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Peter Read

Update on Kent Appeals 13th May, here.

Letter from Kent Primary Head on Consequences of Schools Re-Opening here

Some issues relating to the Emergency Regulations for School Appeals are now resolving, but the large majority of Local Authorities appear still to be struggling to come to a view. My previous article concluded that these proposals are unworkable in most cases, especially where there are large numbers of appeals or grammar school appeals. This is now the fifth article exploring the situation as it has developed, looking at how it has been interpreted, the previous four all containing considerable detail, along with advice for appellants. I propose to update it as I receive more information, the dates of the latest update being recorded at the top of the article. 

I continue with my view that the Government emergency regulations appear to be solely for the benefit of bureaucrats and show little interest in the challenges faced by families, panellists, clerks or schools. A parallel set of rules published by the Welsh Office was in complete contrast to this and placed families first, but the relevant section appears to have mysteriously vanished, see below!  

There are three approaches allowed for hearing remote appeals. These are: video conference, telephone conference, and written submission of cases and evidence. There is no indication that these different types of hearing can be mixed for a single school’s appeals, but no specific ban, and I have already been told of several schools that are planning to go this way.

In my previous article, written nearly two weeks ago, I described a ‘chink of light’ in an omission by the regulations to be prescriptive about the written submission process. I was delighted to learn yesterday that KCC has just sent out appeal invitations to grammar school appellants using this to the full. I don't know yet if it will be applied to non-selective schools, but anticipate this. Some Kent appeals for other types of school are being heard by audio-conferencing, with clerks establishing whether appellants can manage this. If not there is a fall back to a written submission hearing. 

Further details on all these matters below, including some Local Authorities which have now made decisions (please feel free to add to these).

Overall, there has been little change in Medway primary school admission data since my 2019 article, with an extra 94 children offered local schools bringing the total to 3447, and 45 additional places created.  The proportion of Medway children offered one of their choices in a Medway primary school has remained at 97.4%, coincidentally the same percentage as two out of the last three years. Overall, 12% of places are unfilled, down from 13% in 2019.  

Cliffe Woods Primary has shot up in popularity to become the most oversubscribed school, turning away 50 first choices, edging out last year's leader Barnsole Primary with 49 disappointed first choices. They are followed at some distance by the Academy of Woodlands and All Saints CofE. Barnsole, along with Swingate are the only two of the ten most oversubscribed schools to feature in each of the past three years.  There are eight schools with 15 or more first choices turned away (down from 10 last year), spread across the Authority, and listed in the table below. The most remarkable difference is for St Margaret's Infant School in Rainham, which has turned away 24 first choices for this September, but did not quite fill in 2019.

 Cliffe Woods       Barnsole  St Margarets Infant

 

 I have explored the changes at Greenvale Infant School and Phoenix Junior Academy below , as they have both become all through primary schools, giving an increase between them of 15 places for September. In Chatham, Walderslade and Wayfield primaries have seen their intake double from 30 to 60 places, Two other schools have minor changes in their intakes.  

I look more closely at each Medway area separately, below, links as follows: Chatham; Gillingham; Hoo Peninsula; Rainham; Rochester; Strood, together with the situation for Junior Schools, here 

If there are sections or individual school details that need amplification, please let me know…….

I have now written a further article looking at fresh developments: Coronavirus and School Appeals: Five 

The government has now published temporary regulations for the operation of school admission appeals during the Coronavirus emergency. Not to put too fine a point on it, my personal view is that as set out these are unworkable in Kent and Medway, whose schools held over 10% of all secondary school admission appeals in the country in 2019. The new regulations appear to have been drawn up without regard for the people who matter at this difficult time. Instead, when there was opportunity to be flexible by varying aspects of the non-statutory School Admissions Appeals Code in order to be fair to families, the regulations attempt to force the new circumstances into the existing Code.   

There are three groups of people to consider. Most importantly are the thousands of families, some of whom have spent up to eight months worrying about their children’s futures and all hoping they would get a fair hearing at an appeal which will affect their children’s life chances. Secondly, there are the army of volunteer appeal panellists  who freely give of their time to bring this about, but given no consideration here. Finally, do not forget the shrinking number of administrators whose workload and responsibilities are expanded enormously by the new regulations, but also given no consideration;whose  job is made all the more difficult because schools are closed at this time and access to documentation can be impossible.  

I look in more detail below at the implications for these new Emergency Regulations, mainly as applicable to Kent and Medway.

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.

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