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Peter Read

 Latest update here: 2nd February.
The following article opens with a re-print from the 22nd January Edition of Private Eye, under the heading 'T  IS   FOR TORY'
It has been expanded considerably since first publication. 

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Conservative politicians and Telegraph columnists alike have been falling over themselves to praise Kent-based live online lessons service Invicta National Academy since the beginning of term.

The website's daily offering of live video is hardly unique and its reach is not that enormous - one day in January its Twitter account excitedly trilled "a whopping 1,376 users accessed @InvictaAcademy lessons today!" Education programming on Children's BBC, secondary schooling on BBC2 and the Department for Education-funded "Oak National Academy" collection of teacher-made online content are helping tens of thousands more youngsters, as are home learning packages from various subject associations. So why the fawning over a small pop-up tuition website?

The lockdown has forced schools to make radical changes in their procedures and activities, but some are subject to looser rules than others. For example, the private Sevenoaks School has received approval from the government to continue setting its admission examinations for eleven-year-olds over this week and the next, inviting candidates into school. However, I believe this is not just bending the rules it is unlawful!

Sevenoaks School  

A letter to parents indicates that even the school was astonished to be allowed to go ahead. It begins: ‘Unbelievably, we have just received notification from the Department for Education that we can continue to administer admissions tests for entry this September!’. What on earth are state schools supposed to make of this special treatment?

The law is clear. The relevant part states: You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:………attend education or childcare - for those eligible.

In my opinion, testing for selection is not education in any sense, nor do children and families in most cases even fit the criteria for eligibility to attend education if it were. The responsibility for this flagrant breach of the law lies with the government who have chosen to make this an exception and override their own legislation, not Sevenoaks School who were originally prepared to cancel the exams in line with lockdown.  

Children born in the first quarter of the school year 1 September 2009 and 31 August 2010, have performed much better in the 2020 Kent selection procedure than those born in the fourth quarter between June and August.

It is some years since I previously analysed Kent Test results by the month of birth of children sitting the Test and found little difference at that time between performance across different ages. Given the built-in disadvantages for some children brought about by the Coronavirus crisis this year, the decline in the pass rate was no great surprise, except that the difference was almost the same in 2018. The reason for the fall in performance is therefore not to do with Coronavirus as I initially suspected, but appears to be caused by inherent problems with the Kent Test age standardisation, which is surely neither fair nor acceptable.

This article follows on from my previous: ‘Kent Test 2020, Initial Results and Comment’, published in October and is written in the shadow of issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Evidence for KCC’s commitment to do 'All That is Practical and Possible to Address all Forms of Disadvantage' is hard to find. I have, for the first time, separated out the performance of Kent state and privately educated children, who in many cases will have had a different experience of schooling in this unique year.
The main outcomes include, for Kent state school children:
A fall of nearly 10% in the number of both boys and girls taking the Kent Test.
A fall from 25.1% to 24.1% in the number of state school children being found of grammar school masks the  8% decline in the boys’ success rate, by a total of 165 boys,  with the number of successful girls increasing by 52.
A fall of 9% in the Headteacher Assessment pass rate is equally spread across boys and girls, but girls continue to have the highest referral and pass rates with 10% of girls in Canterbury succeeding at HTA, as usual by some way the highest rate in Kent.
The biggest district falls in pass rates are in Dover, Gravesham, Swale and Thanet, all areas of higher than average social deprivation. 
Not for the first time, St Joseph's Catholic Primary in Northfleet is amongst the usual crop of West Kent schools with the highest pass rate in the county, along this year with Blean and Wickhambreux in Canterbury, Bodsham CofE in Ashford, Sheldwich near Faversham and Tunstall in Sittingbourne.   
60 more girls, privately educated in Kent schools, were found selective than in 2019  contributing to an increase from 9.2% to 10.4% of successful candidates coming from private schools. There has also been a large increase in the number of out of county girls taking and passing the Kent Test. 
In summary, girls especially those privately educated, have done best out of the altered arrangements, whilst children in less prosperous areas have fared less well.I look more closely at these and other outcomes, including results for out of county children, the effect of coronavirus on grammar school appeals, and KCCs failure to release data about the performance of children attracting Pupil Premium, all below.
Wednesday, 30 December 2020 06:15

Website Review of 2020

Unsurprisingly the story of education locally in this extraordinary and memorable year has been dominated by Coronavirus, although I have focused in my coverage on events unfolding in Kent and Medway, leaving the national picture to others.

Whilst this article reviews some of the many news items I  have published in the past year, I have not considered last week’s lockdown nor the litany of failed and crumbling promises in education matters, even as recently as last week,  offered by Boris Johnson and national government including the quagmire of U-Turns and storm of decisive impossibilities laid down by Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education, all of which have been ruthlessly demolished elsewhere. 

