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Peter Read

 A record number of 1,485 Kent families withdrew their children from school last year to take up Elective Home Education (EHE), nearly double the figure in 2019-20 which had dipped probably because of a Covid effect. In Medway, the figure of 310 is also a record. These families have chosen instead to 'educate' them at home to variable standards, sometimes because their child's school is unable to cater for their needs properly, leaving some families with nowhere else to turn.  Many families will educate their children to high standards, some will struggle to achieve these, but in other cases EHE will simply cover neglect or worse, with children's life chances being ruined. Local Authorities have no powers to investigate the circumstances of the decision. At the same time also, a record number of Kent children went missing from their schools, sometimes with schools having no idea of their destination, the proportion going missing in Medway being even higher, over twice as large as Kent. Many of these children will be from traveller or Eastern European families, some of the latter returning home after Brexit, others coming back to the schools after a period on the road.      

These are areas where government education policy is severely lacking, with failures to collect data about children being educated at home, to require children educated at home to be registered, or to make any sort of check on the quality of what is being offered them in terms of education, despite various promises through the years.

An article in Kentonline, headed ‘Ebbsfleet Garden City parents sold dream new homes but cannot get children into nearby schools’, understates the serious problem of primary school provision in the area. Currently, three new primary schools have been built to serve Ebbsfleet, but all are full and oversubscribed for the current Reception Year, and three of the four schools in nearby Swanscombe and Greenhithe are also bursting at the seams. Dartford town offers no respite, with just eight Reception vacancies out of 972 places available. There is a current crisis in the provision of primary places in both areas with few signs of how it is to improve.

This article follows on from the previous: ‘Kent Test 2021, Initial Results and Comment’, published in October and continues in the shadow of issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic. It looks in more detail at the performance of state school children in the Kent grammar school selection process, with another looking at those from private schools and schools outside Kent to come later.

For entry in September 2022, there is a partial shift back to the 2019 pre Covid norms, with the proportion of children taking the test up and boys’ performance improving considerably. My concerns about the gap between East and West in the Kent Test continues, but this has been smoothed out to some extent by a surge in numbers for East Kent children being successful in the Headteacher Assessment. 

After the initial headline details immediately below, you will find further sections on additional pages, from the following links: Pupil PremiumDistrict Variation; Performance of Pupils in Individual SchoolsLocal Tests; Head Teacher Assessments; October 2021 Census.   

Sunday, 02 January 2022 18:12

Mask Wearing in Class and The Abbey School

I do hope that when the headteacher of The Abbey School in Faversham explains to the children of his school next week that they will have to wear masks in class this term, he has the courtesy to apologise to all those who his hitman punished for daring to wear masks last term, and ordered others not to do so, as reported in KentOnline. Unlike most secondary schools in the county which recognised children had endured a difficult time through two lockdowns, and needed to be supported, the Abbey adopted a very different approach and brought in one of a number of experts who style themselves 'the strictest headteacher in the country' to get tough with these recalcitrant children. As explained here, exclusions at the  soared last year, exceptionally amongst schools across the county, with Abbey subsequently introducing Mr Smith's 'Tough Love' approach after he was appointed to the school in September on a short term basis.

This article is a follow-up from my previous, below, which reported that I am retiring from running this website, KentAdvice, and probably my involvement in education. It looks across the seventeen years the site has run, at some of the highlights and key issues that have featured.

Can I begin by thanking the many correspondents, both parents and professionals, who have sent messages of appreciation following my initial article, with two very different messages: firstly from the many families who have written to thank me for the advice and information on the site and/or my consultation service, from which they have benefitted;  and secondly as summarised by a headteacher - ‘Your tenacity in ensuring no stone was left unturned in exposing situations that were harming the educational chances of Kent children needs to be applauded.

As well as the website and my consultation service, I have also worked extensively behind the scenes with some schools, together with individual governors, headteachers, staff and parents, where there have been problems in their institutions. These have all contributed to my unique insight into schools across Kent and Medway.

Friday, 14 January 2022 01:59

My Retirement from www.kentadvice.co.uk

Please Note: This item was first published on 16th December 2021. 
It is with some sadness that I have decided to retire from KentAdvice after 15 years of running the website and its predecessor. This is partly because I am no longer able to keep up with the increasing amount of material that presents itself, but mainly because I recognise the time is right for me.
The Government and KCC have now jointly decided that the proposed Park Crescent Academy in Margate is to be dropped as it is ‘no longer required, as I have been arguing almost alone for nearly two years, through a series of articles analysing the multiple defects in the project, including the failures in forecasting pupil population in Thanet. 

