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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.

Thursday, 24 March 2016 06:46

Medway Council: Not in the Public Interest

Written by Peter Read

Update: The application was rejected by Government in August 2016, details here. 

I have covered the apparently unstoppable move by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) to turn Chatham Grammar School for Boys into a co-educational school in previous articles. One thing above many others puzzled me; the decision by Medway Council (Slogan: "Serving You") not to disclose to the people of Medway if it had made objections to a proposal which inevitably will have a serious negative impact on grammar school provision and admissions in Medway. Indeed, the Council turned down my Freedom of Information request on the amazing grounds that  it was not in the Public Interest to disclose their objections. 

"Our country can't afford a two tier education system with London streaking ahead and areas like Knowsley and Medway lagging behind. It’s morally wrong and economically self-defeating"
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, in her speech to justify all schools be academised, using Medway Education Department to make the case. 

Following an Internal Review (complaint) I have now obtained the Medway Council submission, which turns out to be a strong, if overly polite, attack on the proposal. This begs the question of why were they ashamed of critical arguments revealing the problems this proposal will now cause, that should have influenced other respondents to the ‘Consultation'?  Given the strength of these objections was there not a case for marshalling the opposition? You can still only read the full objections here at present, although Medway Council may wish to explain why they are not otherwise available.

I have covered most of the following issues in previous places, but not being aware of other proposals by the Sir Joseph Williamson’s Trust, had not realised full the impact of giving priority for grammar school places to children in primary schools of the two Trusts, which is likely to deprive children in some other Medway primary schools, especially in the Hoo Peninsula and Rainham, of grammar school places in the future. Surely this aspect must now be halted somehow for both Trusts. Medway Council has once again let its residents down appallingly in failing to raise this issue publicly at the right time.


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Last modified on Monday, 07 November 2016 20:03

The Leigh Academy Trust is proposing to extend the age range of the Leigh UTC (University Technical College) to cover the age range of 11-14 with the support of KCC, to increase the number of secondary school places available in Dartford. One must applaud any sensible opportunity to ease the pressure on Dartford places, however the proposal raises a number of important questions.

Leigh UTC 1 

The plan is to build an 11-14 ‘school’ on vacant land opposite the current premises, called ‘The Inspiration Centre’ to cater for an intake of 120 children from September 2017, also working with Dartford Council to create an adjacent outdoor sports complex for all students (it is not clear if this is exclusively for Leigh Trust students).  The students will follow a normal curriculum before going on the UTC offering with its increased focus on engineering and computer science from Year 10 onward, being joined by up to 30 students from other schools. 


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Last modified on Saturday, 04 February 2017 22:41

Further Update: Application Turned Down by Government in August 2016, here.

Update: Medway Council's objections published in full here

Chatham Grammar School for Boys is to admit a co-educational intake for September 2017, subject to approval from the Regional Schools Commissioner (advised by the Regional Headteacher Board of six headteachers, of which Ms Shepherd is a member, but who would not be involved in the decision), following a decision by the Directors of the Thinking School Academy Trust. This decision represents a reduction in opportunity for boys, leaving Medway with one very oversubscribed boys’ grammar, inaccessible to those in most of the Council’s area, as opposed to three girls’ grammars.

Chatham Boys 3

The school is to change its name to Holcombe Grammar School.

The Trust has scrapped its controversial proposal to admit children through a decision of the Admission Committee without testing, following my previous article pointing out that it was illegal. This article also covers some of the main issues and provides links to other items.

Medway Council refused my FOI Request for their response to the Consultation “in the public interest!” leaving one to wonder yet again, which public's interests they serve. 


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Last modified on Monday, 07 November 2016 20:02
Friday, 26 February 2016 22:34

Hempstead Junior School - Headteacher Suspended

Written by Peter Read

The headteacher of Hempstead Junior School in Gillingham has been suspended after an extraordinary series of recent events, as described below, following a controversial time as headteacher since her appointment in September 2013, including conflict with staff and governors that resulted in a high turnover of both, together with difficult relations with many parents. However, she enjoyed the support of Medway Council and its Cabinet Member, Mike O'Brien throughout, even after a previous Chairman of Governors, the Vice Chairman, Chairman of Finance and two other governors resigned over their inability to work with the headteacher, the reason quoted in a letter to the Council as: "Despite our considerable efforts over the course of many months, we no longer believe we can work with the current head teacher to deliver sustainable progress for the school in general and, most importantly, for the children”, which was a clear cry for help for the school. However, this was dismissed out of hand by Mr O'Brien who considered: "The decision by some of the governors is entirely a matter for them – Obviously no concerns there then! 

Hempstead Junior

Sadly, the Council has now chosen to dig itself in a deeper hole by belatedly sending out a letter to parents, stating: "The Headteacher is unwell and will be absent from the school for the time being",although there is now a wide awareness of the true facts in the school. The headteacher is pictured above with Mr O'Brien. 


