanet grammar schools have been very difficult this year. Highest success rates were as usual at Simon Langton Girls with 71% and Maidstone Girls with 69%. Not one of the 64 appeals at Wilmington Girls' Grammar was upheld.  For non-selective schools, success rates range from 0% at Bennett Memorial, Brockhill, Leigh Academy, Maplesden Noakes, St Augustine Academy, St Simon Stock, the new Maidstone School of Science and Technology, and Wye through to 100% at Skinners Kent Academy, Valley Park and Whitstable. Many appellants for non-selective schools are offered places before the appeal, usually as successes at grammar school appeals reduce numbers. This year 66 children were offered places at Valley Park in this way. 

    You will find further details below, including primary appeals heard by Local Authority Panels. There is appeal panel data (along with other information) for each secondary school in Kent and Medway here (currently being updated; please let me know if you need the information for a particular school).

    Written on Sunday, 15 November 2020 12:57 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Medway Test 2020: Initial results and analysis

    The scandal of the gross imbalance between opportunities for girls and boys at Medway grammar schools has reached its greatest height so far this year. It is created by a much higher proportion of girls passing in the Medway Test, a hundred unnecessary extra places provided for girls in the past three years, a useless Review process and a massively discriminatory appeals process also in favour of girls. In short, the admission process for Medway grammar schools is not fit for purpose.   

    The pass mark in the Medway Test for admission to grammar school in 2021 is an aggregate score of 483, with 23.06% of Medway state school educated pupils found to be of selective ability against a target of 23.0%. 812 Medway pupils passed the test, just four more than in 2019. However, the proportion of boys being found selective at 20.7% is well down on previous years, balanced by 25.6% of girls.

    The number of out of county children (ooc) passing the test has risen sharply by 146 to 1126. Last year there were 248 ooc children offered places in Medway grammar schools, nearly 20% of the total, with plenty of spaces to accommodate any excess if they are girls. 

    The council press statement on the Medway Test contains no mention of the inevitable effect of coronavirus on performance, which will have given a greater advantage than ever before to children from private schools and those whose families have invested heavily in private tuition, at the expense of 'ordinary' children and those attracting Pupil Premium. 

    The 2019 Review outcomes and 2020 appeal results reveal once again the negligible opportunities for boys in securing grammar school places this year if they had not secured automatic passes in the Medway Test. Meanwhile, the astonishing 94% success rate in appeals at Chatham Grammar underlines the large surplus of selective places for girls. 

    There is further analysis below, including a look at Review, Appeals and the situation for individual Medway grammar schools.

    Written on Tuesday, 03 November 2020 20:08 4 comments Read more...
  • What’s Happening at The Rochester Grammar School?

    A few years ago, The Rochester Grammar School was one of the most oversubscribed grammar schools across Kent and Medway, with a strong sixth form and proud of its Thinking Schools philosophy. It has been the only Medway or Kent grammar school to be awarded generous government funds of some £3 million in the past two years through the Grammar School Expansion Fund in spite of a large number of other local applicants. In order to secure this funding, used primarily to expand its numbers, the school completely changed its entry requirements to give priority to girls attracting Pupil Premium and local girls. You will find here a full analysis of the scheme I wrote two years ago, but which is still valid today, as the school appears not to have addressed the issues I identified. The school has scrapped A-levels completely in favour of the International Baccalaureate this year. 

    RGS

    Outcomes
    The proportion of girls joining the school in Year Seven in the first year of the scheme, who attract Pupil Premium for the school, has fallen by over a third from 9.2% to 5.9%. This is completely contrary to the aim of the funding. Even though priority is now given to local girls, only 165 of the 253 places offered for September went to Medway girls, so the school is NOT oversubscribed, except for out of county pupils who take up the spare places.   
     
    An even bigger shock is that only 46%, fewer than half of the school’s Year 11 girls in 2019-20, have stayed on into the Sixth Form this year, the second-lowest percentage of any grammar school in Kent and Medway. Even adding in students attracted from other schools, numbers have still plummeted from 87% in 2019 to 53%, with over 100 girls leaving to join the Sixth Forms of other local grammar schools.
    Written on Friday, 30 October 2020 05:09 10 comments Read more...