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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.

Monday, 21 September 2020 20:46

Coronavirus Ramblings

Written by
Update (1) 22nd September: Aylesford School is the first to send all pupils home (for three days whilst the school is being deep cleaned)
                   (2) More on Kent Test below  (and see comment)
I have previously refrained from commenting on general education issues relating to Coronavirus on this site, as you will find plenty elsewhere, and I have preferred to stick to matters relating to Kent and Medway. None of this stops me from sounding off here and elsewhere about my two major themes. The first is what a brilliant job the overwhelming majority of schools are doing in managing the consequences of the pandemic, especially headteachers and other leaders who appear to have worked tirelessly over the summer and subsequently to deliver the best they can. The second is the obverse of this, the self-evident incompetence of the Secretary of State for Education and his team as they shower schools with reams of often ill-thought-out instructions dressed up as advice, too often at the last minute, These often come along with attempts to blame their failings on others. 

I am fortunate that I have been given plenty of media time to express my feelings and frustrations, an opportunity not available to many of my followers on this site except by social media, where I do not participate. 

I have collected some of my thoughts below, still relating where possible to Kent and Medway, covering such items as the pressures on schools, Covid testing especially for teachers, bubbles, school transport, inevitably the Kent and Medway Tests, and the future of GCSE and A-Level. No doubt by the time I publish this, the content will be overtaken by events that jostle each other leaving no time for schools to take a breather, but I will be updating.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 September 2020 23:51
Monday, 21 September 2020 06:37

Follow-Up to Park Crescent Academy, Margate

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The news Website Kent Live has reproduced much of my recent article on the problems with the new planned Park Crescent Academy in Thanet, along with a statement by Kent County Council supporting the project.

Park Crescent Academy

I look below at this statement which manages to completely ignore most of the concerns I have raised.

Last modified on Monday, 21 September 2020 20:54

Kent County Council has announced details of the new Special School to be opened on the Isle of Sheppey in 2022, catering for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties, including Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and social communication difficulties. It will be run by the SABDEN Multi Academy Trust from East Sussex and will be built on Council owned land at the former Darnley Road Middle School site. It has been part of KCC planning for some years, meeting a real need in the area and will complement the new Aspire Special School, catering for primary aged children with ASD or speech, language and communication needs, which is opening in Sittingbourne in September. 

KCc applied for the new school under the government’s Wave 2 (Special School and Alternative Provision) back in October 2018, and this was approved in March 2019, as confirmed here, subject to a sponsor being agreed. It is included in Sunday’s government announcement of 35 new special schools, the sponsorship news being held back to follow the announcement. This originally stated that there would be three new schools in the South East, providing over 300 places for children with SEMH and ASD, although the statement was altered shortly afterwards to read 'four schools in the South East' rather than three.

The new school is classified as a Free School, and so needed a sponsor, KCC having selected the SABDEN Multi-Academy Trust. This appears a very good move, as SABDEN brings extensive relevant expertise and high standards to the task (see below). 21 of Kent's current 22 special schools are KCC controlled and so were not eligible to act as sponsors. The only special school amongst Kent’s many Academy Trusts is the Ofsted Outstanding all age Milestone Academy, part of the large Leigh Academy Trust, which will also run the new Snowfields Academy, a new special school in Maidstone, opening in September. However, the Trust was presumably not considered suitable for whatever reason. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 July 2020 06:27

Update: KCC has confirmed the new special school on the Isle of Sheppey is one of the 35, planned for completion in 2022. Further article here

The day after I published my recent article on EHCPs the government has announced that it is setting up 35 new special free schools (the Free School is the current model for delivering any new state school). Three of these will be in the South East of England, specialising in Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH), so one may be in Kent or Medway.

The plan is for each of them to be up and running by September 2022 onwards, the caveat acknowledging that most new schools opened in recent years are one or more years overdue.

Any new Kent school will join the two new Kent Free Special Schools opening in September. These are the Aspire School in Sittingbourne, for primary aged children with ASD, and Snowfields Academy, Bearsted, Maidstone, for secondary ASD children. Update: the 35 schools include the now confirmed new secondary Free Special School planned to open on the Isle of Sheppey in 2022, catering for secondary pupils with SEMH and ASD.

