Supporting Families
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Peter Read

This article looks at three communications from Kent County Council to headteachers, addressing issues about  grammar school admissions and appeals at this time of Coronavirus.

The first is a letter sent to schools regarding the timing of the 2020 Kent Test for grammar school suitability in 2021, currently planned for September. 

I also look at two separate items relating to grammar school places for this September for some children. The first of these is about problems at appeal regarding unsuccessful Headteacher Assessments caused through the crisis; the second looks at late applications and testing.

An article in Kent Online records the particular challenge faced by the new Ebbsfleet Green Primary School, due to open in September. This one form entry school (increasing to two as demand grows due to new housing) which will be admitting children into nursery, reception, year 1 and year 2 classes was going to begin with temporary classrooms on site, before moving into the permanent premises in September 2021. 

However, the builders, Kier, are reported to be behind schedule on the temporary buildings which will not now be ready for September. As a result the school, to be run by the Maritime Academy Trust, is to open in spare classrooms at Bligh Primary School in Strood. 

One can only wonder how many other major building projects across Kent and Medway are similarly stalled. I am hearing rumours of one new school not opening at all for September.

Update 7th September: I have now posted a new article looking at considerable problems with the site of the new school. 

Rather belatedly, this article looks at the government decision to overturn Paul Carter’s veto on a new secondary school in Thanet, originally explored here. This decision was received by KCC in a letter on February 13th.

As a result, the new school, provisionally called Thanet Skies Academy, will built on the somewhat restricted site of the old Royal School for the Deaf in East Margate. It is planned to open in September 2022 as a six form entry 11-16 Free School, sponsored by the Howard Trust based in Medway.

You will find much more detail about oversubscription and vacancies in Kent primary school allocations here,  Medway primary school allocations for 2019 here

There is good news for most Kent families applying for reception class places in primary schools this year although, with 88.3% of families offered their first choice school, this is the lowest proportion since 2016.  However, 97.4% of families have been offered one of their three choices, coincidentally the same percentage as in 2019 and 2017. Sadly, that still leaves 457 children with no school of their choice. Altogether, the number of Kent pupils offered places through the scheme is 17,411, up by 125, but less than 1% on the 2019 figure. These details are contained in the Press Release

In Medway, more than 88% of children have again been offered their first choice school, with 97.9% being offered a school on their application form, both figures similar to 2019. 74 children were offered no school of their choice, again, almost the same as in 2019, when there were 75. In total there was an increase of 78 pupils offered places from 2019,   with a total of 3491. Most of these details are contained in the Press Release

This year is of course very different from any other because of Coronavirus, with all schools currently closed.  As a result you will probably not be able to contact them directly to raise concerns over admissions. Nevertheless,  you should still accept the school you have been offered. It can do you no damage if you then pursue places elsewhere. Then follow as normal the advice below on what to do if you have not received a school or any school of your choice and wish to be reconsidered at one or more of these. 

You will also find information and advice on appeals below and  here. In summary, if your school is one of the overwhelming majority where Infant Class Legislation applies, I am afraid that chances of success are negligible. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2020 18:35

School Appeals and Coronavirus: Part 3

Note: This article has been overtaken by School Appeals in Kent & Medway, and Coronavirus: Part 4 which explores implications of the new emergency regulations. 
Update: 23/4/20: See new article that also looks at HTAs in Grammar School appeals. 
The government has now issued further guidance to Local Authorities and Admission Authorities relating to school appeals during the Coronavirus crisis. It is broadly consistent with my previous article which has been widely read and triggered enquiries from across the country, although to clarify I have no official status and am unable to interpret government advice with inside information. That article also offers advice to families offered an appeal hearing which considers written material.
 
