Supporting Families
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Peter Read

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

Revised 6th June
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. 

Update 11 April: If you wish to apply for the vacant post of Head of School at Folkestone Academy, you will find details here. The 84 point Job Description defining the post-holder's responsibilities shows that Turner Schools has not lost its touch for covering all the bases.    

Update: To add to Dr Saxton's Achievements, below, the number of families putting Folkestone Academy as their first choice school for 2020 has fallen yet again, from 153 in 2019 to 127 in 2020. 23 children, probably all from Folkestone, were allocated to the school, refusing to put it on their application form.

Dr Jo Saxton is leaving her post as co- founder and Chief Executive of Turner Schools, the small Academy Trust in Folkestone, but being paid one of the largest salaries in the country for a Trust of this size. Her departure comes after just three tumultuous and underachieving years and a big vision, along with a huge number of unfulfilled promises including for the two Folkestone secondary schools the fantasy claim: both schools will outperform all schools in the south of England – excluding grammars - and provide “success without selection’.

She had already effectively thrown in the towel a year ago, when she appointed a new Deputy Chief Executive, now her successor, so that 'she could focus on curriculum matters, being the original reason she took on the Turner Schools post’, although I can find no other mention of this focus anywhere else.

TurnerSchools

The news of Dr Saxton's departure was contained in Kent Live published earlier today, 11th March. I have never before received so many emails in half a day informing me of a news item in such a small time. None of them regret her departure.

Kent County Council has recently carried out an external led inquiry into events at and around Holmesdale School in 2018, which I have written about in two previous articles. The first of my articles was in March 2018 after the school had plunged from Ofsted Good to Special Measures in four years under KCC control, although I produced evidence throughout this period that it was going downhill rapidly. The second was in January 2019 based on a series of email exchanges that had been sent me under FOI. These contained serious allegations about KCC actions that amongst other matters left the school without support for much of the previous year, and also attempted to block the appointment of a new headteacher and staff.

Swale Academies Trust has now been running the school since November 2018 and it is greatly improved as a consequence, as explained below, offering a decent education to its children. Those whose education and life chances suffered under KCC control will not be compensated in any way.

KCC has proposed an organisational restructure in the Children, Young People and Education Directorate, following its failures in SEND provision as identified in a highly critical Ofsted Report in January 2019. The post of KCC Director of Director of Education Planning and Access will be deleted, and replaced by two new Directorships. As a result Keith Abbott, the current Director, is being made redundant and leaving his post at Easter. Although Mr Abbott was heavily involved in the Holmesdale debacle, I have been asked by a KCC spokesman to make clear that there is no connection between the two events described in this article. In practice there looks to be no real change in structure, with the new Director - Education taking over Mr Abbott's role and the Assistant Director Disabled Children & Young People Services role being simply upgraded to full Director, in spite of the damning failures in Kent services for children with special needs and disabilities fo which he presumably took some responsibility. 

The children of Delce Academy in Rochester have now hopefully reached a safe haven where they can learn towards a brighter future, after a dreadful time in this school run by the inept Castle Trust. The academy has now been re-brokered with the Inspire Partnership. The latter is a thriving primary Academy Trust which has successfully turned round the Elaine Primary School, also in Rochester, itself having had a torrid life under Medway Council and the now defunct Williamson Trust.

Delce Academy

The Castle Trust CEO, Karen White, who as head of Delce Junior School had previously spoken out passionately against the merging of Junior and Infant Schools led the school to a foolish decision to go into competition with its own linked Infant School. It did this by setting up its own Infant section, which unsurprisingly has failed to attract pupils given the poor reputation of the Junior section. In a previous article on Delce as it plunged into Special Measures down from Good,  I wrote 'My previous article portrays an arrogant Academy Trust and Junior School that have decided to extend into the Infant sector without the necessary skills'. Government has now decided Castle Trust's leadership was so awful it has re-brokered Delce, although the new Trust now has a challenge to sort out the school's contribution to provision in Rochester. 

Meanwhile the Barnsole Primary Trust in Medway appears to have ditched its CEO who, as Headteacher had led Barnsole Primary to its Ofsted Outstanding Status and regular powerful Key Stage Two results. However, both its mainstream schools have now plunged in terms of performance over the past two years. According to a statement, governors are looking for a way forward, probably with the eight primary school Maritime Academy Trust based in Greenwich.  

Although the two mainstream schools in the Barnsole Trust: Barnsole and  Bligh primaries, have performed well in the past, their 2019 Key Stage Two results were both disastrous. One can only speculate if this is what caused the CEO of Barnsole Primary Trust, 'to take time away from his role as CEO of the Trust',  leaving the Board to 'appoint Mr. Nick Osborne, CEO of Greenwich Maritime Trust, as interim CEO of Barnsole Primary Trust effective immediately'.  

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