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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 800 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.

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 schedule supporting clients.

News Update: I have been contacted by a number of Thanet families whose children were found selective but not offered grammar school places because they live too far away and the grammar schools are full. They were placed on waiting lists, but have been shocked to be moved further down the list. This is because, at the recent admission appeals, several non-selective children were found to be of grammar school ability. The rules require that they are also added to the waiting list and if they live closer go ahead of those already on it! I have previously looked at the dire situation in Thanet here,  with several of these families being offered one of the county's least popular schools. Sadly I have nothing positive to suggest.  

I am starting to receive some feedback on school admission appeals for Kent families, decided on the basis of written submissions only,  although most are happening very late in the year and many have not yet happened. This method is likely to have been the norm for both KCC Panels and other organisations running appeals where there are multiple appeals for a school. It is in my view the only practical way forward for grammar school and probably other multiple appeals as I identified here back in April. However, it is a variation breaking with the hopelessly impractical model outlined by the government, which I described as 'a chink of light in the regulations'.  The use of written submissions only was put forward as one of three possible options, the other two being telephone and video conferencing.    

Most appellants appear content with this process whatever the outcome, it being far less stressful than the 'normal' appeals of previous yearsespecially in the view of families who have past experience of these. Others are looking to challenge the outcome on grounds that it was very different from the model laid down by the government, as explained here.  However, as I concluded in that article, the model is not obligatory, so such a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

I have not yet heard of the experience of local families encountering telephone or video conferencing for multiple appeals, although KCC appears to be using the former for some individual appeals and I look below at one such in-year hearing. I will update this article as and if I receive further reports of different experiences.  

OFSTED DEFINITION OF OFF-ROLLING
Off-rolling is the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion when the removal is primarily in the best interests of the school, rather than the best interests of the pupil. This includes pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school roll.

It can happen in any type of school, as I demonstrated a few years ago when I exposed the Invicta Grammar Sixth Form scandal which went national and resulted in the government being forced to clarify the existing law although I suspect it still continues in a few cases, notably Holcombe Grammar, below.  

A major pointer to off-rolling taking place is a large percentage fall in pupil numbers for a school between the start of Year 10 and January of Year 11 along with, or alternatively, high Elective Home Education numbers (EHE).  The importance of the January date is that after this, pupils leaving the school will have their GCSE performance (or absence) counted in official outcomes even with the new Coronavirus arrangements. I have no proof that off-rolling is the key reason for the sharp falls in pupil numbers identified below, but it is a reasonable suspicion. 

Twelve Kent and two Medway schools lost from 7% to 13% of their cohort in this way this year, five of them for at least two years running. 

I have also given figures for the change between Year Seven and Year Eleven for these schools, which, in some cases should certainly be raising questions, as was the case a few years ago with Holmesdale School then under KCC control. This signposted a school falling apart at the seams, although KCC failed to notice, and I am delighted that it now appears on the way back again under different control. Although Ofsted now has responsibility for identifying schools where off-rolling occurs, I have as yet seen no evidence of this in relevant Reports locally. 

REMEMBER TO REGISTER FOR THE KENT TEST BY 1ST JULY 

Kent County Council ‘has been contingency planning ever since schools were forced to close on March 20th, to see what adjustments might be needed to the Kent Test process in different situations as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded’. As a result of all this planning, it has decided simply to postpone the test by five weeks, subject to approval by the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills after 20th July. If matters develop then KCC will think of something else. You will find full details here

Unfortunately, the current plan will heavily penalise all those children whose families cannot afford or otherwise arrange for extensive private tuition to make up for the absence of school curriculum time over the second half of this school year, and bar those who miss the Test in the case of a second wave of the pandemic, or for other connected reasons, such as being placed in quarantine or simply through fear. Private schools with a focus on securing places at grammar school for their pupils will now be able to concentrate on preparing their pupils for the Kent Test over the five or six weeks of the autumn term preceding it. Kent state schools are forbidden to do this. 