The guidance does differ from a view in my previous article by giving priority to appeals held in person, by telephone, video conference and playing down the written evidence option which I anticipate will be widely used in Kent an Medway (explained below). The latter should only be considered if appeals cannot be held in person due to social distancing and then only if not everyone has access to the necessary equipment or  appellants are unable to participate in a hearing by telephone or video conferenceIn practice, I consider the great majority of Kent and Medway appeal hearings will fall into the written information category, given the large number of appeals for some Kent and Medway schools, as well as the added complexity of those for grammar school places. This may well be different from many other parts of the country, where numbers of appeals for individual schools ma\y be far fewer. 
 
I have previously discussed the issues surrounding the video conferencing and telephone hearing approach, and the government advice does nothing to dispel my concerns for local families if this approach were to be adopted. 
Sunday, 05 April 2020 11:43

The Secret Headteacher

You will find an important new article here, written in December 2020. 
This is the first of two articles about the Brook Learning Trust, looking at a new book entitled ‘The Secret Headteacher’, to be published in August about one of its schools.  The original advertising puff claims it to be
The true story of how a no-nonsense headteacher turned around one of the country's worst schools. The Secret Headteacher has spent the last 27 years in teaching, before which she spent 4 years in the police. This is the first memoir from a UK teacher to be published. Under the leadership of TSH, the school she led had a well-reported journey in turning around its reputation as one of the country's worst-performing schools, resulting in an Ofsted report judging the school "good".

There were just a few problems with this: (1) There is no secret; it’s about Alison Colwell, until last summer head of Ebbsfleet Academy, according to an advertisement for the book, reproduced below, although other advertising claims it is by ‘Anon’; (2) It was certainly not one of the worst performing schools in Kent before she took it over, let alone in the country - it was without any form of bad reputation at the time, and was in any case improving strongly before she was parachuted in as head; (3) Ofsted missed key indicators of decline during her leadership, including large numbers of families removing their children from the school, large numbers of families annually placed in the school who never applied for it, and high staff turnover - this is when the bad reputation set in; (4) ‘The first memoir of a UK headteacher’ – unbelievable; (5) ‘well reported’ refers to two puff articles in The Times and Sunday Times, the second being what, in my opinion, was a disgracefully unprofessional performance by the headteacher;  (6) I received more complaints about this school from families, than any other school in Kent during much of this time; (7) ‘confrontational’ is a better word than ‘no-nonsense’.

Sunday, 05 April 2020 13:00

School Appeals and Coronavirus: Part 2

Update 16th April: I have now published a further item on this theme picking up the latest government guidance here

 I am pleased to report that government has now released an initial statement on how appeals should be organised this summer, looking at three different approaches to setting up arrangements. If there is a choice it will be the most appropriate for each school’s individual needs, but  I believe most Kent and Medway schools will opt for decisions to be made on the basis of written evidence submitted by families and the school itself. Further, it appears to me that this option can already be made legitimate with a few tweaks as explained below, according to the government’s own School Admission Appeals Code.

I look at the government statement and its implications below.

Note on Coronavirus: There are various references to school admission appeals in this article, based on normal expectations . At the time of writing there is no information about  the procedure to be adopted this year, except that it has to be very different from normal, as explained here

The number of Kent grammar school places available for Year Seven pupils has risen by 70 places overall since last year, to 5,540, with a total increase of 610 over the past five years.  The main changes are 30 additional places at each of three North West Kent grammars, Gravesend and Wilmington Boys & Girls grammars, together with a reduction of 30 places at Tunbridge Wells Boys (but may well be reversed at appeal time). The number of places offered before appeals is 5,417, up by 195 from 5,212 in 2019. A major cause for this is an increase in the total pass rate for grammar selection from 25.7% in 2019 to 26.6% for 2020 entry. 

