Supporting Families
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Peter Read

Kent County Council has been awarded one of 39 new Special Schools to be opened across the country, following a bid to government. This will be built on the Isle of Sheppey, on land adjacent to the new Halfway Houses Primary School site,  and is planned to focus on children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs aged 11-16. Under current regulations KCC will now need to set up a tendering process to select a Sponsor from an existing academy chain to run the new school. As explained below, this can be a drawn out and uncertain process, with the opening date not yet fixed.

This follows approval in January for the Aspire School, Sittingbourne a new Free School for children with autism or speech and language difficulties to be run by Grove Park Academies Trust, currently comprising Grove Park Primary School. It will be built on council land not far from Grove Park, both schools in Bobbing. The Aspire School came into existence because of the vision of parents as long ago as 2013. The original vision was for high functioning autistic children aged 4 -16, although final details have not yet been settled, and it is now looking likely to be for primary aged children, opening at the earliest in September 2020.

A major problem in the establishment of new schools is that KCC has lost control and is reliant on persuading government to approve a Free School which has to attract a sponsor and site. Separately, organisations such as parent groups and churches can come forward with proposals such as with the Aspire Group above, although this appears to have yielded oversight to the Grove Park Academy Trust to get its plan through.

Sheppey Special School
The name of this school will no doubt be determined by the sponsor establishment, although two new Kent secondary Free Schools have faltered for lack of appropriate sponsorship, and other sponsors for the Goodwin Academy and schools run by Lilac Sky have proved utterly unsuitable.

The Press Release by KCC gives Roger Gough, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, defining the role of the school as: providing for children requiring a specialist placement for social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs with Autism spectrum condition or communication and interaction difficulties’. He continues: ‘there is currently no special school on the Isle of Sheppey, meaning a significant number of pupils with SEN are required to travel substantial distances, off the Island, to the nearest suitable provision. The new school will allow them to access suitable provision within their local community, enhancing their opportunities to develop social links and become more independent’.

It would appear that SEMH is the prime condition to be supported, the addition of ASD and related conditions being a possible add on.  At present, according to Kent Online, The Department for Education has not settled the total finance available, which may define the number of pupils and the conditions the school can support.

KCC has now set up a competition to find a suitable Sponsor, but until this is settled, a date for resolving the outstanding issues and completion of construction will not be known. Do not expect it before 2021, and in the experience of other new Free Schools across the county, 2022 or later!

Currently, all children on Sheppey with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) who cannot be catered for at Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy (OISA) leave the island to be educated elsewhere, 70 of these travelling to Bower Grove school in Maidstone, others fanning out across the county where there is capacity.  

I was challenged by Gordon Henderson, MP for Swale, on my view expressed on Radio Kent, that local residents would not have confidence if the new school were sponsored by the struggling Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy, but I believe this would be a retrograde step. Unfortunately, as only one of Kent’s 22 Special Schools is an academy, the likelihood is that the sponsor will be an academy chain without SEN experience at this level, such is the system that operates.

Aspire School
After years of campaigning and two rejections by the Department for Education, this primary free school was approved by government in September 2016, with hopes it would open the following year. It is now likely to open in 2020, with a capacity of 168 children, through an intake of 16 children in two classes in each year catering for ages 4 -11, and run by the Grove Park Academy Trust, which currently comprises just Grove Park Primary School. It will cater for  children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other severe  speech and language difficulties. The original plan for it to be provision for high functioning ASD to support the two other such schools in the far east and west of the county at Laleham Gap School, Margate, and Broomhill Bank North Annex, Hextable, appears to have vanished.

Planning permission for the school was finally granted in January 2019.

