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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.

  • Elective Home Education & Children Missing from Education in Kent & Medway 2020-21

     A record number of 1,485 Kent families withdrew their children from school last year to take up Elective Home Education (EHE), nearly double the figure in 2019-20 which had dipped probably because of a Covid effect. In Medway, the figure of 310 is also a record. These families have chosen instead to 'educate' them at home to variable standards, sometimes because their child's school is unable to cater for their needs properly, leaving some families with nowhere else to turn.  Many families will educate their children to high standards, some will struggle to achieve these, but in other cases EHE will simply cover neglect or worse, with children's life chances being ruined. Local Authorities have no powers to investigate the circumstances of the decision. At the same time also, a record number of Kent children went missing from their schools, sometimes with schools having no idea of their destination, the proportion going missing in Medway being even higher, over twice as large as Kent. Many of these children will be from traveller or Eastern European families, some of the latter returning home after Brexit, others coming back to the schools after a period on the road.      

    These are areas where government education policy is severely lacking, with failures to collect data about children being educated at home, to require children educated at home to be registered, or to make any sort of check on the quality of what is being offered them in terms of education, despite various promises through the years.

    Written on Friday, 14 January 2022 07:07 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • My Retirement from www.kentadvice.co.uk
    Please Note: This item was first published on 16th December 2021. 
    It is with some sadness that I have decided to retire from KentAdvice after 15 years of running the website and its predecessor. This is partly because I am no longer able to keep up with the increasing amount of material that presents itself, but mainly because I recognise the time is right for me.
    Written on Friday, 14 January 2022 01:59 16 comments Read more...
  • Crisis in Primary Provision in the new Ebbsfleet Development

    An article in Kentonline, headed ‘Ebbsfleet Garden City parents sold dream new homes but cannot get children into nearby schools’, understates the serious problem of primary school provision in the area. Currently, three new primary schools have been built to serve Ebbsfleet, but all are full and oversubscribed for the current Reception Year, and three of the four schools in nearby Swanscombe and Greenhithe are also bursting at the seams. Dartford town offers no respite, with just eight Reception vacancies out of 972 places available. There is a current crisis in the provision of primary places in both areas with few signs of how it is to improve.

    Written on Thursday, 13 January 2022 20:06 1 comment Read more...
  • Kent Test and Headteacher Assessment for Entry in September 2022: Further Analysis

    This article follows on from the previous: ‘Kent Test 2021, Initial Results and Comment’, published in October and continues in the shadow of issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic. It looks in more detail at the performance of state school children in the Kent grammar school selection process, with another looking at those from private schools and schools outside Kent to come later.

    For entry in September 2022, there is a partial shift back to the 2019 pre Covid norms, with the proportion of children taking the test up and boys’ performance improving considerably. My concerns about the gap between East and West in the Kent Test continues, but this has been smoothed out to some extent by a surge in numbers for East Kent children being successful in the Headteacher Assessment. 

    After the initial headline details immediately below, you will find further sections on additional pages, from the following links: Pupil PremiumDistrict Variation; Performance of Pupils in Individual SchoolsLocal Tests; Head Teacher Assessments; October 2021 Census.   

    Written on Wednesday, 12 January 2022 16:34 1 comment Read more...
  • KentAdvice: Review of Seventeen Years of Support for Families

    This article is a follow-up from my previous, below, which reported that I am retiring from running this website, KentAdvice, and probably my involvement in education. It looks across the seventeen years the site has run, at some of the highlights and key issues that have featured.

    Can I begin by thanking the many correspondents, both parents and professionals, who have sent messages of appreciation following my initial article, with two very different messages: firstly from the many families who have written to thank me for the advice and information on the site and/or my consultation service, from which they have benefitted;  and secondly as summarised by a headteacher - ‘Your tenacity in ensuring no stone was left unturned in exposing situations that were harming the educational chances of Kent children needs to be applauded.

    As well as the website and my consultation service, I have also worked extensively behind the scenes with some schools, together with individual governors, headteachers, staff and parents, where there have been problems in their institutions. These have all contributed to my unique insight into schools across Kent and Medway.

    Written on Tuesday, 21 December 2021 08:09 10 comments Read more...
  • The New Park Crescent Academy in Margate: Scrapped
    The Government and KCC have now jointly decided that the proposed Park Crescent Academy in Margate is to be dropped as it is ‘no longer required, as I have been arguing almost alone for nearly two years, through a series of articles analysing the multiple defects in the project, including the failures in forecasting pupil population in Thanet. 

    The reason given for the cancellation is that secondary student numbers in Thanet have dropped well below the levels predicted when the school was originally proposed in 2015. This was obvious in October 2019, when Sir Paul Carter, then Leader of KCC and in his last decision before stepping down from the role, vetoed the proposal on the grounds that ‘population numbers had not risen as fast as forecast’, against the advice of his officers who have championed this project, apparently unquestioningly, throughout.  In February 2020 his decision was reversed again by Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System (who would soon have a new Policy Advisor, Dr Jo Saxton)  on the interesting grounds that, although there was no need for a new school on grounds of numbers, the quality of some current secondary provision in Thanet was of poor quality and it was important to offer choice!

    KCC, under its new education leadership, and Baroness Barran, the new Minister for the School System, have now agreed that the project should be cancelled for the second time, again on the grounds that there is no need for it, according to a press release from KCC on 6th December this year, ! There is no mention of the central reason given by Lord Agnew for reinstating the project, because of problems with current quality of provision, nor that the planning application had proposed a wholly impracticable school on a site that that even KCC acknowledged was constricted or constrained where space is at a premium, as I have demonstrated here

    Following an FOI Request I can confirm that the cost of the land for the new school was £6.8 million and there are no constraints, apart from Planning Permissions, on how the land is to be used. See below. The next question I am chasing is how much the aborted project cost Kent taxpayers. Perhaps relevant Councillors may like to try and find out also!

    Written on Tuesday, 07 December 2021 07:31 6 comments Read more...