The reason given for the cancellation is that secondary student numbers in Thanet have dropped well below the levels predicted when the school was originally proposed in 2015. This was obvious in October 2019, when Sir Paul Carter, then Leader of KCC and in his last decision before stepping down from the role, vetoed the proposal on the grounds that ‘population numbers had not risen as fast as forecast’, against the advice of his officers who have championed this project, apparently unquestioningly, throughout.  In February 2020 his decision was reversed again by Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System (who would soon have a new Policy Advisor, Dr Jo Saxton)  on the interesting grounds that, although there was no need for a new school on grounds of numbers, the quality of some current secondary provision in Thanet was of poor quality and it was important to offer choice!

KCC, under its new education leadership, and Baroness Barran, the new Minister for the School System, have now agreed that the project should be cancelled for the second time, again on the grounds that there is no need for it, according to a press release from KCC on 6th December this year, ! There is no mention of the central reason given by Lord Agnew for reinstating the project, because of problems with current quality of provision, nor that the planning application had proposed a wholly impracticable school on a site that that even KCC acknowledged was constricted or constrained where space is at a premium, as I have demonstrated here

Following an FOI Request I can confirm that the cost of the land for the new school was £6.8 million and there are no constraints, apart from Planning Permissions, on how the land is to be used. See below. The next question I am chasing is how much the aborted project cost Kent taxpayers. Perhaps relevant Councillors may like to try and find out also!

Update with the View of Leigh Academies Trust, below.

Leigh Academies Trust, which took over the failed Brook Learning Trust, is consulting on plans to change the nature of Hayesbrook School, once the flagship of the Trust but now struggling badly.

Hayesbrook is one of just two single sex boys’ schools in the county, and the proposal is for it to also admit girls. A press release issued on Monday gives the main reason as being its unpopularity with families, quoting the data in my article ‘Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Non-Selective Schools 2021’, which shows it having  the third lowest number of admission first choices in the county. The press release goes on to claim that the unpopularity is because it is a boys' school, although my analysis below suggests this is only part of the picture.

Hayesbrook 1

The reality is that Hayesbrook School has been badly managed for several years, as I identified in an article earlier this year, when looking at the appalling Brook Learning Trust which has now handed its three schools over to Leigh. It has already decided to close one of them, High Weald Academy, whilst Ebbsfleet Academy, after a disastrous period under a 'no excuses' headteacher, appears to be slowly settling down and then there is Hayesbrook! What a turnaround from 2015, when it achieved the highest GCSE performance in the county for non-selective schools (excluding three highly selective church schools). In January this year it had 368 pupils in Years 7-11, less than half the capacity 755, and so had to subsist on a handout from KCC of £297,000.

Back in 2017 the Trust's auditors expressed significant doubts about whether it could continue to operate unless finances improved, as confirmed by the Trustees. The warning was repeated the next year, but then Brook Learning Trust's response was to deny everything, change auditors so that there were no further doubts expressed, and sit tight until the money ran out, which appears to be the case at both Hayesbrook and High Weald.  

Friday, 26 November 2021 19:23

'The Secret Headteacher' is no More

Once upon a time there was a Kent headteacher who sought to justify her failure after running her school into the ground through a 'Tough Love' approach. She did this by first of all publicly verbally abusing the parents, especially the 'white working class', which must have been an embarrassment to all at the school, then making a variety of false claims about it as I have demonstrated in several articles, most recently here. This was presumably her revenge on the school which, under her leadership had become one of the most unpopular in Kent. She then joined what she claimed in an article in a national newspaper was a ' flood of UK teachers leaving state education for private schools abroad', although over two years later I have seen no evidence of this. 

During her headship, I received more concerns expressed about the way she led the school than any other in Kent,  including too many calls for help from parents trying to find their children alternative schools. Surely uniquely, I also received concerns expressed from staff and ex staff at the school she then joined, in Mallorca. To complete her revenge she wrote a book, The Secret Headteacher, whose proposed publishers claimed had an anonymous author, which was about 'Turning around one of Britain's toughest schools (completely untrue), 'An unputdownable true account of how one tenacious headteacher led one of the worst schools in the country to excellence' (completely untrue). After several delays in producing this fictional account, it has now finally been junked by the publishers and so thankfully  won't see the light of day. 

 The title quotation from the new Ofqual Regulator, Dr Jo Saxton, heads a profile of her contained in Schoolsweek last week. A few months ago, the same website also recorded a comment that  In the past, being a close confidante and policy adviser to the secretary of state for education would be seen as a straightforward disqualification for a non-ministerial departmental role like this, but clearly the civil service recruitment panel and Gavin Williamson has taken a different view’, and so has had to walk a difficult path in focusing on her virtues. 

The profile begins with a reference to her role as CEO of Turner Schools, which she co-founded, and which is the subject of several critical articles on this site countering the many extravagant claims she has made for the academy Trust, as she sought the headlines with no semblance of hiding away in an attic.

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