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2020 23:16
Revised 13th July
The campaigning organisation Comprehensive Future (CF) has published a lengthy article whose main purpose appears to be to attack me. For the second time, this uses false data they have published relating to grammar schools and Pupil Premium children. The problem dates back to a previous CF article about grammar schools two years ago, which wrongly stated, ‘When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  Unfortunately, in order to obtain these figures, the authors of both CF articles used figures from a database that has no basis in reality and then have compounded the fiction by using data taken from the wrong column of the database, to make these false claims about grammar school performance, damaging to the image of these schools. The whole fulfils the well-known IT mantra of ‘Garbage in, Garbage out’, twice over.
 
CF has informed me that their published article is the continuation of what I was told was a confidential email correspondence, about a single phrase in a minor paragraph of an article I wrote earlier this year which they have chosen to open up in this way. That article was also about grammar schools and Pupil Premium, although mainly factual rather than theirs which is polemical. The phrase that CF objected to was: ‘demonstrating the falsehood of a previous claim by them’. The new article alleges that I ‘accuse CF of falsifying data. We refute these allegations and object most strongly to the implication that anyone who is a part of Comprehensive Future would alter or fabricate figures supplied in response to an FOI request’, which of course I didn’t, but this misuse of statistics does beg too many questions,  explored below. 
Last modified on Monday, 20 July 2020 13:34
Monday, 15 June 2020 11:12

Proposal for the Kent Test 2020 (Personal)

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Registration for the Kent Test in October closed on 1st July. Sadly, I have already been contacted by a number of families who omitted to complete the procedure, confused or overwhelmed by Coronavirus. Unfortunately, unless KCC chooses to make an exception in this unique year, you cannot be considered for late registration and will need to proceed as explained hereI am so sorry.   

Kent County Education Officers have still not yet released details of the Kent Test arrangements for 2020, but I have a proposal that appears to cover the key issues. Quite simply:

1) The Kent Test goes ahead as normal on September 10th for Kent Primary School Pupils and September 12th for those attending Out of County schools, or alternatively delayed. I am confident that even if there is a second wave of Coronavirus, a high proportion of those registered for the Kent Test will wish and be able to take part under the prevailing safety regulations with schools making every effort to facilitate this. However, instead of the pass scores set to select the normal 20% of pupils in the cohort, my proposal is to reduce this, possibly to as low as 12.5%.  

2) Expand the procedure for Headteacher Assessment to identify a further 12.5% of the cohort, who registered for the test, whether or not they took it, bringing the selective pass rate back to its normal 25%. Place greater responsibility on primary school headteachers. For example, as I have suggested previously, give them an indicative figure for their school, based on the average number of pupils found selective by both routes over the previous three years. The HTA Panel should then rely strongly on these recommendations in the light of the limited evidence that will be available in most cases to support a case. It is possible that they could simply be contained in a ranking order.

This procedure has the strong advantage that it broadly follows the current regulations and so could be introduced without too much difficulty. It also caters for the up to 5,000 out of county children who usually take the Kent Test. They can qualify via the direct route, or else, and less likely, also use the HTA procedure with the support of their headteachers.

Last modified on Friday, 24 July 2020 20:16

Whilst the following news is not directly relevant for the purposes of Kentadvice,  my previous article about alumni of four Colleges for Teacher Education written in 2017 has attracted 8963 visits to date, suggesting that among the many visitors to this site is a large number of teachers and retired teachers. 

The article began:  In a brilliant initiative, the University of Roehampton, which was formed out of an amalgamation of the four Colleges for Teacher Education - Digby Stuart, Froebel, Southlands and Whitelands Colleges, has decided to award all traceable holders of Certificates in Education awarded before 1980, with an Honorary Degree:  Bachelor of Education 'Honoris Causa'. 

This note is simply to say that alumni of Gipsy Hill College and Kingston Polytechnic, also with Certificates of Education, awarded prior to 1979 are now eligible to be awarded Honorary Degrees in Education (see below), amongst many others. This discovery was made following discussion with teacher friends and I was surprised to discover not only how widespread the practice was, but also how many retired Cert Ed teachers were still completely unaware of it. Other such former colleges include Goldsmiths CollegeRipon College and York St JohnChester and Padgate CollegesLiverpool Hope University’s founding colleges including Notre DameAvery Hill College; Dartford College;  Worcester College (as far back as 2012); Sarum St Michael;  am happy to expand this item to cover further such initiatives if I am informed of them. 

Last modified on Friday, 03 July 2020 11:48

Nothing to do with the purposes of this website but, after talking with a headteacher this morning, he advised me to copyright the following.