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Last modified on Monday, 21 March 2016 22:58

In its time Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy has been the most troubled school in Kent, my previous article also providing links to earlier references.

That article, entitled “Problems in Secondary Schools in Kent's Coastal Towns“, looks at the high casualty rate amongst headteachers of non-selective schools around the Kent coast. With Sheppey’s sharp fall in GCSE performance since the current Principal, David Millar, took over in 2013, from 41% and 37% before he arrived, to his 19% then 25% in 2015, he was surely a candidate to be next for the chop, especially with discontent amongst the staff and the continuing cry of ‘anywhere but Sheppey’ from any aspiring parent.

Isle of Sheppey Academy

However, remarkably, although he is leaving the school this summer before his public commitment to serve at least three years at the school was fulfilled, he has been given a ‘great opportunity’, a further promotion with another multi-academy trust, presumably therefore a school even larger than Sheppey, the second biggest in Kent.....


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Last modified on Tuesday, 25 April 2017 21:48

The issues surrounding Chatham Grammar School for Boys’ proposals to go co-educational and also to redefine the way “grammar school ability” is determined are obviously of considerable importance to all secondary schools and the families affected in Medway. You will find my most recent article on the controversy here.

Medway Council’s view is clearly central to the situation as they have legal responsibility for the provision of education, if not the power since the introduction of academies.

According to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, owners of Chatham Grammar, Medway Council is supportive of the proposal to go co-educational: “In Medway the Council can see the benefit of a co-educational school to absorb both boys and girls” and “Medway LEA were happy for the school to increase its published admission number to accommodate all those that applied for a place”.

Unfortunately, whether this is true or not is currently a secret, as Medway Council is refusing to make its representations to the consultation public at this time……


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Last modified on Tuesday, 02 February 2016 22:21
Wednesday, 30 December 2015 20:13

Review of the Year 2015; and looking forward to 2016

Written by Peter Read

Kent on Sunday has published my personal Review of the Year, reproduced in full here. It will come as no surprise that it is introduced as: "As pressure grows on teachers, is 2016 going to provide any relief? - Probably not according to former headteacher and education adviser Peter Read in his end of year report", and concludes with "What is certain is that the education map is changing faster than at any time I can remember in my forty years of working in the county, with government more firmly in the driving seat than ever before. I see no sign of relaxation of this centralised and politicised grip in the near future, so hang on for another bumpy ride in 2016."


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 16:51
Friday, 25 December 2015 07:12

Happy Christmas to all Browsers

Written by Peter Read

christmas

May I wish a Happy Christmas to all the 1000 plus subscribers to Kent Advice (its easy to join in, see below right) and the thousands of other occasional visitors who arrive here, and thank you for the many seasonal wishes I have received. The high level of support for this unique website which attracted 193,432 certified visits from 116,376 users over the past year, underlines my strong belief that there is an important need for an independent and critical view of educational issues in Kent and Medway, along with quality information and news to inform families making decisions that will critically affect their children’s lives.

As always, the Christmas period is a busy one in schools,......


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Last modified on Friday, 25 December 2015 07:38

You will find a more recent article here

Last month I reported on the controversial proposal by Chatham Grammar School for Boys to become co-educational. This article looks at an even more controversial aspect whereby, with the school to be capable of expansion up to 180 children, a committee of governors would be able to fill any vacancies after school allocation each March with children they choose, using their own interpretation of ‘grammar school ability’.

To enable this to take place, the proposed new school Admission Policy states: “From National Offer Day, any available spaces will be allocated to those children who have provided sufficient evidence to the Admissions Committee of being of grammar school standard”.

Another factor emerging is the low proportion of boys being assessed suitable for grammar school in recent years, being 19% of the total number from Medway primary schools in 2015 (target is 25% of girls and boys), which may itself have precipitated the proposal if the school is desperate to make up numbers.   

At a Parental Consultation meeting on the proposal it was implied that Medway Council supported the proposal. It would be useful to know if this is true, as I cannot see why any secondary schools other than those in the Thinking Schools Academy Trust would support this proposal......


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Last modified on Tuesday, 02 February 2016 22:23

Julia George of Radio Kent interviewed Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council on Tuesday morning about Medway matters. With so many important issues for the Authority, she chose to spend the first quarter of an hour pressing him on the failed and failing Medway education service as her priority. At the time of writing the interview is still on iPlayer.

