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Peter Read

Thursday, 26 November 2020 11:31

Kent Test 2020: Initial Results and Comment

I was interviewed on Radio Kent on Friday morning, followed by the KCC Education Cabinet Member, Richard Long who provided some additional data reproduced below.  You can find the interview here, 1 hour 37 minutes in.  

The Kent Test results have produced a pass mark with an aggregate score of 332, slightly higher than last year, with an additional requirement to score 108 on each of the three sections - English, mathematics, and reasoning. This is slightly lower than 2019’s requirement for 110 on each paper. The level of pass marks is no indication of difficulty in the Test, rather a complex standardisation of raw scores against a national sample of children, comparing like ages with each other. The intention is to select 21% of the Kent cohort by this method for automatic selection along with another four per cent by Headteacher Assessment, as explained here, making up a target of 25%. In the event this year, 25.4% of the cohort, comprising all of Kent’s Year six cohort in primary schools, added to all Kent private school pupils who took the Test, were found selective, down from last year’s 26.6%.

Although there was a fall of 522 in the number of children taking the Test overall this year, 194 additional children were found selective over the 2019 figure. This is purely due to an increase in the number of out of county passes, with 74 fewer Kent children found selective, details in the table below.  In addition, there was a worrying fall of 12% in the number of children being found selective by the HTA, with the great majority of HTA children coming from Kent.  

The Test, taken a month later than planned because of the Coronavirus pandemic, will certainly have seen a slightly different profile of children passing, as explained in previous articles here, most recently here. However, until I get more detailed data on outcomes later this year it will not be clear how different. The KCC Press Release describing the Test carefully focuses on the view of Richard Long, Cabinet Member for Education that: ‘Kent has done everything in its power to ensure that families were given a fair and safe way to apply for Kent Secondary schools this year’ referring to this fact twice, but without mentioning what KCC had done if anything to make the Kent Test as fair as possible, the subject matter of the article. In his interview, Mr Long gave data showing that, unsurprisingly, the number of children passing the test from private schools rose by 12% to 862. Also, the proportion of children on Free School Meals who took part in the Kent Test assessed as suitable for Grammar School this year rose slightly to 23%  compared to 22.8% last year. However,  without knowing the numbers of children in both years, this doesn't yet add anything to the picture.

Saturday, 21 November 2020 18:37

Griffin Schools Trust in Further Trouble

Back in August, I wrote an article entitled 'Griffin Schools Trust: A Danger for Pupils?' about the Trust and one of its schools, Stantonbury International School in Milton Keynes. The school was at one time the second-largest in the country but has lost nearly a fifth of its pupil numbers since being taken over by Griffin.  The school had been placed in Special Measures in January following an absolutely disgraceful report by Ofsted which opens with: 'Many pupils do not feel safe attending this school. They feel intimidated by others’ conduct. Pupils are right to be concerned. Leaders have not been effective in managing pupils’ behaviour. It is increasingly rowdy and sometimes dangerous' and then gets worse.

Publication of the Report was delayed until June probably because of Covid. Subsequently, in view of the Ofsted finding which found the leadership and management, behaviour and attitudes and the quality of education at the Academy all inadequate, the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC)  sent a Minded to Terminate Letter to the Trust on 15th July. This spelt out that she 'needed to be satisfied that the Academy can achieve rapid and sustained improvement'. Clearly, the Trust response to this was also inadequate to the extent that the RSC issued a Termination Warning Notice six weeks later, on 28th August. It almost beggars belief that, even when the Trust was given warning of the RSC urgent requirements in the Minded to Terminate letter it failed so abysmally to meet them, as set out explicitly in the warning notice. This even followed two responses from the Trust to the RSC, the first being obviously inadequate as set out in the Warning. The incompetences included  'There has been a failure to "address the systemic failures in leadership, accountability, governance and monitoring" or to demonstrate how trust leadership would be improved'. although the arrogance that runs through the academy website suggests one of the inherent problems, as exemplified by my previous article.

The Warning Notice also outlines in stark terms the failures of Leadership across the Trust, which includes two other seriously underperforming secondary schools and three local Medway primary schools: Kingfisher, Lordswood and Saxon Way.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020 00:04

Needless School Closures and Coronavirus

 Update 24 November:   A full list of school closures I know about below, latest in blue. 

Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director, Education and Young People's Services for Kent County Council, has managed to upset a wide range of Kent headteachers, with a comment as politically insensitive as Boris Johnson’s recent crass remark on Scottish devolution.

He has told headteachers in a lengthy and somewhat patronising letter to make sure they understand coronavirus guidelines so pupils and staff are not sent home "needlessly".  "While it remains the case that decision making on the running for your schools is for you to take with your governing bodies and Trusts, it is becoming clear that there are considerable differences in decision making at a locality level, and that does cause some problems at community level, and for some families. Quite simply, it is perceived that some schools are closing when other local schools facing similar or the same challenges are not."