Turner Schools has published a bizarre advertisement in the Folkestone and Hythe Your District Today magazine published by the Local Council, purportedly to answer the question ‘What is Turner Schools’?
TurnerSchools
It begins: ‘Turner Schools blazed onto the Folkestone scene just a few years ago’, and is in the form of a pseudo interview with the CEO Jo Saxton. The second of the initial two brief paragraphs justifying the takeover of Folkestone Academy by Turner Schools also describes the high quality of food now provided for students.
The next section asks about an artificial controversy I have not seen aired before amongst all the major criticisms of Turner Schools published here and elsewhere,  about whether Turner Schools is only interested in purely academic routes.
Then follows a justification of the CEO’s very high salary for running a small low achieving Academy Trust, the article finishing with ‘We know that some people find change hard, so don’t believe all the negatives you’ve heard or read about Folkestone Academy’ . There is no mention at all of the other three schools in the Trust, and the initial question is ignored for start to finish. 
I am left bewildered why the Turner Schools remorseless publicity machine, examined in detail across previous articles on this website, most recently here, can have produced such an inept article in the official Council publication, an article which raises more questions than it answers and does nothing to promote its image.
 
Also below is the answer to a question I posed in a recent article: Turner Schools: What were they trying to hide?

The 2019 Medway Council Press Statement on secondary school allocation appears to cover up a large fall in the proportion of pupils offered a place at one of their preferred schools. This is accompanied by another fall in the proportion of children being offered their first or second choice.

All we are allowed to learn is that all 3300 Medway children who applied for secondary school places received offers, that 89% of them received a first or second choice, with over 90% receiving one of their preferences, and that 736 children from outside Medway were considered for places.

For 2018 entry, the equivalent statement recorded that over 95.5% (actually 95.6%) of Medway children received a preference, so this appears to be a sharp and worrying fall, with nearly one in ten Medway families being allocated to a school they did not choose.

Medway

Once again, the council continues its attempts to hide the facts from local residents (not serving you), but the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services is ‘very pleased that many have been allocated a place at one of their preferred schools’. Unfortunately, too many have not! He continues: ‘it a testament to the team’s hard work that the majority of families receive offers at one of their preferred schools (an ‘is’ would have been helpful from the Council’s education leader), both statements suggesting the great disappointment that these figures imply. This follows on from the scandal of the Medway Review I highlighted recently.

There is initial advice at the foot of this article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. There is also a link to the limited telephone advisory service I now offer.
Update 8th March
In his weekly letter to Kent Education Professionals, Matt Dunkley CBE, Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education for KCC writes: 'I am delighted to report that more than 95% of children will receive an offer from one of their four preferences after more families than ever before applied for a Secondary school place in Kent. A total of 21,473 applications were received, up 3.58% on last year’s cohort, while the number of Kent applicants rose from 17,442 in 2018 to 17,959 this year, a 2.96% increase. Yet despite these increases, the number of pupils getting a place at one of their first preference schools continues to increase. Of the applicants, 17,959 were from pupils living within Kent and over 90% of these will get one of their top two preference schools'.
His delight will come as a great disappointment to the many families who have lost out on places this year as noted below. For  79.1% of  the Kent applicants were  offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least nine years. 837 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.7% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least nine years, up on last year’s 765 and up by 75% over the 2016 proportion of 2.7%. The proportion of children being offered one of their top two preferences at 90.3% is down on 90.7% in 2018, and again lowest for nine years. Hardly a matter of delight. At least he should be honest about the challenges you face! Fortunately, this website contains the best data available for those professionals. 
This article was written for March 1st, National Secondary Allocation Day. I am updating it as I receive further information relating to individual schools. Please note I am very grateful for families who let me know what is happening at local schools. There is  also a parallel article for Medway  and another in about two weeks time when I am sent data released, providing full details of allocation, over subscription and vacancies for all Kent secondary schools, which also be posted on the Individual Schools Section. 

Super Selective Scores now below, along with hot spots.

My 2018 articles on oversubscription and vacancies in individual Kent schools will almost certainly still reflect the general picture in individual districts for non-selective and grammar schools.  I already have the details of the number of first choices for each Kent secondary school, which you will find in my Individual School section here, together with the pattern for individual schools. 

17,959 Kent children applied for places in Kent secondary schools, 517 more than in 2018, with 79.1% of them being offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least nine years, a further 0.6% down on last year. 837 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.7% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least nine years, up on last year’s 765. I know that a number of additional school places have been created at pinch points across the county, but I anticipate hearing of some very difficult situations for some of the children with no school of their choice.

