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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: 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, and secondly KentAdvice: Review of Seventeen Years of Support for Families.   

 Update: I have now included the correct link to the Consultation Document below and made several additions as a result of comments (9th May). 

Medway Council is now consulting on a proposal to turn three of the five Medway single sex grammar schools into co-educational schools, and increasing the selection rate to reduce the pressure on non-selective school places.   I first considered an early version of this proposal in a previous article, but the consultation document is now published for public comment. It is riddled with false statements. The main falsehood is the claim that there is a shortage of Medway grammar school places for Medway Boys, apparently demonstrated by there being 454 Medway girls in Year 7 of local grammar schools last September and 402 boys. The reasons for the differential  are quite simply:The Medway Test is not fit for purpose and annually allows more girls than boys to pass, 2022 entry being typical with 445 Medway girls and 388 boys being found selective. For 2021 entry, not a single boy who had been unsuccessful in the Medway selection process was offered a Medway grammar school place on appeal. At least 38 girls were offered places. Previous years have a similar pattern.

As a result, because there were insufficient local boys coming forward, Holcombe Grammar topped up with 64 out of county (ooc) boys on allocation this year, mainly from Bexley and Greenwich. The section in the Consultation on ‘How will this impact Medway girls?’, is quite simply a nonsense from beginning to end. Two separate proposals to change Holcombe Grammar to become co-educational have been put to the Schools Adjudicator in recent years. Twice they have been rejected, with myself quoted as the main objector, most recently here. This new proposal presents an even weaker case than these.

This is the heading from the first of a series of articles about pupils with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Kent, published by the campaigning website Shepway Vox, analysing the pressures on the system in the county. It is part of a co-ordinated focus by an investigative network of journalists nationally, called The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, exploring the current crisis in Special Education. The national education website Schoolsweek has published: ‘Investigation: The broken special needs system’. The Kent Messenger Group has published its own article, including a defence of KCC practice by Mark Walker, the Head of the county’s Special Needs Service which seeks to put the blame on everyone else including parents and schools.  This in its turn has led to an open letter from John Whitcombe, CEO of the Swale Academies Trust, to Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education, which is highly critical of KCC’s approach to SEND provision. Currently, there is a deficit in the KCC SEND budget of over £103 million and rising, to the extent that the government has decided to intervene with financial support, but taking some control over KCC's management of the service. The KM article reports that 'The huge shortfall has been attributed to expensive transport taking children miles away from home and an alleged broken tribunal system for failed Educational Health Care Plan applications'.
All this follows a Government Green Paper headed ‘Ambitious reform for children and young people with SEND’, published in March. This is clearly a fast developing story and there is a large amount of material via the above links. The following is therefore deliberately quite brief at present, but I will either update or expand it later.

The number of Reception places offered in Medway primary schools is the lowest since 2014, apart from 2018, despite population numbers rising. Overall, 17 more local children were offered places outside Medway than coming the other way. Two un-needed primary schools have closed their doors which, along with removal of other surplus places has seen a fall of 145 places in the total available. Otherwise, the pattern of offers is fairly similar to that for 2021 admissions, except that the number of Local Authority Allocations has increased to 69, probably as a result of the falling number of places available.  You will find an updated and comprehensive table of allocation data for the last three years in my initial admissions article here.

The most pressured area is the Hoo Peninsula, with three of Medway’s five most oversubscribed schools, two of these in the village of Hoo St Werburgh, with 6% vacancies overall. The most oversubscribed school  for the second year running is The Pilgrim School in Rochester which had 33 disappointed first choices, followed by The Hundred of Hoo all-through Academy, 27, and Barnsole Primary in Gillingham with 23. There are still seven schools with over a third of their places unfilled at this stage, down from 11 in 2021. The same school heads the list for each of the last three years.

I look more closely below at key issues and for each Medway area separately, with links as follows: Oversubscription; Vacancies; Appeals; Out of County Applications;  Chatham; Gillingham; Hoo Peninsula; Rainham; Rochester; Strood, Walderslade, together with the situation for Junior Schools, here

Update: I have now published the full data for Medway Primary School admissions in 2022 here
There is good news for most Kent families applying for reception class places in primary schools this year with 90.2% of families offered their first choice school, the highest proportion for at least ten years. Whilst, sadly, there are still 388 children with no school of their choice, this is still the lowest number for at least the last ten years, the figure gradually decreasing over the years from a hefty 818 in 2012. Most of these details are contained in the 2022 Kent Primary Press Release. The number of Kent children offered places at a Kent primary school is slightly up on past year, otherwise it is the lowest figure since 2014. 

The Medway Council press release offers the usual minimalistic information from which we learn that 3,292 Medway children have been offered school places in or out of Medway, that over 97% were offered a school on their application form and that over 91% were offered their first choice school. It doesn't mention the 69 children offered no school of their choice. For parents wishing to make late or fresh applications to Medway primary schools, the Council's advice is unlawful so don't be put off. I have now received more comprehensive information for Medway allocations, which you will find in the table below

You will also find below information and advice on possible next steps, together with appeals, also covered in more detail 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.

Unfortunately, KCC falsely claimed that it did not have the more detailed information I requested about primary allocations when I submitted an FOI asking for it eight days ago. (see below for details) As a result of this obstruction, the many parents who consult this website annually for information and advice will have to wait longer than usual to find these out. Meanwhile, Medway Council has supplied the parallel information today, and I will publish this as soon as I have analysed it. 