The most read news story on this site over the past year is, surprisingly to me, the events leading up to the dismissal of the Headteacher of St Thomas’ Catholic Primary and the departure of the CEO of the Kent Catholic Schools Trust (See update below). Otherwise, and unsurprisingly, news items about the Kent Test and grammar schools dominate both my list of most-read articles and also the further set of information articles. Each of these is updated annually and headed up by the 2020 version of Kent Grammar School Applications. That article has now been read by 374,859 browsers over the past ten years, not including my 2250 subscribers. All information articles are listed in the right-hand column of this page.

Just before the end of the year, I received census figures for Kent schools, some of which I have incorporated in the items below, a fuller article to come as it reveals some interesting facts about Kent and Medway schools as usual.

Update 22/01/21: In the pyramid of power above the Griffin Schools Trust, are complex commercial companies including Capital Talent, Ltd, described as 'a consultancy service with a difference'. One of its Directors, Liz Lewis holding between 25% and 50% of the company shares, and one of the founders of Griffin, has resigned as a 'person of influence' of the Trust. Capital Talent, influential and powerful in the affairs of Griffin, has just two Directors, Ms Lewis and her partner, Ange Tyler.   

Update 22/12/20: An excellent article by a local website The View from Bradwell Common builds on this and offers much more detail.

Update 23/12/20: The investigative website, Education Uncovered, run by Warwick Mansell has published three articles about Stantonbury in the least two months, two in the last two days: (1), (2)(3), (4). Amongst other matters, they look at the large sums of money passing between the Trust and its associated companies, and transactions lying outside the rules for running academies.   

Although Stantonbury International School is in Buckinghamshire, not Kent or Medway, I have followed its misfortunes for some years, as it is run by the Griffin Schools Trust which had its origins in Medway. My most recent article, posted less than a month ago, explored its continued failures since being placed in Special Measures by Ofsted earlier this year, and expressing the view that the school should be taken away from Griffin Trust because of their long term incompetence, arrogance and downright lies to parents.

Stantonbury

Earlier today, the CEO and Chairman of Trustees of Griffin Schools Trust wrote a letter to parents at the school informing them ‘that the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State wrote to us yesterday to communicate her decision to re-broker Stantonbury International School to a new sponsor’. In typical style, there is no hint of an apology for damaging the education of a generation of pupils, indeed they begin with the claim that ‘We have sent documentary evidence of the improvements we have worked so hard together to put in place since 2016’ , in spite of the multitude of contrary views, including those expressed by Ofsted, the Regional Schools Commissioner in warning letters and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State herself (see below). It continues with: ‘The RSC will determine the timing and choice of sponsor, but has given us to understand that she expects the process to be complete by July 2021’, which appears an inordinate time to leave over 1500 children in the care of an organisation that appears incapable of keeping them safe, let alone providing a proper education.

However, the real shocker comes in a breathtaking statement by the Trust to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in its attempt to head off closure. I would have previously thought the following unbelievable and it makes my previous examples of arrogance fade into insignificance: 'Leaders are not able easily to provide data and records of impact. This evidence finding takes up too much of their valuable time'. In other words, they cannot even be bothered to make an effort to save their positions. On the evidence of that statement alone, the Trustees have shown their utter uselessness and incompetence and that they should not be in charge of the education of children. They need urgently to have their valuable time for other matters freed up, provided these are not to do with the welfare of children and, faced with the evidence, the Griffin Trust should be closed down completely. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:15

Coronavirus Jottings

23rd December: I tried to write an article speculating what would happen to schools in January, but have given it up as an impossible task. Happy Christmas and my sincere best wishes for 2021 to all who are responsible for delivering an education to Kent and Medway children.  

The BBC has an excellent description of the chaos that is following the latest government knee jerk reactions to the beginning of a surge in Coronavirus cases. This particular U-Turn totally wipes out any rationale for the threats this week of legal action against schools and Local Authorities for closing schools early, and the issuing of fines to parents for keeping their children at home either through fear or to do their best to keep coronavirus free for Christmas. I cannot imagine what school leaders are going through as they grapple with the consequences over the 'holiday' (18/12).   

 Mass testing updates below (17/12, 18/12).

By the time you read this, it will be out of date, as headteachers and Local Authorities grapple with a rapidly changing situation in wider society and their own schools. Large numbers of staff and pupils are often absent for periods sometimes repeatedly, either with covid itself or self-isolating. Decisions are made in the spotlight with parts of society, including government, very ready to blame schools for decisions at variance with their own ideas, and now controlling media.