Quoting extensively from the wide range of data provided elsewhere on this website, Julia focused on the following facts: for every year bar one since 2009, Medway Council had been in the bottom five Local Authorities in the country out of 153, in terms of Key Stage Two performance at the end of primary school years; this year the Authority was bottom in the country in terms of both KS2 performance and also in the proportion of primary school children in OFSTED Good or Outstanding schools, and was again last in the latter in 2014; in addition, the Authority had the third highest school exclusion rate in the country. Julia made the point repeatedly that the children of Medway had been failed by the Authority and asked what Mr Jarrett would do about the Cabinet Member responsible for this debacle; whether he should keep his job and how much longer he should be given.  Mr Jarrett’s defence was that the Cabinet Member responsible, Mr Mike O’Brien, had the confidence of himself and his Cabinet colleagues and should be given as long as it takes to bring about improvement. This triggered an exchange about which was most important, the future of Medway children or Mr O’Brien, Mr Jarrett apparently coming down in favour of the latter………


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Last modified on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 06:30
This article comprises a collection of items from across the county covering: Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys; Kings Farm Primary School; Hempstead Junior School; Barming Primary School; Duke of York's Royal Military School; the proposed KCC Select Committee on Wider Social Access to Grammar School; and Oakwood Park Grammar School and the cost of A Levels.

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Last modified on Sunday, 26 February 2017 18:57
Saturday, 07 November 2015 18:25

The Griffin Academies Trust

Written by Peter Read

The Griffin Academies Trust,which runs 12 schools, six in the Midlands and six in the South East including four in Medway, has been heavily criticised for its financial arrangements.  An article in the Guardian reports that in just two years the Trust paid over £700,000 to a company jointly owned by its two chief executives, one whom is Elizabeth Lewis, previously a headteacher of Dover Grammar School for Girls. Three other companies in which trustees of the charity have majority interests received smaller payments that amounted to around £100,000 for “educational consultancy services’”, the trust’s accounts show. The article continues:....


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Last modified on Saturday, 07 November 2015 19:18

Once again, the last fortnight in October has proved exceptionally busy for the website, with 19,621 different visitors after the publication of the Kent Test Results on the 14th. In all, a total of 26,846 visits were made, in one of the two busiest times of the year (the other being the first fortnight in March when school allocations were made). Because of the specialist nature of the site, these will be predominantly visitors seeking information and advice on school admissions and appeals in Kent and Medway.

In the hours after the Kent Test results came out, there were 3,931 visits to the site on the same day, 14th October, with the busiest day in the period coming on the 15th, with 4,229 separate visitors.  

Overall, in the fortnight, 18,823 visits were made to the Kent Grammar Schools information page with 5,688 browsers looking at the news page on Kent Test Results. Other popular pages were: ....


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Last modified on Monday, 02 November 2015 20:02

The recent Conference on the Kent Test and Admission to Grammar Schools in Kent which took place at County Hall Maidstone on Wednesday, was a great success, with those attending including: primary and grammar school representatives and headteachers, parents, school governors, appeal presenting officers and panellists, tutors and media representatives.

The Conference was set up to focus on five themes: the New Kent Test, sat earlier this month for the second time; alternatives to the Test, with five Kent grammar schools now setting their own tests as an additional way of qualifying for grammar school; how primary schools approach the Kent Test and the controversial issue of coaching; appeals to grammar schools; and the range of expectations of standards for admission to Kent grammar schools. The four speakers, myself included, gave presentations that covered all these issues between them,  and you will find a copy of my own presentation here, with coverage by Kent on Sunday here

Kent Test Conference

Matthew Bartlett at Kent Test Conference
photo courtesy of Kent on Sunday

 

Interestingly, and topically there was considerable emphasis placed on opening grammar school admissions to a wider social profile, given the announcement by KCC the day after the Conference that they were setting up a commission for this very purpose. Matthew Bartlett, head of Dover Grammar School for Girls, underlined this theme by talking about how the alternative Dover Test had widened opportunities for local girls, a school with 10% Free School Meals, whilst still producing some of the best examination results in the county.......


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Last modified on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 03:55

A letter to parents reports that the controversial Headteacher of Whitehill Primary School, an Academy and part of the Gravesend Grammar School Academy Trust has been given leave of absence and the Associate Head of Gravesend Grammar has been put into the school as Acting Head. 

This follows a particularly turbulent year in the life of this troubled school. Much of the background to this sorry story is reported elsewhere in this website.

Allegations of cheating in SATs last year, which saw the school’s Key Stage 2 results annulled, and in Early Years Assessments in 2014 and 2015 have bedevilled the school, and the Department for Education carried out a visit last week which may have triggered the leave of absence.

Turnover of staff is very high, staff morale is rock bottom, and by one measure the school is the most unpopular in the county, with 30 children allocated to Reception classes by KCC in April who had not even applied for the school. I am regularly contacted by parents seeking advice on how to avoid sending their children to Whitehill Primary.

One of the many questions being asked by so many people in the local community and by many past and present staff is why this scandal has been allowed to continue for so long, especially after the Headteacher was removed by KCC from the neighbouring Kings Farm Primary School in July 2014 where she had been installed as Executive Head in January 2014........


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Last modified on Friday, 18 November 2016 20:32
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