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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.

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.

This article is based on four more comprehensive ones, elsewhere in this website: Kent Grammar Schools; Kent Non-Selective Schools; Medway Grammar Schools; Medway Non-Selective schools. 

The allocation of secondary school places took place at the beginning of March and this article surveys some of the consequences of the decisions taken.

The two biggest pressure areas appear to be in Thanet non-selective schools and North West Kent grammar schools, but there are plenty of others.  

The problems in Thanet are caused both by an influx of pupils and a massive polarisation of popularity with every one of the six non-selective schools full on allocation. Many parents try to avoid two schools, Royal Harbour and Hartsdown Academies and as a consequence these two were allocated 166 children who had no school of their choice, more than a quarter of the total in the county. These will include a large number of Children In Care, dispatched by London Boroughs; others are children from the EC and refugees, all bringing their own challenges to the schools. As a direct consequence, three schools are massively oversubscribed, with St George’s CofE, King Ethelbert and Charles Dickens (last Inspection – Special Measures proving no obstacle!) turning away 186, 126 and 53 first choices respectively. The first two are the first and third most popular non-selective schools in Kent, split by Valley Park in Maidstone, which turned away 179 first choices.

At the other end of the county, the pressure on North West grammar schools is intense, brought about through London families looking to secure grammar school places. The six schools have offered 280 out of county (ooc) places between them, including some from north of the Thames, with a further 62 at four Medway grammars. Dartford Grammar School, has placed a limit of 90 places for local boys, selecting those with the highest scores. It has offered places to 79 ooc boys, with many grammar qualified children being denied places at their local school. Dartford Grammar school has gone down the same route, allocating 100 places to local girls, alongside 55 oocs. 

NOTE: You will also find a briefer variant of this in my blog

The government’s new Green Paper, headed ‘Schools that Work for Everyone’, does nothing to make sense of the country’s fractured education provision, seen at its most prolific in Kent, but instead seeks to increase the kaleidoscope of school types by adding even more variations.

One of its stated aims is the delivery of a diverse school system to enable all children to achieve their potential. Certainly, one can be sure that these proposals will increase diversity.

I do not propose to examine the Green Paper in depth here, but look with bewilderment at proposals to allow faith schools to proliferate and tighten their grip on school admissions. Church schools already add up to around a third of the country’s schools.

The Green Paper explicitly refers to the current large influx of children from Catholic familiesinto the country and county’s schools, this being one of the driving factors of this aspect of the government proposals. The Catholic church refuses to open new schools unless they are given control of 100 per cent of the intake, as distinct from the current 50 per cent ruling for new schools. As a result, government is now seeking to change the rules to get them on side by allowing ALL faith schools to give priority to their followers over 100% of places.

InPoland where many of the new Catholic children originate, 89 per cent of children attend secular state schools, with just 11 per cent in the private Catholic schools. Why therefore should a desire to offer Catholic schools for all drive English education, extending it to all faith schools? Surely, it makes no sense to allow more religious segregation at a time when racial and religious tensions are at their greatest in this country for many years.

Much has been written on the bizarre plan to allow new types of grammar schools to spring up or convert from non-selective schools apparently without regard to their effect on other schools or on those children left behind, or else to expand using unidentified rules to improve social mobility, so I don’t propose to add to it at present.  UPDATE: See article on Meopham School.

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 at the bottom of the page. Please note that the 800 or so regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item. 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. \nNews items appear as and when I have time in a very busy schedule supporting clients.

  • Kent School Admission Appeals under Lock-down, Including Two Very Different Experiences

    News Update: I have been contacted by a number of Thanet families whose children were found selective but not offered grammar school places because they live too far away and the grammar schools are full. They were placed on waiting lists, but have been shocked to be moved further down the list. This is because, at the recent admission appeals, several non-selective children were found to be of grammar school ability. The rules require that they are also added to the waiting list and if they live closer go ahead of those already on it! I have previously looked at the dire situation in Thanet here,  with several of these families being offered one of the county's least popular schools. Sadly I have nothing positive to suggest.  