The history of this country can now be divided into two parts: previously when we trusted government advice and instruction, including on Coronavirus; and afterwards when that trust has died.

BC: Before Cummings.     AD: After Dominic 

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 June 2020 10:36
Saturday, 30 May 2020 12:24

Schools Opening 1st June

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Updated Monday 1st June

I have been asked several times for my views on the merits of Kent and Medway schools opening on 1st June, and these are quite simple. I cannot imagine being in the position of current headteachers facing the challenge of deciding whether to open their schools or not, as they weigh up all the risks if they open and the brickbats if they stay closed. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of headteachers will make decisions for the benefit of their pupils, taking into account the individual circumstances of their own school, the safety and educational needs of pupils, and the safety and welfare of staff and their families. As a result there are many models for opening schools around, along with those that have decided to stay closed. As a retired headteacher and chairman of governors  myself, I am just glad it is not for me to take on that responsibility and do not consider myself qualified any more to have a view on individual circumstances. 

However, I am carrying out a survey of the decisions taken by those schools, sent out early on Sunday morning and was astonished to have a response from nearly 10%  of all Kent and Medway primary schools by the same evening, as headteachers are working over the weekend in preparation for Monday. I hope to have a preliminary summary of outcomes published some time on Monday. 

I will shortly be publishing my annual survey of Kent primary school oversubscription and vacancies. The timing is not good to say the least, with its focus on the situation of individual schools. However, I am being asked by many parents about this, as some need to know urgently if there are alternatives to the difficult situations in which they find themselves. I published my Medway survey a couple of weeks ago. 

Last modified on Friday, 05 June 2020 17:04
Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:44

Coronavirus: School Appeals in Kent & Medway Part 4

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I have now written a further article looking at fresh developments: Coronavirus and School Appeals: Five 

The government has now published temporary regulations for the operation of school admission appeals during the Coronavirus emergency. Not to put too fine a point on it, my personal view is that as set out these are unworkable in Kent and Medway, whose schools held over 10% of all secondary school admission appeals in the country in 2019. The new regulations appear to have been drawn up without regard for the people who matter at this difficult time. Instead, when there was opportunity to be flexible by varying aspects of the non-statutory School Admissions Appeals Code in order to be fair to families, the regulations attempt to force the new circumstances into the existing Code.   

There are three groups of people to consider. Most importantly are the thousands of families, some of whom have spent up to eight months worrying about their children’s futures and all hoping they would get a fair hearing at an appeal which will affect their children’s life chances. Secondly, there are the army of volunteer appeal panellists  who freely give of their time to bring this about, but given no consideration here. Finally, do not forget the shrinking number of administrators whose workload and responsibilities are expanded enormously by the new regulations, but also given no consideration;whose  job is made all the more difficult because schools are closed at this time and access to documentation can be impossible.  

I look in more detail below at the implications for these new Emergency Regulations, mainly as applicable to Kent and Medway.

Last modified on Saturday, 23 May 2020 10:35

An article in Kent Online records the particular challenge faced by the new Ebbsfleet Green Primary School, due to open in September. This one form entry school (increasing to two as demand grows due to new housing) which will be admitting children into nursery, reception, year 1 and year 2 classes was going to begin with temporary classrooms on site, before moving into the permanent premises in September 2021. 

However, the builders, Kier, are reported to be behind schedule on the temporary buildings which will not now be ready for September. As a result the school, to be run by the Maritime Academy Trust, is to open in spare classrooms at Bligh Primary School in Strood. 

One can only wonder how many other major building projects across Kent and Medway are similarly stalled. I am hearing rumours of one new school not opening at all for September.

Last modified on Friday, 17 April 2020 23:19
Wednesday, 15 April 2020 18:35

School Appeals and Coronavirus: Part 3

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Note: This article has been overtaken by School Appeals in Kent & Medway, and Coronavirus: Part 4 which explores implications of the new emergency regulations. 
Update: 23/4/20: See new article that also looks at HTAs in Grammar School appeals. 
The government has now issued further guidance to Local Authorities and Admission Authorities relating to school appeals during the Coronavirus crisis. It is broadly consistent with my previous article which has been widely read and triggered enquiries from across the country, although to clarify I have no official status and am unable to interpret government advice with inside information. That article also offers advice to families offered an appeal hearing which considers written material.
 
