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Peter's Blog

You will find the main news and comment articles on the front page of the website here. This page contains secondary or local news items and thoughts.

Update: See recent development at foot of article

I don’t normally comment on private schools, but the closure of St Christopher’s in Canterbury over the summer surely deserves a mention at a time when scrutiny of the Kent Test taken in private schools is in the news.

The school has now been found Inadequate in two consecutive full Ofsted Inspections, most recently in April this year, the first of which I covered in a previous article entitled ‘Buyer Beware: Four Private Schools failed OFSTED Inspection’. The other three have since improved their standards under new leaderships.

St Christopher's

The first of the two key issues in both Inspections was poor leadership, the headteacher, known as ‘The Master’ also being one of the proprietors of the school, ‘A substantial number of staff have lost confidence in the school’s proprietors and leaders’ in 2018, echoing concerns in 2014. Secondly, both inspections describe a culture of poor management of complaints and allegations which, along with inappropriate behaviour, saw the school fail on Safeguarding twice, the second time apparently oblivious of previous criticisms. There is also a range of other serious criticisms, although teaching is described as Good, pinpointing where the problems lie. 

The school claimed very high success rates at the Kent Test which fell below the genuine figures and in 2017 it was instructed by the Advertising Standards Authority to remove false claims of a 92% pass rate from the sides of local buses. For entry this September, the success rate for grammar school admission had fallen to 57%. Ofsted is quite clear about the purpose of the school: ‘many are able to achieve a place at local grammar schools, in line with the school’s aims’.

Pupil numbers were falling sharply before the closure, presumably because of the poor reputation of the school.


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Last modified on Saturday, 08 September 2018 13:31
Thursday, 23 August 2018 06:43

Kent Test: Cost of Out of County Applications

Written by Peter Read

Data provided by Kent County Council shows that direct expenditure to provide facilities for out of county candidates for the Kent Test was approximately £100,000 for admission in September 2018. This works out at approximately £200 for each pupil offered a place.

In addition, there was a large but unquantifiable sum for KCC officer time at an extremely busy time as they oversee the Kent Test process across the county. The additional demands include managing the process of organising the 4832 out of county applicants across the 38 additional centres set up for testing these candidates, and responding to the issues and queries many of these applicants inevitably incur.

All this to produce 465 offers of places, less than one in ten of those who applied. Some of these would not in any case have been taken up as some families received more favourable offers, perhaps closer to their homes.


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Last modified on Thursday, 30 August 2018 19:50

An item in Private Eye recently (reproduced below) about a property deal between Leigh Academies Trust and Greenwich Council caught my attention.  It relates to a re-brokering of the old Kidbrooke School, the first purpose built comprehensive school in the country, which became a stand alone Academy Trust called Corelli College in 2011. This school ran into difficulties and was re-brokered to Leigh Academy Trust for March 2018, where it has been re-named Halley Academy. According to the article 'It seems baffling that Greenwich is paying a trust a £500,000 grant and a £lm settlement over land it wasn't supposed to give away in the first place. I certainly remain baffled about what appears to be a complicated legal issue but can see it is very good business for LAT, although far away from real education. 


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Last modified on Friday, 24 August 2018 11:56

I was interviewed this afternoon by BBC SE with regard to expansion of grammar schools and the new £50m growth fund, for which applications are due in tomorrow, to be broadcast this evening.

A previous article I wrote in January sets out clearly the expansion in numbers of grammar school places since 2012, without the use of any such incentive. It is expected that some half dozen Kent grammar schools out of the total of 162 will have applied, and I considered these in a subsequent article in May following the announcement of the growth fund. Time will tell how these fare. 

I was also on KMTV, the online TV station earlier this month talking about two other subjects,


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Last modified on Thursday, 09 August 2018 11:45
Wednesday, 01 August 2018 15:09

Gravesham Maths Festival

Written by Peter Read

Just before the end of term, three Gravesham primary schools, Kings Farm, Lawn and Whitehill, took over Community Square, the central space outside the Civic Centre, on a Saturday afternoon to present the Gravesham Festival of Mathematics, as part of a sponsorship by The Goldsmiths’ Company of London.

Maths Festival 2

The event was designed to enlighten the local community about mathematics in schools, with children explaining their activities to visitors and engaging them in mathematical games and competitions, following a Mathematics week in each of the three schools. 