You may find the equivalent picture for 2021 allocations helpful, as it conducts a detailed survey of the issues in each of Kent's 16 Districts. This forthcoming article for 2022 is, year on year, the largest on the website and one of the most read. The equivalent 2021 Medway article is here

The number of places available this year in Kent Non-Selective (N/S) schools has increased by a net 52 places to 13,982, the closure of High Weald Academy and the opening of the new Barton Manor School in Canterbury, cancelling each other out. The number of places offered has increased by 392 to 13,828, leading to a sharp fall in the number of vacancies, down to 154, or 3% of the total. Over half of these are at one school, Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey. The number of vacancies will increase after successful grammar school appeals by parents, which take some 600 children out of the N/S system annually.

The most oversubscribed school this year was the new School of Science and Technology Maidstone, with 156 disappointed first choices, followed by Fulston Manor with 119, St George’s CofE in Thanet with 119, and Canterbury Academy with 103. As always the most difficult town is Tunbridge Wells whose three schools are all heavily oversubscribed.

368 OOC children have been offered places in non-selective schools across the county, Knole Academy and Bennett Diocesan Memorial  each offering over 40 of these, with 297 travelling the other way. 

I explore all these matters further, below, along with the number of vacancies in each school and across each District (there are none at all in Canterbury, Folkestone, Maidstone or Sevenoaks at present), and a look at the Kent academy with a deficit budget of £1.5 million. 

For the second year running the effects of a disrupted education because of Covid have once again had a disproportionate effect on grammar school admissions in the less prosperous parts of the county. This is also highlighted by another year of fewer children who attract Pupil Premium being found selective. Every grammar school in the West and North West of the county is oversubscribed, with Dartford Grammar turning away a record 444 grammar qualified first choices (nearly a hundred more than in 2021) followed by Dartford Girls with 250 (up by 52). There appear to be no plans to expand grammar school provision further in NW Kent, which suggests an imminent crisis in provision. KCC's solution at present is to use places in neighbouring Districts to meet demand (see below).

Altogether there were 5,516 children offered Kent grammar school places within the 5,735 available, capacity increasing by just 30 places over 2021. These included 381  allocated places by virtue of success in one of the additional local tests offered by six schools. There are 220 empty spaces across ten schools before appeals, all in East and Mid Kent, whereas there were just 123 vacancies in six grammars in 2020 at this stage pre-Covid. 45 of the vacancies are at Maidstone Girls Grammar (despite 23 offers to OOC girls). 

I look  at the outcomes by area in more detail below, as well as levels of oversubscription and vacancies. You will find full details of the Kent test outcomes for 2022 entry here

Update Friday 1st February: The Medway Messenger and KentOnline have ignored the real troubling facts I sent them via this article on Tuesday, and instead have followed the false Council line without question. 
In a surprise move, probably the most radical I can recall, the three Medway grammar schools: Chatham Grammar (girls), Fort Pitt Grammar (girls), and Holcombe Grammar (boys) have all announced that they are consulting on becoming co-educational, with effect from 2024. This is because ‘There is currently a shortage of selective places for boys across Medway, which limits opportunities for boys to access grammar education and challenges the sustainability of those schools offering grammar provision for girls’. However, both parts of this quotation are quite simply untrue.  There is no shortage of places for Medway boys with the current Medway Test arrangements, with Holcombe Grammar offering places to 64 boys from outside Medway. The challenge to the sustainability of the girls' grammars is quite simply because  there are too many places in the three girls' grammars and so they all have to try and fill up with girls from outside Medway to solve this.

I have regularly raised the issue of the imbalance of provision between boys and girls since at least 2014, exacerbated by the bias in the Medway Test towards girls, which I described most most recently here as not fit for purpose. However, a balance of provision between boys and girls should always be desirable, but of course does nothing to correct the serious problems with the  Medway test admissions process. A paper for next week’s Medway Council Cabinet completely ignores these problems and wrongly reports that the process selects 23% of the schools population. This is planned to rise to an astonishing  28% of the population as a maximum, on the grounds that this will ease the pressure on non-selective schools. This is a dreadfully ill thought through arithmetical solution to a completely different problem, which will introduce multiple new issues, considered below.  

Note: I am currently awaiting Kent secondary allocation data which will show which grammar schools still have vacancies. 
For entry to grammar school last summer, there were just 119 children who took the Kent Test late between 1st March and 31st August last year, of whom 38 passed. 63 of these children were attending Kent schools with 17 successful. This did not guarantee a grammar school place, but for those that were full, parents still had the right to go to appeal. 

As I have shown previously, Covid has seen a considerable fall in the number of children taking the Kent Test over the past two years, with a previous article showing this was most severe for younger children suffering from a fractured school experience due to Covid in 2020. It might therefore be expected that a larger number of children would apply late in 2021 but, in a more recent article, I explain how parents would have had difficulties navigating the scheme up until this year. During my enquiries into this issue the KCC website has clarified the process in recent months, so that it is now straightforward to make a late application for a grammar school place without previously having taken the Kent Test.  

You will find further details of how to make a late application for 2022 entry here.