The guidance does differ from a view in my previous article by giving priority to appeals held in person, by telephone, video conference and playing down the written evidence option which I anticipate will be widely used in Kent an Medway (explained below). The latter should only be considered if appeals cannot be held in person due to social distancing and then only if not everyone has access to the necessary equipment or  appellants are unable to participate in a hearing by telephone or video conferenceIn practice, I consider the great majority of Kent and Medway appeal hearings will fall into the written information category, given the large number of appeals for some Kent and Medway schools, as well as the added complexity of those for grammar school places. This may well be different from many other parts of the country, where numbers of appeals for individual schools ma\y be far fewer. 
 
I have previously discussed the issues surrounding the video conferencing and telephone hearing approach, and the government advice does nothing to dispel my concerns for local families if this approach were to be adopted. 
Last modified on Wednesday, 06 May 2020 19:57
Sunday, 05 April 2020 13:00

School Appeals and Coronavirus: Part 2

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Update 16th April: I have now published a further item on this theme picking up the latest government guidance here

 I am pleased to report that government has now released an initial statement on how appeals should be organised this summer, looking at three different approaches to setting up arrangements. If there is a choice it will be the most appropriate for each school’s individual needs, but  I believe most Kent and Medway schools will opt for decisions to be made on the basis of written evidence submitted by families and the school itself. Further, it appears to me that this option can already be made legitimate with a few tweaks as explained below, according to the government’s own School Admission Appeals Code.

I look at the government statement and its implications below.

Last modified on Monday, 20 April 2020 16:58
Sunday, 05 April 2020 11:43

The Secret Headteacher

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Revised 6th June
This is the first of two articles about the Brook Learning Trust, looking at a new book entitled ‘The Secret Headteacher’, to be published in August about one of its schools.  The original advertising puff claims it to be
The true story of how a no-nonsense headteacher turned around one of the country's worst schools. The Secret Headteacher has spent the last 27 years in teaching, before which she spent 4 years in the police. This is the first memoir from a UK teacher to be published. Under the leadership of TSH, the school she led had a well-reported journey in turning around its reputation as one of the country's worst-performing schools, resulting in an Ofsted report judging the school "good".

There were just a few problems with this: (1) There is no secret; it’s about Alison Colwell, until last summer head of Ebbsfleet Academy, according to an advertisement for the book, reproduced below, although other advertising claims it is by ‘Anon’; (2) It was certainly not one of the worst performing schools in Kent before she took it over, let alone in the country - it was without any form of bad reputation at the time, and was in any case improving strongly before she was parachuted in as head; (3) Ofsted missed key indicators of decline during her leadership, including large numbers of families removing their children from the school, large numbers of families annually placed in the school who never applied for it, and high staff turnover - this is when the bad reputation set in; (4) ‘The first memoir of a UK headteacher’ – unbelievable; (5) ‘well reported’ refers to two puff articles in The Times and Sunday Times, the second being what, in my opinion, was a disgracefully unprofessional performance by the headteacher;  (6) I received more complaints about this school from families, than any other school in Kent during much of this time; (7) ‘confrontational’ is a better word than ‘no-nonsense’.

Last modified on Sunday, 07 June 2020 00:19
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 15:11

School Appeals and Coronavirus

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This is the first of five articles (so far) exploring the effects of Coronavirus on School Admission Appeals with particular focus on Kent and Medway as the situation has clarified. The most recent, dated 5th May, is here

Update: 5th April: Government statement and further analysis here

II have recently given an interview to BBC SE on the subject of GCSE and A Level, in which I found my self saying for the first time that this is one of those rare occasions when we must put the needs of the nation against the welfare and life chances of the individual. We will need to accept (much easier when you have no personal stake) that whatever decision is reached there will be great unfairness and damage to life chances of too many young people.

There is an urgent need to resolve potential and pressing problems brought about by the Coronavirus, relating to school admission appeals .  Although this is not high up the priorities in the great scheme of things, it is of great consequence for many thousands of families across the country whose children have been offered schools they consider unsuitable and who fear their children's life chances will be seriously damaged as a consequence. Last year there were 3,153 secondary admission appeals in Kent and Medway, of which 855 were successful. Arrangements for appeals in 2020 are already being drawn up by many schools. 

I look below at five options for managing the changed circumstances, but the only piece of advice I can give for parents at present is to carry on as far as possible to prepare for an appeal happening, although I do not see how any form of appeal can take place unless there is considerable change in the regulations. There is also the additional problem caused by the likelihood of schools closing in the near future, which will deprive many families of their support and the opportunity to collect documentation and other evidence to support appeals. 

Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2020 16:29
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