It is an unfortunate coincidence that whilst part of his focus appeared aimed at Fulston Manor School, as reported in Kent Online, the school is in Swale which last evening was named as third most infected areas in England, and I am informed that other local schools may shortly follow suit in closing. I doubt this letter will discourage them. Other secondary schools currently closed for fourteen days include Dartford Science and Technology College; Greenacre; Howard, Hundred of Hoo, Rainham Girls, Robert Napier; Sandwich Technology School; St George's CofE Comprehensive, Gravesend; Sir Roger Manwood's School, Sandwich; and Strood Academy; along with Special Schools - Bower Grove, Maidstone; and Orchard, Canterbury; together with primary schools - Cobham Primary, Iwade Primary, Meopham Community Academy, Queenborough School, Sholden CofE Primary, Thistle Hill Academy. The multiple Year Group closures are too many to list.

 Update 28th November: To few people's surprise surely, Mrs Aquilina's actions have led to a proposal for the KCSP to bring St Thomas Catholic Primary School into a cluster of West Kent schools. See below for details. 

It was announced today that the Headteacher of St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, Mrs Claudia Aquilina, has been dismissed for gross misconduct by her employers, the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership. This follows her suspension from the post earlier this year on June 17th. The decision to suspend was highly controversial amongst some Catholic parents as she had a loyal following who thought her wonderful. The record 89 comments attached to my initial article, which with its predecessor has now been read over thirty thousand times, indicate the depth of feeling she aroused, both positive and negative.

St Thomas Sevenoaks 2

Over the many years I have been commenting on Kent and Medway education matters, I have seen a number of headteachers removed from their posts, but cannot recall any dismissed as bluntly as this, indicating the seriousness of the case.

Tuesday, 03 November 2020 20:08

Medway Test 2020: Initial results and analysis

The scandal of the gross imbalance between opportunities for girls and boys at Medway grammar schools has reached its greatest height so far this year. It is created by a much higher proportion of girls passing in the Medway Test, a hundred unnecessary extra places provided for girls in the past three years, a useless Review process and a massively discriminatory appeals process also in favour of girls. In short, the admission process for Medway grammar schools is not fit for purpose.   

The pass mark in the Medway Test for admission to grammar school in 2021 is an aggregate score of 483, with 23.06% of Medway state school educated pupils found to be of selective ability against a target of 23.0%. 812 Medway pupils passed the test, just four more than in 2019. However, the proportion of boys being found selective at 20.7% is well down on previous years, balanced by 25.6% of girls.

The number of out of county children (ooc) passing the test has risen sharply by 146 to 1126. Last year there were 248 ooc children offered places in Medway grammar schools, nearly 20% of the total, with plenty of spaces to accommodate any excess if they are girls. 

The council press statement on the Medway Test contains no mention of the inevitable effect of coronavirus on performance, which will have given a greater advantage than ever before to children from private schools and those whose families have invested heavily in private tuition, at the expense of 'ordinary' children and those attracting Pupil Premium. 

The 2019 Review outcomes and 2020 appeal results reveal once again the negligible opportunities for boys in securing grammar school places this year if they had not secured automatic passes in the Medway Test. Meanwhile, the astonishing 94% success rate in appeals at Chatham Grammar underlines the large surplus of selective places for girls. 

There is further analysis below, including a look at Review, Appeals and the situation for individual Medway grammar schools.

Update: 30th October: To leave no doubt as to KCC's position, the Council has issued a progress report on its FSM Voucher Scheme, reproduced below

KCC has just released the excellent news that the families of all Kent children on Free School Meals will receive £15 of vouchers per child during school holidays. You will find a copy of the Media Release below.

Thanks to an initiative by Medway Council and Citizens Advice Medway,  free school meal children will be supplied with meals over the half-term holidays

KCC has 65 Conservative Councillors out of a total of 81, so one might expect it to follow government policy which appears to be to resist pressure to follow the Marcus Rashford route.  However, the announcement comes after KCC Leader Roger Gough pledged that 'no child should ever go hungry during school holidays, or at any time'. Regular browsers of this site will know that I have been highly critical of KCC recently over policy aspects in the coronavirus pandemic, but I am delighted to welcome this decision for the sake of our disadvantaged children. The Conservative majority in the House of Commons voted against extending free school meals for pupils over the school holidays, up to Easter 2021. This included 14 Kent Conservative MPs, apart from Sir Roger Gale, who have a different view to KCC. The only Kent MP who voted in favour was Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield (Lab). 

Medway Council has 32 Conservative Councillors out of 55, so again could have been tempted by government policy. Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: 'We are committed to supporting Medway’s most vulnerable children, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has caused further financial pressures for some families. We are therefore pleased to be working with Citizens Advice Medway to ensure no child goes hungry this half-term'.  Two of the three Medway Conservative MPs voted against the proposal, including Kelly Tolhurst who was previously an Education Cabinet Member for Medway Council. 