The three pupils who shared the Goldsmiths Award for Excellence in Maths have been rewarded with a visit to Oxford to take in a tour of the University followed by a maths workshop run by current students and staff at the University. They will be accompanied by ‘bright disadvantaged’ peers across the three schools.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 August 2018 23:42
Sunday, 22 July 2018 18:45

Kent Test: Out of County Applications

Written by Peter Read

Kent County Council has sent its annual letter to out of county families registered for the Kent Test for admission to grammar schools in September, as many are not familiar with the Kent scheme. This year it warns them that because of ever increasing numbers, the Council is unable to offer all candidates a Test Centre in the West or Centre of the county, as they are having difficulty finding schools willing to host them. As a result, some may have to travel to East Kent (Canterbury or Thanet) to take the test, in order to meet demand. The letter goes on to provide sensible and objective advice to these families, including noting that large numbers never turn up, costing time, money and resources.

This has produced a torrent of negative comment on the 11 Plus Exams Forum website for Kent, predominantly from just one contributor, one of the few who actually lives in Kent. Even though the Forum is dominated by out of county (ooc) families, many acknowledge and support the points being made by KCC, although others pursue the familiar and false lines that are so misleading. 

One of my major concerns about this Forum section is that I am regularly contacted by Kent families who have been misled into thinking that the views expressed are widely held across the county. On the contrary, they predominantly come from a small atypical group wanting to maintain maximum access to Kent grammar schools for children right across London, at the expense of local children.


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Last modified on Thursday, 23 August 2018 06:43
Wednesday, 18 July 2018 15:16

Holcombe Grammar Appeals Still Unresolved

Written by Peter Read

Update Friday: Holcombe Grammar School has written to the 12 families whose sons were denied places on the waiting list by Medway Council, and invited them to join the list. This is explained in a further article published today (Friday 20th July).    

Over a month on from the Holcombe Grammar school appeals, and two days from the end of the school year, distressed families whose sons were found of selective ability by the Holcombe Appeal Panel are still waiting to learn if they are to be placed on the waiting list. This follows eight months of worry leading up to the appeal process. I have worked with many families in the past waiting and planning for school admission appeals, and know the enormous stress this places on them, as they believe their child's future depends on their performance at appeal. This extra and unnecessary dragging out of the decision, with the mistakes, misinformation  and  confusion that surround it, can only pile the pressure on.  

The mystery of why and how Holcombe Grammar misrepresented Medway Test scores in its case to the Appeal Panel is no clearer in spite of an FOI by me asking these two questions, and an Internal Review into the process whose outcome also fails to answer the questions, itself offering a response that is clearly untrue. Along the line the school has put in writing repeated demonstrable falsehoods, as explained below, most of which it has not even acknowledged. I now have copies of the appeal notes of a number of the appeal cases that confirm the parental version of events, proving the school’s versions in its role as Admission Authority are false. 

I look at two of the central issues below, events up to this point having been explored in two previous articles, most recently here


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Last modified on Friday, 20 July 2018 19:01

Elias Achilleos, the founder and until recently, CEO of the financially mismanaged SchoolsCompany Trust, responsible for SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy in Deal and three PRUs in Devon, has at last resigned, on 18th May (my thanks to a subscriber to this website for informing me). My previous article sets out the background to this debacle.

Goodwin Academy

All the other Directors with responsibility for the Trust as it plunged into deficit taking Goodwin Academy with it, had previously departed along with the salaries most drew from the Trust, and it is now run by a team put in by the Regional Schools Commissioner.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 23 May 2018 22:59
Friday, 27 April 2018 12:15

Hartsdown Academy: Ofsted 'Requires Improvement'

Written by Peter Read

Hartsdown Academy’s recent OFSTED Report records that the school ‘Requires Improvement’ which, before publication I would have thought generous, because of factors I have identified in previous articles.

However, the Report focuses on the other side of the picture, with some very positive aspects, including: ‘the school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development and welfare is outstanding. It has always been a strong part of the school’s work and continues to be essential to support pupils and respond to issues within the local community’.

Hartsdown Academy

 

Its main praise is reserved for Matthew Tate, the headteacher, who: ‘is transforming the school, having been in post for two years. He continues to steer its future path in the right direction with resolute energy and determination’. I am delighted to learn this, although still critical of some of the methods he uses and casualties created to achieve this outcome, as explained in my article on ‘Tough Love Academies’.

