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As schools come under tighter financial pressures (never mind official news, but ask your local school how it is managing), pupil numbers become ever more critical as they generate the largest part of the income of each school. This article looks at a number of issues in Kent and Medway highlighted by the October 2017 schools census. 

Which seven Kent secondary schools have more than 40% of their Year 7 places empty for September 2017? 

Which four of these were more than half empty in Year 7 for 2016, with two over 40% for all of the past three years?

Which secondary school lost over a third of its cohort Years 7-11?

Which two secondary schools, one in Kent one in Medway, lost over a fifth of their cohort Years 9-11,
a pattern associated with off-rolling.  

Which six grammar schools lost over 20% of their pupils at the end of Year Eleven?

What happened after last year’s Year 12 expulsion scandal at Invicta Grammar and elsewhere?

Which six primary schools (two in Medway) failed to fill half their places for each of the last two years?

Answers to these questions and more below.

Published in News and Comments

In 2013, KCC closed Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury, as it had sharply falling numbers and a forecast intake of just 57 for September 2014. The school had already reduced its capacity from 235 to 150, but this would still leave 62% of places empty. I now have school census figures for September 2014 showing four secondary schools in an even worse situation than this. In 2013, these four schools again had the highest vacancy rates in Kent, whilst  in 2012 the only school that separated them was Walmer Science College which KCC closed at the end of that year because of falling numbers.

 Three of these four schools, Marlowe Academy, Oasis Academy Hextable, and High Weald Academy, are probably safe from direct KCC intervention because of their academy status. However, they will all have problems of viability, as low numbers work through. OFSTED previously placed all three in Special Measures, and although improved, they are still suffering from their reputation. The fourth is Pent Valley School, Folkestone which possesses a ‘Good’ OFSTED assessment, but whose troubles include expansion by more popular neighbouring schools.

Unsurprisingly, heading the list is Marlowe Academy whose predicament I wrote about  at www.kentadvice.co.uk a few weeks ago. It now has just 32 students in Year 7, leaving vacant 83% of its 180 places.  Realistically, it will be impossible for the academy to offer a differentiated and appropriate course for students at GCSE in three years’ time.

Next is Pent Valley Technology College in Folkestone, with 68% of its Year 7 places vacant. The school has fallen annually in popularity, in spite of a ‘Good’ OFSTED in October 2013 with just 58 students in Year 7. There are major contributory factors out of the school’s control, as explained below.

High Weald Academy in Cranbrook has had difficulty in attracting students since it went into Special Measures in 2010, in spite of becoming an academy sponsored by the Brook Learning Trust, and two improved OFSTEDs.  This year’s total of 61 Year 7 students, leaving 66% of places empty, is similar to previous years, so one wonders what else the academy can do to attract numbers.  

Oasis Academy, Hextable, has 63% of places vacant, but is the only one of schools to picked up, rising to 55 students from a low of just 38 in 2013, again following a failed OFSTED.  The improvement was mainly due to a temporary Executive Head turning the school round and earning a positive Inspection Report in preparation for a takeover by Oasis Academy Trust. However, the school’s situation is still precarious and like the others, 2015 admission numbers will be critical.

Any school can cope with a sharp fall in numbers for one year, but what sets these four apart is the sustained low numbers, in schools that will shortly be over half empty as the low year groups work through, financial pressures increasing and the curriculum offering trimmed.

The other school with over half its Year Seven places empty is St Edmund’s Catholic School in Dover, in trouble since its failed OFSTED two years ago, although it has recently been classified “Requires Improvement”. It has 60% of its places vacant, losing over half its intake over the past three years, but is seeking salvation by becoming a Sponsored academy in the Kent Catholic Schools Trust. It also suffers from a similar local problem to Pent Valley.

