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News & Comments - Kent Independent Education Advice

News and Comments

The latest news posted by Peter J Read; just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the over 1500 regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item, who have gone beyond the headlines to look at the full article.  If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment.

Some more specific items appear in Peter's Blog, so its also worth checking there.  

Please feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk. News items below appear below as and when I have time in a very busy life.

My Retirement from KentAdvice

I announced in two articles lower down the page, that I am winding down this KentAdvice website as from the beginning of the year. However, I have committed to following through some themes which I have started, that move the important notice that I am stepping down further down the page, as is now happening. In addition, issues like the crisis in primary school provision in Ebbsfleet, below, will perhaps arise as in this case when I was approached on the subject by KMTV and carried out some basic research in preparation. The two articles are, firstly My Retirement from www.kentadvice.co.uk, and secondly KentAdvice: Review of Seventeen Years of Support for Families.   

 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.

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.

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.   

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.

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.  

This is an update of an article I previously published last December, following a survey of admission to the Sixth Forms and the largest non-selective school Sixth Forms, which has already been visited nearly six thousand times. I am republishing it as a support for students and their families looking for a Sixth Form course in school in 2022. This edition includes more information and details of further schools who ran larger Sixth Forms in 2020 (I don't have the 2021 information  yet). 

There appears limited advice and information to many Year 11 students on what their Sixth Form options are outside their own school, so a year ago I carried out an extensive analysis, looking at all 38 grammar schools across Kent and Medway and those 37 non-selective (N/S) schools running 6th Forms with an intake of over eighty students in 2019. This article is an update, including looking at nine more N/S schools that met my cut off according to the October 2020 school census. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that over a quarter of 6th form students in both grammar and N/S schools were in different schools for Year 11, with a healthy 15% of the total 6th Form numbers in grammars having transferred from N/S schools.  There is no co-ordinated admission system for 6th Form admission, so students can apply for as many schools as they wish. Whilst the number of external students to be admitted is theoretically capped, individual schools interpret this limitation in different ways, with many never reaching the limit. 

I believe this study is unique but is intended to encourage more young people to reflect and make a decision about what is best for them, rather than just carry on in the same school without making a positive decision, although this will still be right for most. 

The school with by some way the largest 6th Form intake from outside is the non-selective (N/S) Canterbury Academy admitting 294 students from other schools, including 46 from grammar and private schools and 63 from abroad. It is followed in percentage terms by Simon Langton Boys Grammar, also in Canterbury with 160 external students including 86 from other grammar schools.

I look at some of the issues below, including a look across the county by District, what I have long maintained are unlawful conditional offers for entry to school 6th Forms, and the sadly most newsworthy school of all, the debacle at The Rochester Grammar School. I am afraid I am not able look at the wide range of alternative options, the free KM magazine The Next Step covering many of the possibilities.