The biggest anomaly comes in the fall from Ofsted ‘Good’’ in March 2014, to the current rating, the headline then being ‘As a result of good teaching, students’ standards are broadly average at the end of Year 11. This represents good achievement from low starting points’ , the school described being not far off Outstanding.


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Last modified on Saturday, 28 April 2018 06:56

 

Update 5th June: To no-ones surprise (surely), Tina Lee, currently Interim Principal, having been at the school for three years has been named as the new permanent Principal of Isle of Sheppey Academy. Whilst I genuinely wish her well with this poisoned chalice the academy surely needs, and the Trust was surely looking for an external candidate 'someone with a strong track record of outstanding leadership' with, as a priority in the next two years: 'Ensure the Academy is well placed to secure a judgement which is at least good and ideally Outstanding at its next Ofsted inspection'. I am afraid in salary terms offering up to £100,000 was never going to attract such a candidate to the second largest, split site, most troubled school in the county.  

Update 28 April: Several updates to the article below in blue. Mr John Cavadino, Principal of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey Academy (OAIS), has left his post at short notice after just over 18 difficult months in post.

Update 1 July: At least one MP appreciates what is going on in his constituency and is taking actionHe has taken this up with the Schools Minister. Now there is an idea Mr Henderson! 

Ihave written several articles about the mismanagement of the school over this time, and indeed during the time of his predecessor, one of which The scandal of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey, written last summer, explores most of the issues. 

One paragraph which bears repeating looks at his formalisation of the notorious Reflection punishment, begun under his predecessor within Oasis in 2014,  referring to many of the 33 pupils who left the school to take up Home Education between September 2016 and April 2017:
Some of these children will previously have endured the Reflection punishment, which requires pupils to sit in a room and ‘Reflect’ on their behaviour for a whole day, an utterly unrealistic expectation that a day of boredom will improve matters. Astonishingly, 39% of the whole student body has been subject to this humiliating punishment, many on multiple occasions. The reality is that Reflection is utterly destructive, inevitably producing antagonism towards and alienation from the school, is almost certainly unlawful as the child has been forcibly deprived of education without provision for catching up, and indeed could be regarded as child abuse.
 I have seen too many examples of Reflection being inflicted at OAIS for minor failures to follow procedure, including non-production of the pupils ‘Rewards’ diary required to be carried at all times; minor non-uniform breaches, etc.
 
OAIS is one three Kent schools I call the Tough Love Academies, all using fierce disciplinary approaches for often trivial offences and a 'no excuses' culture, and all being very unpopular with parents, having to take in large number of pupils who did not apply to them but can't get into any other school. 
 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 July 2018 04:43

Note: Some data updated

A study by two researchers at the London Institute of Education has discovered some unsurprising facts about tutoring for grammar school places across the country.

For me, the most important one is that taking school achievement at the end of Key State One into account, children are 20% more likely to be found selective if they have been tutored than not. Actually, I am surprised by this one as I would have thought it higher than this, as explained below.

They also come up with the slightly bizarre proposal to tax tutors and use the funds raised to provide vouchers to assist lower income families to purchase tutoring, an idea that has gained much media coverage. I consider this counterproductive, unworkable nonsense, as also explained below.

The research has received considerable media attention including two interventions by me on BBC SE and Meridian TV. Interestingly the BBC has rapidly dropped the item from its website! 

However, the headline is that children living in prosperous areas and who receive tutoring are far more likely to be offered a grammar school place than those living in deprived areas without tutoring, but who may not have chosen to apply for grammar school. 


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Last modified on Monday, 26 March 2018 02:47
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:00

Tax Avoidance by Some Academy Leaders

Written by Peter Read

I suspect that school teachers, who are employees of schools or Academy Trusts aren’t usually in the business of tax avoidance. As a result the following, relating to one of the highest paid leaders of a Kent Academy Trust in the county, caught my eye.

The leader in question has arranged his contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to be paid in blocks of five months in the scheme, then withdraw for five months, then renew, the pattern to be replicated indefinitely. I am not privy to the rationale for this, but the tax consultant who advised senior leaders of the trust, at cost to the Trust itself, clearly considers this advantageous.

Whilst he is assured this is legal, as to the moral use of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme in a way it is clearly not intended, I leave it to others to judge.