This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.”

Update 13th July: Supporters of Mrs Aquilina have launched an online petition entitled 'Keep our Headteacher at St Thomas's and prevent a KCSP cluster with other schools'. I have also been sent a comment written by the Kent Catholic Schools Trust. You will find my thoughts on these below

Last month (14th June), all I knew about St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, was that it had an Outstanding Ofsted Report dating back to 2014, was an averagely performing school in terms of Progress levels, usually had one of the highest proportion of pupils in the county passing the Kent Test (dipping in 2019), and just about filled in most years. I then published an article about the travails of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) and the ‘unexpected absence’ of its Chief Executive. Leading on from this I was informed about the crisis at the school, a member of the Partnership. The headteacher, Mrs Aquilina, had been placed on Special Leave until the end of the academic year as the Partnership’s ‘Immediate priority as a Trust must be the children and staff of St Thomas’. This is now a major revision of the article I wrote to follow up the Pandora’s Box of outcomes that emerged followed this revelation, including the ‘voluntary absence’ of her husband, Father Aquilina, from his parish. 

St Thomas Sevenoaks

Between them, the two articles have now clocked up over  22,000 visitors in less than a month, an unprecedented number over the 15 years this site has been in existence. The host of comments at the foot amplify a number of the issues. I have reorganised the comments posted after the two articles to the one most appropriate for the content and have indicated where this has happened, although they are no longer in full date order. Items specific to the Partnership are now being transferred to the original article for clarity.

The St Thomas’ story continues below. I also look at the intriguing story of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which appears to have played a significant part in the background, although not of direct relevance to the absence of Mrs Aquilina.

If you have safeguarding concerns affecting a child at any school, contact Social Services here

17th June: A flurry of media interviews, including KMTV here, focusing on the Medway Test. 
 
Updated with Reference to Medway Test
Kent primary school headteachers are now being consulted by KCC on the nature of assessment for grammar school selection this year. Whilst there are various options, the key element of the consultation is whether to delay the Kent Test until mid-October, with consequent changes to the admission process as outlined in a previous article
 
Medway Council has also announced its decision to delay the Medway Test until October 13th and 14th. See below.  
 
Sadly there is no consideration or mention of the position of disadvantaged and Pupil Premium children, who currently make up 10% of the Kent Year Seven grammar school cohort, and 11% in Medway. It is clear that the nature of any decisions in line with this consultation and the Medway decision to delay will not only strongly disadvantage the chances of these disadvantaged children in the selection process, at the expense of those who have been intensively coached or from private schools. In a previous article I wrote:
There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
Under the Kent proposal and Medway decision the reverse would be true. Grammar schools would inevitably see a considerable increase in numbers of children from private schools and those heavily tutored, at the expense of those who have suffered from a limited education since March 23rd through no fault of their own. In Medway this will certainly be the case. 

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education has said:  "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.” There is no sign whatever of any intervention or even awareness of this pledge in the Kent consultation or Medway decision. This is an abject failure by both Authorities to honour this pledge. 

The Campaigning website Comprehensive Future has criticised a single phrase in the last section below in a dedicated article here. Whilst hardly groundbreaking, I do not accept the criticism which is based on an inept and complete misreading of their own dodgy data and have responded here.  
There are considerable concerns over the opportunities for disadvantaged pupils in this year’s grammar school selection process, whatever form this takes. Nationally and in Kent and Medway there is remarkable consistency over the statistics for the last four years. The national percentage for Pupil Premium children in Year Seven of grammar schools is 8% of the total in each of January 2017-2019, with Kent being 9% (10% in 2020) and Medway 12% falling to 11% in 2019.
 
