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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.

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

Medway Council has launched its second initiative to improve standards across its schools in three years, this one called “Get Medway Learning” , the previous initiative entitled “Effective Challenge of Underperformance in Schools” having sunk without trace or effect.

The initiative aims to raise the bar in local primary and secondary schools, ensuring children are receiving a quality education and achieving to the very best of their ability, certainly a laudable aim, as for 2013-14, the last year for which results are available, Medway Primary schools came bottom in the country in both Key Stage 2 performance and OFSTED Inspection outcomes.

However, I remain unconvinced it will fare any better than the 2012 attempt, except that perhaps Medway Council is at last realising the seriousness of its situation and the damage being done to Medway children’s education. The only bright sign on the horizon is the continued good performance of Medway secondary schools, producing GCSE results above the national average, and demonstrating they are turning round the underperformance in the primary sector.

The main themes of the initiative are:…..


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Last modified on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 06:36

As regular browsers will know, I make considerable use of the Freedom of Information Act to secure information about education matters in Kent and Medway for parents. However, it is important to use the service responsibly and not make requests that will obviously be refused on grounds of unreasonableness. Two recent requests about the Kent Test:

I understand head teachers will now know our child's results under
this act please can I know my child's results too?

 

Please could I see a copy of the Kent Test for the
years 2014 & 2015?

 

Very reasonably and politely, Kent County Council responded:


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Last modified on Thursday, 24 September 2015 21:00
Sunday, 20 September 2015 15:26

Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?

Written by Peter Read

Too many young teachers are being lost to the profession through a lack of support in the classroom, chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said. Sir Michael, giving evidence to the Commons select committee on education, said he had been upset by the number of talented teachers who complained about the lack of support available to them at the start of their careers.

What used to upset me was talking to people who were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, hugely enthusiastic  about coming into teaching, wanting to do well for disadvantaged youngsters, saying to me that they were put off teaching in the first few years because they weren’t adequately supported by leaders”.

This statement coincided with an article I had been asked to write for Kent On Sunday, on why so many teachers were leaving the profession, which was published on Sunday. My article is illustrated by a number of recent examples of schools affected, drawn from Kent and Medway, although I have provided another below which I believe dwarfs these examples but may of course not be unique.....


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Last modified on Monday, 20 February 2017 23:13

Mid Kent College has cynically left 175 students in the lurch 24 hours after they received GCSE results which qualified them for A Level courses at the College. All A Level courses for new students have been scrapped less than two weeks before term starts, at both the Gillingham and Maidstone campuses. Some of the students learned of the decision only after news was published in local media and before they received letters informing them that their career plans had been torpedoed by the College.

According to the College the decision was taken in order to focus more effort on apprenticeships and vocational training. The College had ‘reviewed its curriculum in the face of fewer resources and recent government policy’ although I am aware of no government policies that have changed in recent months to precipitate this change.

And then, there is the remarkable coincidence outlined at the foot of this article.......


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Last modified on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 09:56

I have had a very interesting morning, being used as an “expert” by the BBC on a circuit of Local Radio stations commenting on today’s news that the number of parents being taken to court over the unauthorised absence of their children from school is rising fast. 16,430 people in England were prosecuted for failing to ensure that a child went to school in 2014, up a quarter on 2013 when 13,128 people were taken to court.

My main sympathy is with the schools who have to police an increasingly difficult situation, but the reverse side of the coin is that the number of cases of persistent absence appears to be on the decline thank to the new tougher measures. The latest, I have been able to find show that in 2012-13, there was a sharp fall in persistent absence in that year from 433,130 to 300,895, down nearly a third after the regulations were tightened up.

The current rules are now quite explicit - You have to get permission from the headteacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time. You can only do this if: you make an application to the headteacher in advance and there are exceptional circumstances. The last of course begs the question “what are exceptional circumstances?”…..


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Last modified on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 09:53

 Controversial Ebbsfleet Academy Principal Alison Colwell has been asked, according to KentOnline,  to attend another meeting with Schools Minister Nick Gibb, as one of ten "behaviour experts" nationally to discuss the school's "zero tolerance" behaviour policy and how this approach can be used to drive up standards in schools. This follows an article in the Sunday Times Magazine in July 2014, which explained "how it had turned around its reputation as one of the country’s worst performing schools". Puzzlingly, the predecessor Swan Valley School had no such reputation and this statement is completely untrue. The Ofsted Report of January 2011 recorded that "Students’ attainment has risen significantly at Swan Valley over the last few years as a result of improvements in the quality of teaching and learning and careful tracking and intervention, particularly in Key Stage 4. Challenging targets have been set and exceeded. The proportion of students achieving 5A* to C grades at GCSE last year was the school’s best ever result at 63%. When mathematics and English are included, the number gaining 5A* to C grades was 34% in 2010, also a record for Swan Valley ". For 2011 GCSE performance, this figure rose further to 35%. Strangely, in spite of this significant progress the then headteacher (OFSTED: "The headteacher, passionate about obtaining the best for his students") was suddenly removed later in the year and replaced  by Ms Colwell who had been seconded to the school to assist him a few months earlier. Further controversy followed, as explained here, and here.

Ebbsfleet Academy

For 2012 and 2013, under the new management, GCSE performance had slumped to second worst in the county in both years, at 24% and 28% respectively. Overall over the past three years there has been a fractional improvement in GCSE results as the 2014 GCSE pass rate has inched up from the 35% of 2011, just before the putsch, to 36%, hardly endorsing the claim in the Sunday Times article of turning around its reputation. However, what is more notable is that the popularity of the school has fallen sharply in the same period, the most recent figures for admission in September 2015 showing that there were just 47 first choices for the 150 places, with 52 places, or over a third of those available, being taken up by Local Authority allocations of children who hadn't even applied for Ebbsfleet Academy. This is the third highest proportion in the county, the Marlowe Academy being first having now been closed through lack of demand.

Oddly, although I was also interviewed by the Sunday Times reporter, none of these factual statements were mentioned in the article!......


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Last modified on Sunday, 01 November 2015 03:28

A senior member of staff at a Chatham Primary School is reported to have been suspended by the Academy Trust running the school, after alleged cheating in SATs this year was reported to the Trust. This followed an inquiry by the Chief Executive of the Trust who made a comprehensive report to the national Standards and Teaching Agency (STA), which then took the decision to annul all 90 Year 6 results. The Phoenix Junior Academy is run by the Fort Pitt Thomas Aveling Academies Trust, which has clearly behaved very responsibly and professionally in the matter. Rightly, the Trust has issued a statement explaining the situation to parents, noting that no class teacher was involved in the maladministration of the SATs and is now reportedly engaged in a confidential employment process so understandably unable to comment further.

How different from the situation at Whitehill Primary School in Gravesend….


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Last modified on Monday, 03 August 2015 10:37
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