Many of the super selective schools have seen considerable increases in their requirements.  

In spite of the inexorable increase in out of county applications to Kent schools, up 225 to 3,514, exactly the same number, 818, were offered places, as in 2018. As always this  will have been partially balanced by around 500 going to schools outside Kent.

You will find more information, including a look at some of the pressure points as they become apparent, below. These include North West Kent both selective and non-selective, and non-selective Swale, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells.  You will also find required scores for super-selective schools (all information on both situations welcomed) together with the tables of outcomes

There is initial advice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

There is also a link to the limited telephone advisory service I now offer. 

Thursday, 28 February 2019 06:43

Home Education: Skipping School

Last week, I was part of an invited audience  to a private showing and debate on the Channel Four programme, Skipping School, about Home Education issues. This featured Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England (CCE), who has now published a Report containing five important recommendations. The discussion highlighted some key concerns, although being dominated by the plight of children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who made up an estimated 22% of children on EHE (Elective Home Education). Unforgiveably, there are no central statistics on any EHE matter, but it is clear that a high proportion of such children have not chosen this route but have been forced down it by schools being unable or unwilling to make provision for their needs. 

Considerable concerns were expressed about the practice of off-rolling and exclusion, along with evidence of the practices in too many schools. 

There is not even a required register of children on EHE, let alone any monitoring of what if any education they are provided with, although its introduction has been and would be strongly resisted by the vocal and in some cases aggressive lobby of families who may have chosen EHE for philosophical reasons.

One particular revelation (to me at least) was the statement that the Regional Schools Commissioner may only intervene with academies that are causing concern if they are inadequate, primarily because of funding issues (although there have been a couple of counter examples recently). Otherwise, they need to be dealt with directly by the Department for Education. 

 Swale Academies Trust (SAT) has secured a second Ofsted Outstanding school, after Meopham was found Outstanding in January (published earlier this week). This makes KCC’s decision to block SAT from taking over the failed Holmesdale School for most of 2018 look even more shocking as the school blundered from bad to worse under its control during the year. 

Meopham School had suffered from poor leadership for as long as I can remember, culminating in 2012 when it was placed in Special Measures. An ‘Anywhere but Meopham’ cry was regularly made to me by parents seeking advice on how to avoid the school. SAT took it over the following year. It has rapidly improved ever since, with a ‘Good’ Ofsted Report just two years later, followed by a Short Inspection last year. Meopham has been delivering excellent GCSE results for its pupils for the past three years, being the second and third best performing non-selective school in the county at Progress 8 and in the top seven for Attainment 8 in each year. Rightly it has now seen last year’s Short Inspection converted to Outstanding. Not surprisingly, it has become heavily oversubscribed with 224 first choices for its 140 places for September. A new Chair of Governors was appointed last September, Diana Choulerton, an Education Consultant who until recently was one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. Swale Academies Trust doesn't take chances!

By contrast, after Holmesdale School was placed in Special Measures a year ago, the school and its pupils were disgracefully hung out to dry by Kent County Council. KCC refused to hand the management of the school over to SAT even though it had been selected as the Sponsoring School when Holmesdale was served with an Academy Order and left it devoid of proper support until grudgingly yielding it to SAT at the end of November.

As well as further details below, I also look at the performance of Swale Academies Trust in an attempt to see why KCC was so strongly opposed to them  being involved with Holmesdale School. 

Update (11/3) Oakwood Park Grammar has also had a recent Inspection and seen its Outstanding lost to Good probably because of disappointing GCSE results, although the Report acknowledges the great improvement for 2018, as reported below, in spite of its two Outstanding categories, compared with the MGS one. I understand that a third Kent school has also lost its Outstanding status, although not yet published., 

Maidstone Grammar School (MGS), one of Kent’s flagship selective schools, has lost its Outstanding Ofsted status following its recent Inspection with Report published yesterday. The Inspection was presumably triggered after 'legitimate concerns' (according to Ofsted below) had been expressed about the decline in its academic performance.