The four Kent grammar schools with the highest proportion of PP children currently in Year Seven, are those in Dover and Folkestone that offer local tests as an additional route of entry to grammar school. These are Dover Boys (22%); Dover Girls (20%); Folkestone Girls and Harvey both 19%. Lowest are Tonbridge (2%); Judd, Skinners, and Tunbridge Wells Girls, all with 3% PP. Highest in Medway in January 2019 were Chatham, Holcombe, and Fort Pitt, all with 15%. Lowest were Rainham Mark and Rochester (see below) with 8%.  Further details below.
 
There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
 Update 29 June: The proposed Review of the Trust (see below)  has been postponed to a later date.
 
With over 9,000 visitors in the three weeks since this article has been published, it is by some way the most popular article on this site this year.
 
The controversial Chief Executive of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) is 'unexpectedly away for his duties at present' and is reported to have been removed from his post. Whilst the Trust states that he remains an employee the discrepancy could well be explained by his being on gardening leave whilst arrangements are made. The KCSP is an Academy Trust that runs 19 Catholic primaries  and five secondaries out of a total of 26 primary and six secondary Catholic schools in the county. Clive Webster, the CEO, was paid an annual salary of £155-160,000 in 2018-19, above the level where the Department for Education warns Academy Trusts about high pay . 
KCSP Logo

A letter from the Partnership to me (4th June) states: ‘Thank you for contacting Kent Catholic Schools' Partnership.  I am able to confirm that Mr Webster is unexpectedly away from his duties at present but has not left KCSP and remains an employee of the Trust’. School governors are unable to get any further information and some are naturally very unhappy about this, approaching me on the subject of his departure. This is very surprising as KCSP is normally a highly disciplined organisation. Secrecy about the matter is unlikely to be helpful to anyone, unless discussions about Mr Webster's future are taking place.  

Clive Webster created a national controversy and unhappiness amongst many of the Trust’s primary schools last October when he instructed them not to host the Kent Test for grammar school entrance from this year onward. This decision appears to have been his own initiative and a subsequent letter from the then Archbishop of Southwark publicly reversed it, following an unholy row in the Trust. The depth of the public row over the decision to ban Trust schools from hosting the Kent Test cannot be understated. The Archbishop’s predecessor had earlier publicly blocked another unpopular policy personally championed by Mr Webster, reorganising the Trust structure, including leadership of the individual schools.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020 17:58

More drama at Turner Schools

Update in blue below., about Jo Swash, Vice Principal vanished 'in the night'.  
Since its arrival in Folkestone at the Easter of 2017 under the leadership of CEO Dr Jo Saxton, Turner Schools has indulged in an ad hoc adventure: appointing and removing staff at short notice amidst a flood of changing job titles, along with other multiple changes of direction; low academic standards and unpopular schools; and a massive variation in exclusion rates, at its peak the highest number of any school in Kent. Headteachers have come and gone in attempts to fix the problems, six at Folkestone Academy and another half dozen at Martello Primary, along with a multitude of other senior leaders as changes in the structure become bewildering in their frequency.

Dr Saxton has now moved on to advise Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education in March this year (see below) and Seamus Murphy, her successor as CEO, is wasting no time in making his mark on Turner Schools. Having arrived in April 2019, he is now on his fourth role in the Trust.

One of his early actions on taking on full responsibility has continued the Turner Schools tradition of creating a high turnover of senior staff, with the Executive Principal of the two Trust primary schools departing at very short notice on Friday last, after just one week of Term Six. Monday’s letter informing parents of the decision can be found by a link on Facebook but is well hidden. It is also very short on detail about Mrs Sowden-Mehta who has been at the school for three years, having been promoted twice. In spite of this success, she has very suddenly ‘decided to leave Turner Schools to pursue new opportunities’, a time-honoured phrase used to cover leaders who have been forced out of their schools. The previous Principal of Folkestone Academy has also recently vanished after first being demoted. 

Update July: Jo Swash, Vice Principal has left Folkestone Academy suddenly, my correspondent says'mysteriously'. When I checked this recently here, he was present in the photographs but has now gone, but is still present on the list of all staff, below