The pattern of secondary admissions in Kent is changing fast as academies can now increase their Planned Admission Numbers without regard to the effect elsewhere. There is a strong argument by many that poor schools that fail to improve should go to the wall, but this does not take into account the effect on the unfortunate students caught in the middle of closure, as seen at Chaucer and Walmer Science College. When the latter closed in 2013 (failed OFSTED and low numbers), its remaining students were transferred into Castle Community College, Deal, only to see Castle plunge from Outstanding’ to Special Measures seven months later, the school and its new students going through turmoil as it attempted to recover,

Government argues that failing schools should be turned into academies whose freedom from Local Authority control will see them get stronger, but what if they are already academies? More important than the status of the school is its leadership; and there are many examples of schools that have been rescued from difficult circumstances by outstanding leaders.

The second major factor for change in Kent is the expansion of grammar schools, some of whom are setting their own tests, or else finding higher proportions of children to be of grammar school ability through decisions of appeal panels. Folkestone School for Girls increased its capacity by 15 places to 180 for 2014 entry, absorbing 77 girls who passed the Shepway Test alone with a further 44 girls on appeal. One group with whom this policy will be popular are the families of the girls accepted by Folkestone Girls, but Pent Valley’s future is now in threat as a consequence.

Folkestone Academy was one of the most popular schools in Kent in 2011 but has since been falling in popularity. However, for 2014 entry, it still decided to increase its intake by 30 children to 270, potentially damaging Pent Valley further.  In the end, FA started in September with 20 empty spaces in Year 7, the very real problem for both schools being Folkestone School for Girls.

The national controversy over Free Schools failing to fill their places hardly applies in Kent. Both Wye School and Trinity School, Sevenoaks, are full, Wye drawing mainly from the potential of Towers School, Kennington, leaving the latter with just 135 of its 243 places filled.  Trinity has a wider catchment because of its church requirements for 45 of its 90 places. The third Free School, Hadlow Rural Community School, with its agricultural focus, initially planned to offer just 30 places, but then took 50 students from across a wide rural area.  

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  • Fort Pitt, Holcombe and Rochester Grammar Schools: Schools Adjudicator Rejects Admission Criteria as Unlawful

    The Schools Adjudicator, responsible for deciding on school admission policy disputes, has ruled that the determined admission arrangements for 2019 for these three schools are in breach of the Schools Admissions Code and ordered them to be changed. This will ensure that the new rules are fairer to local children or, in the case of The Rochester Grammar School, that more appropriately qualified girls are admitted.

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    Medway Council, with oversight of school admission rules published on its website, neither took action to block the unlawful proposals (if indeed they noticed them), nor bothered to express a view on their legality to the Schools Adjudicator when invited. There has been just one complaint about a Kent school's proposals since 2012 (relating to In-Year Admissions), as KCC monitors proposed changes. 

    To look at the decisions in detail follow the links: Fort Pitt; Holcombe Grammar; The Rochester Grammar, with my analysis below.

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    Written on Thursday, 13 September 2018 20:15 4 comments Read 2649 times
  • Academy News: September 2018

    I am afraid this regular update is well overdue because of pressures elsewhere. I will be publishing a second article shortly (I hope) but this one is primarily about new and proposed academies and the increasing practice of re-assigning academies to other Trusts when there has been a break down of performance in some way. 

    Panorama, 10th September: Financial Mismanagement in Academy Trusts
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    Another ten schools have become academies this year, bringing the Kent total to 89% out of 101 secondary schools including applications in progress, and 37% of 456 primaries. In Medway 16 out of 17 secondary schools and 54 of the 79 primaries are academies. You will find all the latest conversions below, along with new applications to become academies, and a full list of Kent and Medway academies here.

    The number of Multi Academy Trusts continues to proliferate, some with ever more exotic names; you will find a full list of Kent and Medway Trusts here.