MGS3

The headlines of the Report, published in January, refer to disappointing GCSE results in 2017. However, they choose not  to mention that those for 2018 were  considerably worse. These saw the school delivering the fourth lowest Progress 8 score of any of the 38 Kent and Medway grammar schools, the government’s preferred measure of performance. It was eighth lowest for Attainment 8. The results come from a school that selected most of its pupils by setting a high pass score in the Kent Test, and yet still performed worse on both d than the other local grammar, Oakwood Park which recruits a significant number of pupils from appeal.  You will find an article on performance of  Kent grammar schools here including details of MGS relative performance, and background to Maidstone Grammar data here.

This Report also comes with a mystery, as explained below. 

Wednesday, 06 February 2019 23:34

Skipping School: Invisible Children

See Follow up Article here.

The Children’s Commissioner for England (CCE), Anne Longfield, has published a Report entitledSkipping School: Invisible Children’. Apart from its dreadful and misleading title, it provides an excellent summary of the issues surrounding Elective Home Education (EHE). The Report also looks forward to ways of reducing the numbers of those Home Educated, apart from families who freely choose to and are capable of providing a good alternative.

Sadly, a 'Dispatches' programme on Channel Four lost the plot and focused on describing in graphic terms families who were not coping with Home Education in their first weeks out of school. I made a contribution to the programme with which I was pleased and which drew on my most recent article about EHE, but I was not expecting the direction the programme took and so my piece stood isolated.

The problems with the Medway grammar school selection process just keep recurring, with the Medway Review procedure proving yet again to be not fit for purpose. You will find an analysis of outcomes below. 

The headline is once again the failure of the Review procedure, with  the Council announcing as always that up to 2% of the cohort of Medway children would be successful at Review, in addition to the 23% who passed the Medway Test directly. In the event, just four children from 159 hopeful Medway families that went to Review were successful for 2019 admission, just 0.12% of the cohort. What a farce, being short of the target by 63 children, but a very sad one for all those who falsely thought they were in with a chance. Not one of the 43 candidates from local private schools or outside of Medway was successful at Review.  

It is also an indictment of the work of Medway Primary schools according to the Review Panels which are made up of local secondary headteachers, who found work submitted by local primary schools to be so poor that almost no further children were found worthy of a grammar school place through the process from the 159 considered. 

Sadly, it gets even worse for those families. The School Admission Code of Practice rules that children who are unsuccessful at a Review process cannot have an appeal upheld unless there has been unfairness in the process (rarely proven). There are a few exceptions as explained below, but for the majority of the 155 families unsuccessful at Review, there is now no chance of winning an Appeal.

The two areas of bias in the Medway Test remain: older pupils do much better than those born towards the end of the school year; and girls do better than boys.

Note: you will find GCSE performance here for Kent and Medway.  

This article looks at A Level performance for Kent and Medway schools in the summer of 2018. It is difficult to make comparative judgements at this level as schools vary so much in the pattern of their intake into Year 12 that the Achievement tables in particular are of limited value. However, Progress from GCSE to A Level can be revealing, with good non-selective schools tending to better than many grammar schools for their students, so may be a useful contribution to decisions on where to follow one's studies. 

The highest performer is Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School followed by, in order: Valley Park; St George’s CofE, Gravesend; Longfield Academy; Bennett Memorial; Herne Bay; Oakwood Park Grammar; Holcombe Grammar; and Weald of Kent Grammar. QEGS is one of nine schools whose students who have made 'Above Average' progress over the two years in the Sixth Form. 

Dane Court Grammar has the lowest grammar school performance and is the only selective school in the ten graded 'Well Below Average' for progress. 

There are four alternative  measures for determining attainment. Highest across the board in all four measures is The Judd School. Then come Tunbridge Wells Girls, Skinners and Rochester Grammar; with Norton Knatchbull by some way at the bottom of the grammar schools list. Four schools top the non-selective list, unsurprisingly Bennett Memorial and St Gregory’s, along with two Gravesend schools: St George’s CofE; and St John’s Catholic. These four are amongst the six church schools in the top ten non-selective schools.  

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