    I am starting to receive some feedback on school admission appeals for Kent families, decided on the basis of written submissions only,  although most are happening very late in the year and many have not yet happened. This method is likely to have been the norm for both KCC Panels and other organisations running appeals where there are multiple appeals for a school. It is in my view the only practical way forward for grammar school and probably other multiple appeals as I identified here back in April. However, it is a variation breaking with the hopelessly impractical model outlined by the government, which I described as 'a chink of light in the regulations'.  The use of written submissions only was put forward as one of three possible options, the other two being telephone and video conferencing.    

    Most appellants appear content with this process whatever the outcome, it being far less stressful than the 'normal' appeals of previous yearsespecially in the view of families who have past experience of these. Others are looking to challenge the outcome on grounds that it was very different from the model laid down by the government, as explained here.  However, as I concluded in that article, the model is not obligatory, so such a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

    I have not yet heard of the experience of local families encountering telephone or video conferencing for multiple appeals, although KCC appears to be using the former for some individual appeals and I look below at one such in-year hearing. I will update this article as and if I receive further reports of different experiences.  

    Written on Thursday, 02 July 2020 20:46 5 comments Read more...
  • Off-Rolling in Kent and Medway Schools before GCSE Registration and in the Sixth Form
    OFSTED DEFINITION OF OFF-ROLLING
    Off-rolling is the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion when the removal is primarily in the best interests of the school, rather than the best interests of the pupil. This includes pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school roll.

    It can happen in any type of school, as I demonstrated a few years ago when I exposed the Invicta Grammar Sixth Form scandal which went national and resulted in the government being forced to clarify the existing law although I suspect it still continues in a few cases, notably Holcombe Grammar, below.  

    A major pointer to off-rolling taking place is a large percentage fall in pupil numbers for a school between the start of Year 10 and January of Year 11 along with, or alternatively, high Elective Home Education numbers (EHE).  The importance of the January date is that after this, pupils leaving the school will have their GCSE performance (or absence) counted in official outcomes even with the new Coronavirus arrangements. I have no proof that off-rolling is the key reason for the sharp falls in pupil numbers identified below, but it is a reasonable suspicion. 

    Twelve Kent and two Medway schools lost from 7% to 13% of their cohort in this way this year, five of them for at least two years running. 

    I have also given figures for the change between Year Seven and Year Eleven for these schools, which, in some cases should certainly be raising questions, as was the case a few years ago with Holmesdale School then under KCC control. This signposted a school falling apart at the seams, although KCC failed to notice, and I am delighted that it now appears on the way back again under different control. Although Ofsted now has responsibility for identifying schools where off-rolling occurs, I have as yet seen no evidence of this in relevant Reports locally. 

    Written on Monday, 29 June 2020 05:30 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Kent's Plan for Grammar School Selection 2020
    REMEMBER TO REGISTER FOR THE KENT TEST BY 1ST JULY 

    Kent County Council ‘has been contingency planning ever since schools were forced to close on March 20th, to see what adjustments might be needed to the Kent Test process in different situations as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded’. As a result of all this planning, it has decided simply to postpone the test by five weeks, subject to approval by the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills after 20th July. If matters develop then KCC will think of something else. You will find full details here

    Unfortunately, the current plan will heavily penalise all those children whose families cannot afford or otherwise arrange for extensive private tuition to make up for the absence of school curriculum time over the second half of this school year, and bar those who miss the Test in the case of a second wave of the pandemic, or for other connected reasons, such as being placed in quarantine or simply through fear. Private schools with a focus on securing places at grammar school for their pupils will now be able to concentrate on preparing their pupils for the Kent Test over the five or six weeks of the autumn term preceding it. Kent state schools are forbidden to do this. 

    This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.”

    Written on Sunday, 21 June 2020 13:05 3 comments Read more...
  • St Thomas Catholic Primary School, Sevenoaks - Headteacher on 'Special Leave'

    Update 1st July: The moreI learn about this story, the more I think I understand the background to some of the passions aroused. I have been introduced to the world of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham which appears to play a significant role in the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church in and around Sevenoaks, an area with a significant proportion of Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism. Whilst none of this appears relevant to the Special Absence of Mrs Aquilina, the headteacher from St Thomas Catholic Primary School (below), it explains some of the passions that have been aroused by it - now a record 10,000 reads in two weeks.  As a result, I have attempted a document looking at some of the Ordinariate issues in more detail here. Relevant comments have been transferred to that page. I do not anticipate that everyone will agree with my analysis.