There are certainly arguments for and against the policy, but the government decision not to support it is clearly against the popular and growing mood, with an increasing number of Local Authorities adding to the pressure. 

This must be the most impressive goal scored by an England footballer ever, and an example to others.

The Kent Test was delayed for a month this year because of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, as explained here. Along with this change, Kent County Council increased the number of choices on the secondary school application form from four to six, to cater for families not knowing the test result before the closing date. KCC has also made another unpublicised change to its secondary school admission rules for September 2021. The new arrangement is as follows.

The closing date for applications is Monday 2nd November. This is a deadline that is set in legislation, however KCC allows parents to make changes to their application up until Friday 11th December. That means even with Kent Test results being available later this year parents still have the opportunity to change their preferences. 

In previous years, this option was only allowable in exceptional circumstances such as house moves. KCC has now removed these conditions and made it a positive opportunity for all, so there appears no restriction on parents making any late change for 2021 entry. However, I can’t at present envisage situations where any sensible ordering of the six choices of school available in this very different year would need to be revised after the results of the Kent Test, due out on 26th November, are known. Decisions to make changes to the preference scheme should not be taken lightly as removing a school from your list also removes the right to appeal later for a place at that school. 

Meanwhile, in Medway where the Test and Review outcomes will also be known by 26th November, the Council has simply put back the closing date for submitting all applications to 1st December. This gives relevant Medway residents a clear advantage as they will know the results of both Medway and Kent Tests before needing to submit their applications.  

A few years ago, The Rochester Grammar School was one of the most oversubscribed grammar schools across Kent and Medway, with a strong sixth form and proud of its Thinking Schools philosophy. It has been the only Medway or Kent grammar school to be awarded generous government funds of some £3 million in the past two years through the Grammar School Expansion Fund in spite of a large number of other local applicants. In order to secure this funding, used primarily to expand its numbers, the school completely changed its entry requirements to give priority to girls attracting Pupil Premium and local girls. You will find here a full analysis of the scheme I wrote two years ago, but which is still valid today, as the school appears not to have addressed the issues I identified. The school has scrapped A-levels completely in favour of the International Baccalaureate this year. 

RGS

Outcomes
The proportion of girls joining the school in Year Seven in the first year of the scheme, who attract Pupil Premium for the school, has fallen by over a third from 9.2% to 5.9%. This is completely contrary to the aim of the funding. Even though priority is now given to local girls, only 165 of the 253 places offered for September went to Medway girls, so the school is NOT oversubscribed, except for out of county pupils who take up the spare places.   
 
An even bigger shock is that only 46%, fewer than half of the school’s Year 11 girls in 2019-20, have stayed on into the Sixth Form this year, the second-lowest percentage of any grammar school in Kent and Medway. Even adding in students attracted from other schools, numbers have still plummeted from 87% in 2019 to 53%, with over 100 girls leaving to join the Sixth Forms of other local grammar schools.

Update 15 November. I have now published my article looking across the whole of Kent and Medway, also containing a clarification of the Oakwood Park data.

I am in the process of producing a full article analysing school appeals across Kent and Medway, which will be published shortly. Some of the outcomes are posted on the Individual Schools section of my website. I shall get round to all, but am happy to post others on request.

A testing time for parents:

Column Heading

THE Kent Test, once the 11+, is upon us once more. What happens if your child fails? What happens if your first-choice secondary is oversubscribed? It can be a stressful time for parents. Between May and July every year, around 3,000 school appeal hearings take place in Kent, as families seek to change the schools to which their children were allocated. Some will be looking to win grammar school places, others in oversubscribed non-selective schools and a much smaller number trying again for the primary school of their choice. By way of illustration, 10 secondary schools in the Maidstone area held appeals this year, as follows. 

Back in the summer Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools, informed schools that Ofsted would carry out visits through the Autumn Term ‘to get some insight on how schools and other providers are bringing children back into formal education after such a long time away’.  She made clear explicitly that these visits were not inspections. Subsequently, following a challenge from the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) on the threat of legal action, NAHT reported that “While Ofsted has sought to play down the nature of these visits publicly, this statement makes it clear that they are indeed a form of inspection and should therefore be approached as such.”  

Such dishonesty is hardly likely to build any form of trust regarding these inspections, and reports back clearly identify that some are indeed conducted as such, not simply visits. It is reliably reported that at least 20 such inspections of Kent schools have taken place this term.

However, astonishingly any insensitivity over the dishonesty has not stopped there. Today, Thursday 15th October is the day of the Kent Test when primary school leaders up and down the county are fully focused on ensuring their pupils will be able to take the test under the best possible conditions, especially given the additional pressures brought about by Coronavirus. Several Kent primary headteachers will, however, have their minds elsewhere as Ofsted has chosen to carry out inspections in their schools this day!

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