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    Written on Monday, 10 September 2018 23:42 Be the first to comment! Read 258 times
  • Private Schools Coaching for Grammar Entrance

    This is an updated and revised version of a story I wrote as the events below unfolded 

    The BBC excitedly revealed the results of ‘an exclusive undercover investigation’ on Monday last. This had discovered to no one’s surprise that private schools depending on a high rate of pupils securing grammar school places for their existence prepare those pupils for the Kent Test. You will find on the BBC website here a much watered down version of the original headline grabbing, anti-grammar school story which dominated the channel and Radio Kent for two days leading up to the Kent Test. The programme was followed the next day by another ‘lead story’ which also recycled and expanded on remarks by Robert Halfon, MP and Chairman of the Government Select Committee on Education, several months earlier but presented as breaking news. This also criticised KCC for creating ‘confusion’ by not knowing how a Review it had commissioned into coaching would turn out! 

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    Written on Tuesday, 04 September 2018 09:50 2 comments Read 437 times
  • Paul Carter and Grammar School Numbers

    Revised 1st September

    Paul Carter, Leader of KCC had an important interview with The Times published on Monday, along with commentary by the newspaper which can be found here.  He expresses concern that the proportion of pupils admitted to Kent’s 32 grammar schools has risen to well over the 25% target set by the Council, which risks weaken­ing the specialist purpose of grammar schools and is damaging to non-select­ive schools nearby, diluting the quality of their intake. This is down primarily to the operation of the school admission appeals process in some schools, the expansion of planned grammar school places not keeping pace with the general rise in numbers of the school population.

     I have written my own analysis of the situation earlier this year, but went further and explored the reasons why the proportion of Year 7 Kent grammar school pupils had risen to 31.7% from 30.3% between 2012 and 2017, and why it was in any case above 25%.

    Paul’s article, whilst showing unhappiness about the situation, identifies his own reasons for the increased proportion but gives no indication there is an appetite to wind back the proportion of children going on to grammar school. Indeed, I don’t believe that with the loss of control by KCC to individual academies this would be possible.

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    Written on Thursday, 30 August 2018 20:12 Be the first to comment! Read 389 times
  • Falling Rolls,Year 10 through to GCSE

    On Tuesday, The Times newspaper headlined a story about schools removing pupils or encouraging them to leave in the run up to GCSE, followed by two pages of analysis inside the paper. This is an issue I have followed closely in recent years, mainly from the viewpoint of numbers of children being Home Educated and Permanently Excluded, most recently here.

    Medway UTC 1


    This article explores schools where the roll has fallen way above the norm over this period. On average 2% of Kent children leave mainstream schools in Years 10 and 11, and 4% in Medway, raising the question of why this should happen at all. Surprisingly, the schools losing the most pupils are generally different between 2016-17 and 2017-18, suggesting that none have a consistent policy to remove pupils unlikely to do well before GCSE, although several have extremely high levels of ‘Elective’ Home Education. This is contrary to the examples given in The Times.

    For the cohort taking GCSE in 2018, the five biggest losses of pupils were: were: Medway UTC 25%; New Line Learning and Victory (Medway) Academies 13%; Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy 10% and Robert Napier School (Medway) 9% the only school to appear in the lists for both years. In 2017 they were: Orchards Academy 17%; Brompton and Strood Academies (both Medway) 12%; Ebbsfleet Academy and Thamesview School 11%. In all cases that is three or more pupils on average from every class. Below I give a fuller list for each year.

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    Written on Tuesday, 28 August 2018 16:38 1 comment Read 289 times
  • GCSE Results and Admission to Sixth Forms

    GCSE results out yesterday have provided considerable speculation as to the effect of the changes. What follows is a very personal view, parts of which were shared in an interview on ITV Meridian last evening. I conclude with a brief consideration of applications to school Sixth Form courses, also looking at certain illegal practices, amazingly including further malpractice at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls.

    It is my opinion, shared  by many others, that GCSE students are the victims of yet another of a series of pointless changes. These appear to me to have no virtue whatever, as explained below. However, whatever has been thrown at them, my congratulations go out to those that have achieved their aims at GCSE and my commiserations to those who have not.

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    Written on Friday, 24 August 2018 23:17 1 comment Read 516 times