I also wonder how the teachers in the Trust view his actions. Teachers in state schools in England have been subject to a cap on annual pay increases, initially of 0% and then 1%, which has been in place since 2010. There are no tax reduction arrangements for those on the front line, as the gap between their salaries and those of their leaders gets ever wider year on year, as my previous article shows. This manipulation of tax schemes not available to the classroom teacher,  increases the gap even more.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 14 March 2018 20:47
Saturday, 10 March 2018 20:43

Hartsdown: A Tough Love Academy

Written by Peter Read

 Hartsdown Academy has featured in national and local media after it placed the following job advertisement

Excerpt from Original Hartsdown Job Advert in the Guardian (rapidly replaced but still on the Internet)

What does our Science Department need?
Hartsdown Academy needs a Department Head to rebuild its Science Department.  Results are well below expectations and teaching has been poor. As a result, the attitude of students towards the subject has diminished, resulting in disappointing behaviour for learning. The Department effectively requires special measures.

The advert continues with such selling points as: ‘Margate is on the margins of English society, both culturally and economically – as well as geographically’. As one of Kent’s three ‘Tough Love Academies’, it is difficult to match ‘Hartsdown is a beautifully inclusive school and I am immensely proud of the care the school takes over every single child’ from the advert, with the robust disciplinary action on minor infringements that has attracted bad publicity ever since the headteacher was appointed. This has made the school so unpopular with families, leading to the second lowest proportion of first preferences for admission at any school in the county, and the highest number of children abandoning the school for Elective Home Education. 

Hartsdown Academy

One wonders how the headteacher would describe the remainder of the school’s teaching, which provides by some way the lowest examination performance in Kent across the board. Is science really so much worse than the other subjects? Perhaps instead of condemning his teachers as indeed he has publicly condemned many pupils and their families coming from possibly the most deprived District in Kent, he should reflect and try a different approach.


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Last modified on Monday, 12 March 2018 20:42
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 20:07

Website Review of the Year 2017

Written by Peter Read

I have published 72 news items on this website in 2017, almost exclusively about education issues in Kent and Medway. This article has been somewhat delayed as other matters have intervened. The website continues to be unique in the country, offering a fully independent take on state education matters in the two Local Authorities. 

In total there have been 106,810 different browsers on the site, making up a total of 168,222 visitors. The most popular item attracted 26,823 visitors countrywide and sparked off a national news story which changed attitudes in schools across England. You will find links to the ten most popular stories below, featuring four major scandals, five articles reporting on admission and Test data, and one with a family connection. I have 958 subscribers who have linked by email and, although I find it difficult to comprehend, 10,790 subscribers by RSS, the vast majority based in England, further details below.

Since the website was reorganised into its current format in 2010, the most popular pages have been predominantly from the Information Section, accessed to the right hand side of this article, headed by Kent Grammar School Applications with 294,251 hits. It is followed by Kent Secondary School Admissions with 139,240 hits, both being updated on an annual basis. These are followed by a listing of Kent Special Schools and Units which, until a few years ago, wasthe only comprehensive source of such information but now, like too many other pages, in need of updating. 

More details on all these matters, and others, below. A number of the items covered in last year’s Review also continue to be headlined.


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Last modified on Tuesday, 27 February 2018 14:19
Thursday, 22 February 2018 16:40

Barton Court Grammar: Another Bid for a coastal Annexe?

Written by Peter Read

A Freedom of Information Request to the Department for Education has discovered that three grammar schools have made enquiries about opening possible annexes in the past year, one of which is the mixed Barton Court Grammar in Canterbury.

Barton Court

With the new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds signalling his ‘enthusiastic’ support for grammar and faith school expansion, this now looks very much on the agenda.

I have followed the Barton Court proposals closely and commented on them for some years,  proposals which date back to the 1980’s when KCC planned to move the whole school to the coast. A satellite provision in Herne Bay was proposed in 2013, followed by a proposal to shift the whole school, which was dropped in the face of opposition by parents.

In the case of Faith Schools, the proposition is to remove the current requirement to remove the 50% maximum bar on faith children being removed. The Roman Catholic Church is currently refusing to sponsor new Free Schools whilst it is in place and it may be that Mr Hinds, a Catholic himself, has a different take on the consequent issues. 


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Last modified on Friday, 11 May 2018 14:19
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