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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.


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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.....


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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. 


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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.


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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.

  • Ofsted Annual Report 2018-19 (1): Kent and Medway 'Stuck Schools'

    Update 24th January: Royal Harbour Academy has been found to Require Improvement by Ofsted today, up from 'Requires Significant Improvement. This leaves just Holmesdale School as the only Kent secondary school in Special Measures.

    The Chief Ofsted Inspector has published her Annual Report for 2018-19, available here. The year has been very successful overall for both Kent and Medway schools being inspected, with all categories outperforming national data. I have explored these in two previous articles, the first looking at secondary school Ofsted Reports  which show both grammar and non-selective schools in Kent and Medway performing comfortably above the national average in Progress and Attainment. At primary level, both Authorities again outperformed national data, this time with academies noticeably achieving higher levels and improved assessments against Local Authority schools. A third article on Special School Inspections will follow shortly. 

    Rightly, Ofsted is concerned about ‘stuck schools’ and I look at each of the ten stuck schools in Kent and three in Medway below, discovering that this is a very broad category. I am also preparing a follow up article  looking at two other issues on which the Report focuses: schools where there is potentially off-rolling and excessive movement of pupils: and school exclusions, with Kent enjoying the fourth lowest proportion of permanent exclusions in the country.

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    Written on Wednesday, 22 January 2020 14:49 Be the first to comment!
  • Academy and Free School News January 2020

    Important Update to EKC section below with a message to all Local Authority Governing Bodies 

    This article first looks at the two new Free Schools opened in Dartford in September: Stone Lodge School (secondary) and River Mill Primary. Six schools have become academies: Dartford Bridge Community Primary School; Horsmonden Primary; Paddock Wood Primary; Rolvenden PrimarySt Katherine’s Primary; and Wainscott Primary. A group of primary schools in East Kent are  proposing to academise together: Briary; Bysing Wood; Holywell; and QueenboroughSunny Bank School  in Sittingbourne has an Academy Order. The re-brokering of the failed Delce Academy; the Private Finance Initiative and academy conversion; a roundup of the names and numbers of Kent and Medway academies, and various other academy matters.

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    Written on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 18:40 3 comments
  • The 15 Kent and Medway Priority School Building Programmes currently underway, planned or completed

    In 2015 Government introduced Phase Two of the Priority School Building Programme, to rebuild or refurbish individual blocks of accommodation at 277 schools using capital grant and are scheduled to hand over by the end of 2023. 13 of these are in Kent and a further two are in Medway. This article looks at progress of the project in the local schools to benefit, which were as follows. Kent Primary schools: Barton Junior; Benenden Church of England Primary; Colliers Green Church of England Primary; & Platt Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School. Kent secondary schools: The Abbey School; Dover Grammar Boys; The Folkestone School for Girls; Hartsdown Technology College; High Weald Academy; Mayfield Grammar; Pent Valley Technology College; Simon Langton Girls' Grammar; Swadelands. Medway secondary schools: St John Fisher Catholic Comprehensive and The Howard School.

    Key words in the project are: ‘using capital grant’, as the previous programme of Building Schools for the Future relied heavily on commercial loans under the now largely discredited Private Finance Initiative. Whilst many schools benefited hugely from this project, the financial implications are crippling, as can be seen in several previous articles on this site, including here, with a full analysis by ShepwayVox here.  In this second phase more schools qualify under ‘a block replacement based on poor condition.  Only in exceptional circumstances will a whole school be replaced’ . At least three of the projects described below appear to come into the ‘exceptional circumstances’ category. At the foot of this article is a list of all the previous successful BSF Schools in Kent.

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    Written on Tuesday, 14 January 2020 15:01 Be the first to comment!
  • Grammar School Expansion, including Tunbridge Wells Boys, Gravesend and Norton Knatchbull.
    Last week, Kent County Council moved a step closer to introducing the proposed Grammar School Annexe of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys in Sevenoaks. This will parallel the girls annexe on the same site, which has been operating since 2017. Two boys’ grammar schools, Gravesend and Norton Knatchbull, have been awarded funding by KCC to meet major housing expansions in Ashford and Ebbsfleet respectively, and I also look at the next round of the Grammar School Expansion Fund decisions planned for the Autumn of 2019, but delayed presumably because of the General Election.
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    Written on Tuesday, 14 January 2020 06:38 Be the first to comment!
  • Progress on 15 Approved New Free Schools in Kent and Medway
    The latest published government list of Approved Free Schools in Kent and Medway, up to October 2019 and still in the pre-opening stage, lists the 15 schools below. Most of these have been considered in previous articles, brought up to date here. Several have been waiting for many years with as yet no sign of progress.
     
    There is a separate Information Page on Kent and Medway's planned and opened Free Schools here
     
    The new schools are: Alkerden School (secondary, likely to be all through), Ebbsfleet; Aspire Special School, Sittingbourne; Barton Manor School (secondary), Canterbury; Bearsted Primary Academy, Maidstone; Chilmington Green Secondary Academy, Ashford; Ebbsfleet Green Primary School; Leigh Academy RainhamMargate Presumption; Rochester Riverside CofE Primary School; School of Science and Technology Maidstone; Springhead Park Primary School, Gravesham (Ebbsfleet); Snowfields Academy (Special School), Bearsted, Maidstone; St Andrew’s Primary Free School, Paddock Wood; The Beeches (Alternative Provision Primary Centre), Chatham;  The Maritime Academy, Strood.
     
    Fuller details on all these schools below. Delays in the two new secondary schools in Medway will be causing problems in secondary provision in September this year, explored below
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    Written on Wednesday, 08 January 2020 19:26 Be the first to comment!
  • New Secondary School in Thanet vetoed at the Last Moment.

     In his last action just twenty minutes before standing down as Leader of Kent County Council on October 17th, Paul Carter vetoed the proposal to build a new non-selective school in Thanet on the grounds that population numbers had not risen as fast as forecast. Instead he stated that what Thanet needed was better schools rather than additional ones, and that the financial cost to Kent was not necessary.

    Preceding this decision, the Kent Schools Commissioning Plan 2019-2023 stated that: The new secondary Free School has been commissioned on the site of the former Royal School for the Deaf. The Howard Academy Trust has been confirmed as the successful sponsor via the DfE Free School Presumptive process. The School will open in temporary accommodation in 2020 with 120 Year 7 places, and in 2021 on the new site as a 6FE school. The support of existing schools will be required to provide temporary Year 7 places for 2019 until the new school is delivered.

    KCC’s Scrutiny Committee on 19th November considered Mr Carter’s decision as reported here, pp 17 – 28, and I have considered it in detail below. The two key outcomes of the Open part of this meeting were: firstly it appears clear that the decision to veto the original decision was the right one even if the alternative proposed would create other problems and; secondly that KCC officers were seriously wrong in their number planning as demonstrated by KCC’s own Commissioning Plan and my simple charts below, their excuses for not noticing the population trend not standing up to scrutiny and with no one to be held accountable for this debacle. A subsequent closed session may well have looked at the data, but we don't know. 

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    Written on Tuesday, 07 January 2020 19:43 9 comments