Around 400 of the Kent grammar school places offered, or 7% (down from 8% in 2019) of the total, went to pupils from outside of the county (ooc), with 154 Kent pupils (down from 223) going to out of county grammars, mainly in Medway. 150 ooc pupils coming in were offered places at the two Dartford Grammar schools with the pressure on places at these two schools continuing to rise inexorably.  Dartford Grammar School had an astonishing 409 grammar qualified first choices turned down for its 180 places, up from 336 in 2019.  The next most popular schools were unsurprisingly Dartford Girls, The Judd School, Skinners, Tonbridge Grammar, and Wilmington Boys, in the same order as 2019. The number of vacancies has fallen sharply from 217 in 2019 to 123 this year across six schools.     

Chatham House 2   Dane Court 

Thanet is a surprising black spot for grammar school applications, with Dane Court and Chatham & Clarendon turning down 79 grammar qualified first choices between them. At least 47 of these had no alternative local grammar school to meet their needs. This follows a sharp raise in the proportion of Thanet children being assessed selective from 19% in 2018, to 23% this year. 

I look below at the outcomes by area in more detail, including levels of oversubscription and vacancies. you will find full details of the 2019 Kent selection process here

This article looks in some detail at the allocation of secondary school places in Kent for September 2020. Particular themes are: the pressure on places in Ashford, Canterbury, Gravesham, Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells; the increased polarisation of choices, especially in Dover, Sittingbourne and Thanet; and the provision or otherwise of new schools to meet rising pupil numbers. For unexplained reasons, Kent County Council is no longer taking planned housing into account when considering future provision. This decision will inevitably create further pressures in years to come. 

Valley Park 2 

The four most oversubscribed schools are the same as in the two previous years, again led by Valley Park, Maidstone, which turned down 172 first choices. It is followed by King Ethelbert and St George’s CofE in Thanet, then Fulston Manor in Sittingbourne.  There are 494 vacancies across 17 schools, over half of which are in just four, headed up by Folkestone Academy with 86, way ahead of Oasis Isle of Sheppey (66); Astor College (63); and High Weald Academy (54)There were 938 Local Authority Allocations (LAA) which refer to Kent children offered schools they did not apply for. Royal Harbour and Oasis Isle of Sheppey academies each had over a hundred LAAs. Three schools have seen their number of first choices increase by more than 50, headed by two Swale Academy Trust Schools: Whitstable with 86 & Sittingbourne 55, followed by Knole Academy with 51. Going the other way were: St George's Broadstairs losing 62 first choices (but still third most oversubscribed school in Kent); Mascalls (59) and Trinity (50)  

I look more closely below at the situation in each District, along with the most oversubscribed schools and those with most vacancies, together with the impact of out of county offers. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2020 15:11

School Appeals and Coronavirus

This is the first of five articles (so far) exploring the effects of Coronavirus on School Admission Appeals with particular focus on Kent and Medway as the situation has clarified. The most recent, dated 5th May, is here

Update: 5th April: Government statement and further analysis here

II have recently given an interview to BBC SE on the subject of GCSE and A Level, in which I found my self saying for the first time that this is one of those rare occasions when we must put the needs of the nation against the welfare and life chances of the individual. We will need to accept (much easier when you have no personal stake) that whatever decision is reached there will be great unfairness and damage to life chances of too many young people.

There is an urgent need to resolve potential and pressing problems brought about by the Coronavirus, relating to school admission appeals .  Although this is not high up the priorities in the great scheme of things, it is of great consequence for many thousands of families across the country whose children have been offered schools they consider unsuitable and who fear their children's life chances will be seriously damaged as a consequence. Last year there were 3,153 secondary admission appeals in Kent and Medway, of which 855 were successful. Arrangements for appeals in 2020 are already being drawn up by many schools. 

I look below at five options for managing the changed circumstances, but the only piece of advice I can give for parents at present is to carry on as far as possible to prepare for an appeal happening, although I do not see how any form of appeal can take place unless there is considerable change in the regulations. There is also the additional problem caused by the likelihood of schools closing in the near future, which will deprive many families of their support and the opportunity to collect documentation and other evidence to support appeals. 

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