The Secretary of State for Education, in spite of his failures during the year, seeks ever tighter control of schools and has introduced new coronavirus related legislation, including the Temporary Continuity Direction. This enables him to force schools to remain open, yet another potential breakdown in relationships and trust and has enabled him to require Greenwich Council to backtrack on its decision to advise all local schools to close for the last four days of term. Islington and Waltham Forest councils have also told schools to move to remote learning and have been sent warning letters from the Department for Education, with the TCD to follow if they do not comply.

Quite understandably the government is concerned about the effect of a fractured attendance pattern on children’s education and mental health, over the past nine months and into the indeterminate future. Unfortunately, it has forgotten three important lessons which should have been learned. Firstly that local situations are usually best delegated to local people, secondly that in a rapidly changing scene, rigid policies can be heavily wrongfooted, and thirdly that the Education Department has a track record of getting it wrong.

The latest attendance figures released by the Department of Education show a frightening decline in attendance figures for last week, with just 55% of secondary aged pupils in Kent and 53% in Medway attending school according to the BBC, with primary attendance around 75%. An increasing number of schools have been forced to close through lack of staff able to attend. Whilst a major part of the absence is likely to be a direct consequence of coronavirus, many families are frightened whilst others are sensibly withdrawing their children from school early to give them a chance of a Covid free Christmas, some of whom have then been threatened with fines for non-attendance. There is nothing like goodwill at Christmas!

To no one’s surprise, the Medway Review process has once again failed the children of Medway for 2021 grammar school admissions. Instead of selecting the target figure of 70 Medway state school children, or 2% of the total cohort, who should have been successful at Review, there were just 12 children picked, which is 0.34% of the cohort. The rules for the procedure make absolutely no concessions for children whose education has suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic raging over the previous eight months, underlined by this being by the second-lowest percentage for many years. The additional penalty for many of the 127 Medway children who were unsuccessful at review is that, apart from at Chatham Grammar, the rules do not allow grammar school Appeal Panels to uphold their cases unless there is a fault in process, which there almost never is. Very few (less than five) of the 33 Review requests for children from outside Medway were successful.

I have little new to say about this situation as I have been writing about the reasons why the Medway Test and Review process are unfit for the purpose for many years, most recently here. Sadly, I have not generated any response whatsoever from Medway politicians about why they are content to let this travesty continue unreformed. However, I do explore further details of outcomes below and examine the sharp rise in Out of County passes.

This article follows on from my initial analysis of Medway Test results here, which also highlights the scandal of the gross imbalance between opportunities for girls and boys at Medway grammar schools once again.  

Updated here, 2nd Feb 21.

I have written a number of times previously about the dreadful period when Ebbsfleet Academy was led by Alison Colwell. The previous occasion was back in April, about a book she has written, to be published under the title ‘The Secret Headteacher’ early next year, although there was little secret as her name was given openly in a Publisher’s blurb at the time.

My article demonstrated clearly that most of the claims made about the book are completely false, but this did not stop The Sunday Times repeating these two weeks ago, in its second plug for the book. This begins: ‘It has the makings of a Hollywood block­buster - a story about a failing school where the unsupervised children of angry parents roam the corridors, only for a new head teacher to take the place by the scruff of its neck and mould it into a model academy’. Absolute rubbish!

Just before she left Ebbsfleet, Ms Colwell chose to make an astonishing attack on the parents of a school where she had, according to the advertising blurb, ‘spent seven wonderful years’, which I examined in another article entitled ‘Ebbsfleet Academy: Parents rubbished by departing Principal’ demolishing yet more claims. She has now moved on to run the small private Baleares International College, Sa Porrassa, on the island of Mallorca. I look at all these issues, including how she is getting on in her new school, below.

Update: 18th December. One can only wonder if the government threatened MGS for planning this before it proposed all secondary schools should be closed for the first week of term and made it irrelevant!

Maidstone Grammar School leaders are delaying opening next term by two days and will provide remote learning for their pupils instead. This is because they can see potential but unpredictable problems arising from Brexit transport issues, exacerbated by Maidstone’s notorious traffic congestion, to the extent that staff and pupils may struggle to get to school in good time. This will enable the school to plan effectively for an ordered return, rather than having to manage a potentially chaotic situation.

MGS3

However, Kent County Council has strongly criticised the decision on the grounds it is unnecessary for ‘the problems are less likely to impact on Maidstone than some other areas, and staff and pupils can arrange for alternative transport arrangements, such as walking, cycling, train, bus, and car share’. Presumably, KCC is confident that all its officers who work at the Maidstone headquarters will also be able to attend punctually and without difficulty through such alternative arrangements, which would indeed undermine the school’s case.  However, today’s coronavirus news, along with the Christmas relaxation, means that a  surge in the pandemic is surely likely in January, strengthening the case for the decision.

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