Supporting Families
  • banner12
  • banner7
  • banner11
  • banner2
  • banner8
  • banner3
  • banner10
  • banner4
  • banner6
  • banner9
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.   

Hot on the heels of Kent County Council's confirmed arrangements for the Kent Test, as reported in my previous article, the government has now released its formal advice on assessment processes for selective school admissions. This is quoted extensively below in blue and italics. It greatly expands the frameworks set out by KCC and Medway Councils, urging admission authorities to look closely at minimising disadvantage for protected groups, socially and economically disadvantaged children and children who are unable to attend the test centre, as I had hoped KCC itself would. The current KCC proposal heavily discriminates against lower-income families who can't afford private education or extensive private tutoring.  It remains my conviction that, if KCC were to adopt a model such as the one I have proposed before, it would go a considerable way towards meeting the requirement to minimise this acknowledged disadvantage in the current circumstances which has not yet been addressed. However, there is still the flexibility to do so. Medway Council has a more structured procedure for assessing children, but no apparent will to change it as this document advises, so I have little hope that greater fairness will emerge there.  

Several pieces of government advice, considered further below, relate to the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers which is likely to be magnified by their absence from school during the coronavirus outbreak’. In particular, ‘we therefore strongly advise that tests for grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into late October or to November if local admission co-ordination processes allow’. Along with the other recommendations below which now need addressing, this is considerably more radical than the KCC and Medway decisions which place the revised test dates in the first half of October and offer no further mitigation of disadvantage. 

The immense logistical problems faced by KCC and, to a lesser extent by Medway Council, in providing facilities to test some 5,000 out of county candidates are also explored further below.

Update: You will find an article exploring the government's announcement of 35 new Free Special Schools to be set up here

Further Update: KCC and government have announced the opening of a new secondary special school on the Isle of Sheppey for September 2022. 

This article looks back at provision for children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for the year 2018-19 across Kent, success rates for those appealing against decisions, along with other related matters. The data shows a sharp rise of 80% in EHCPs awarded in under three years, with a corresponding increase in budget putting enormous pressure on KCC education finances.

The data below shows that for nearly half of families requesting a statutory assessment of SEN this is not followed through for some reason, often lack of support from the school which may be for good reason. However, for most who get that far, the overwhelming majority were awarded an EHCP, so it is worthwhile persevering. I imagine that the difficulties of securing an EHCP over the past six months have been immense.  Those unsuccessful in securing an EHCP or one that is adequate for the purpose have the right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, although large numbers starting down this route did not follow through, often where KCC decided their cases were not worth defending and concede the EHCP, as suggested by the data.

The article also looks at placements of children with EHCPs, with 40% of primary and 30% of secondary pupils remaining in mainstream schools, along with the number of children being with EHCPs being de-registered from school for Elective Home Education, together with a brief look at the powerful performance of Medway Special SchoolsI also look back at a damning Inspection of Kent’s ineffectiveness in implementing the disability and special educational needs reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 which took place in the middle of this period; consider the current situation and the financial pressures imposed by the increase in EHCPs; and the number of families taking up places in private schools, funded by KCC often after Tribunal. These include one which charges more than twice as much as Eton College. 

Richard Long, KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, has now decided on the timing and arrangements for the Kent Test this year. A letter to schools sets out as expected that the Kent Test will be delayed by around one month as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on schools and pupils. The test will now take place on 15 October for pupils who attend a Kent school and 17 October for all other students. Kent parents will also be offered two additional preferences on their child’s Secondary school application this year, an increase from four to six, to account for the later release of Kent Test results.

The most interesting part of his letter reads: ‘while the delay in testing will provide an opportunity for children to settle back into a more normal school environment, we appreciate that children will have missed around four months of schooling. Fortunately, the Kent Test process is already designed to ensure that a child’s wider circumstances can be considered before their assessment is finalised.  We will be providing guidance for schools in light of the differing educational opportunities that children will have received over the last few months, and more generally on implementing the approved plans’. This flexibility leaves open alternative approaches to minimising the gross unfairness I have written about previously, which would discriminate against ‘ordinary’ families and those attracting Pupil Premium who have none of the advantages of children attending private schools or whose parents have arranged extensive private tuition for the six months leading up to the Test.

The question remains as to whether Kent County Council has the desire and the commitment to be as fair as possible to all Kent children looking to a grammar school place.

Updated annually, most recently July 2020

Non Registration for Kent or Medway Test
Sadly, each year a number of families fail to register their child for the Kent or Medway test in time, for a variety of reasons, often very understandably. It is likely that numbers will be much larger this year with families confused or overwhelmed by Coronavirus, and I have already been contacted by a number of these. Because of this, I would like to see an exception made in this unique year but have no expectation this will happen.   

Unfortunately, neither Kent nor Medway Authorities will consider late applications for registration for Testing in September.  In such a case, in Kent, you can only be arranged for your child to be tested after March 2021. The one exception is if you have moved into the Local Authority area after the deadlines, in which case you should contact the Local Authority for advice. In Medway there is, disgracefully,  no facility for late testing.  

Further details below

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. 

Registration for the Kent Test in October closed on 1st July. Sadly, I have already been contacted by a number of families who omitted to complete the procedure, confused or overwhelmed by Coronavirus. Unfortunately, unless KCC chooses to make an exception in this unique year, you cannot be considered for late Registration and will need to proceed as explained hereI am so sorry.   

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 16th November: Article Re Mrs Aquina's dismissal. 

Update 1st September: Article on Further Trauma at St Thomas

Update 25th July: I have now been sent a copy of a letter sent to parents and carers at the school informing them that Mrs Aquina is to return to her post in September. See 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