    Nine days ago (14th June), all I knew about St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, was that it had an Outstanding Ofsted Report dating back to 2014, was an averagely performing school in terms of Progress levels, usually had one of the highest proportion of pupils in the county passing the Kent Test (dipping in 2019), and just about filled in most years. I then published an article about the travails of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) and the ‘unexpected absence’ of its Chief Executive. Leading on from this I was informed about the crisis at the school, a member of the Partnership. The headteacher, Mrs Aquilina, had been placed on Special Leave until the end of the academic year as the Partnership’s ‘Immediate priority as a Trust must be the children and staff of St Thomas’. This is now a major revision of the article I wrote to follow up the Pandora’s Box of outcomes that emerged followed this revelation, including the ‘voluntary absence’ of her husband, Father Aquilina, from his parish. 

    St Thomas Sevenoaks

    Between them the two articles have now clocked up over 14,000 visitors in less than a fortnight, an unprecedented number over the 15 years this site has been in existence. The host of comments at the foot amplify a number of the issues. I have reorganised the comments posted after the two articles to the one most appropriate for the content and have indicated where this has happened, although they are no longer in full date order. Items specific to the Partnership are now being transferred to the original article for clarity.

    The St Thomas’ story continues below.

    If you have safeguarding concerns affecting a child at any school, contact Social Services here

    Written on Wednesday, 17 June 2020 23:45 47 comments Read more...
  • Kent and Medway Tests 2020: Delay to October Likely. Pupil Premium Children Betrayed
    17th June: A flurry of media interviews, including KMTV here, focusing on the Medway Test. 
     
    Updated with Reference to Medway Test
    Kent primary school headteachers are now being consulted by KCC on the nature of assessment for grammar school selection this year. Whilst there are various options, the key element of the consultation is whether to delay the Kent Test until mid-October, with consequent changes to the admission process as outlined in a previous article
     
    Medway Council has also announced its decision to delay the Medway Test until October 13th and 14th. See below.  
     
    Sadly there is no consideration or mention of the position of disadvantaged and Pupil Premium children, who currently make up 10% of the Kent Year Seven grammar school cohort, and 11% in Medway. It is clear that the nature of any decisions in line with this consultation and the Medway decision to delay will not only strongly disadvantage the chances of these disadvantaged children in the selection process, at the expense of those who have been intensively coached or from private schools. In a previous article I wrote:
    There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
    Under the Kent proposal and Medway decision the reverse would be true. Grammar schools would inevitably see a considerable increase in numbers of children from private schools and those heavily tutored, at the expense of those who have suffered from a limited education since March 23rd through no fault of their own. In Medway this will certainly be the case. 

    Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education has said:  "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.” There is no sign whatever of any intervention or even awareness of this pledge in the Kent consultation or Medway decision. This is an abject failure by both Authorities to honour this pledge. 

    Written on Tuesday, 16 June 2020 20:04 4 comments Read more...
  • Grammar Schools and Pupil Premium Children
    The Campaigning website Comprehensive Future has criticised a single phrase in the last section below in a dedicated article here. Whilst hardly groundbreaking, I do not accept the criticism which is based on an inept and complete misreading of their own dodgy data and have responded here.  
    There are considerable concerns over the opportunities for disadvantaged pupils in this year’s grammar school selection process, whatever form this takes. Nationally and in Kent and Medway there is remarkable consistency over the statistics for the last four years. The national percentage for Pupil Premium children in Year Seven of grammar schools is 8% of the total in each of January 2017-2019, with Kent being 9% (10% in 2020) and Medway 12% falling to 11% in 2019.
     
    The four Kent grammar schools with the highest proportion of PP children currently in Year Seven, are those in Dover and Folkestone that offer local tests as an additional route of entry to grammar school. These are Dover Boys (22%); Dover Girls (20%); Folkestone Girls and Harvey both 19%. Lowest are Tonbridge (2%); Judd, Skinners, and Tunbridge Wells Girls, all with 3% PP. Highest in Medway in January 2019 were Chatham, Holcombe, and Fort Pitt, all with 15%. Lowest were Rainham Mark and Rochester (see below) with 8%.  Further details below.
     
    There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
    Written on Sunday, 14 June 2020 06:58 1 comment Read more...