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Friday, 22 March 2019 06:09

Oversubscription & Vacancies Kent Non-Selective Secondary Schools 2019

Tunbridge Wells
The crisis in secular non-selective provision in Tunbridge Wells is set out clearly in my 2018 article, which explains how a new school was lost through lack of a sponsor, and drawing on the Kent Commissioning Plan for 2018. The 2019 Plan is much less clear about the problem, stating that: 'the strategic response to this demand is a proposed 6FE expansion of an existing school or a new school from 2021-22'. There is no explanation how this is to be achieved, and the idea of expanding an existing school by 6 FE, is mind boggling. There are no clues as to how a new school is to come about, given the failure of the previous project, outlined in my 2018 article. In any case we have no example I can recall in recent years of a new school being built and opened on time because of the complexity of setting up a new Free School and finding a sponsor for it. It is as if the authors of the Plan have no idea how this 'strategic response' is to be brought about. 
 Already another 90 places have been added above the final intake of 2018, 30 at Bennett Memorial and 60 at Skinners Kent Academy. The problem is exacerbated because the two church schools do not recruit on the basis of locality and so draw in children from way out of the town, including 40 from out of county for Bennett and 10 for St Gregory's, nearly all from East Sussex.
42 children from the south of the town have been sent to High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, twenty miles away, as well as girls from as far away as Edenbridge, with the four schools in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks all full. Up to 55 boys to the north have been allocated Hayesbrook in Tonbridge. Both these schools are from the poorly performing Brook Academy Trust, along with the controversial Ebbsfleet Academy in Dartford. It is likely that  because Hayesbrook is in the south of Tonbridge, it is the nearest overspill secular school for TW boys from whichever part of town who fail to get into SKA. Girls can't get into the partner Hillview as it is  full of local children. That leaves predominantly girls bound for High Weald. 
Last year 82 children Kent children, who would nearly all have been from from Tonbridge Wells District found places at Beacon Academy, Crowborough but none for 2019, suggesting that Beacon was full this year. However 51 children are going to  Uplands Community College, Wadhurst (probably with some from the Cranbrook area of the District)  and some of the 9 to Robertsbridge Community College. Some of these will be travelling by choice to full comprehensive schools.
In spite of its increased numbers, Bennett Memorial is still considerably oversubscribed with 78 first choices turned away for its 300 places. Skinners Kent Academy is the only secular school in the town, a situation unique in Kent and even after its increase in numbers it turned 14 first choices away. Also unique in Kent, all three non-selectives (along with two of the three grammar schools) have an Outstanding Ofsted.
Some families will be looking to school appeals to secure a place. The 2018 outcomes are as follows:
Tunbridge Wells N/S Appeals 
  2019 2018
Bennett Memorial 39 3 24 1
St Gregory's 16 7 24 7
Skinners Kent Academy Still to Come 38 24

 This can only be a rough guide to outcomes in 2020 as circumstances at each school can change and the number of applications for each school has risen considerably.  

Some of the Tunbridge Wells families will have put the oversubscribed  Mascall’s School in Paddock Wood  (29 disappointed first choices) as a back up, with 38 of its 240 places going to lower preferences on distance grounds. 

Certainly, High Weald Academy is seen as a school of last resort by many, and I have written about it elsewhere. The statistics in this article are similar to those for 2018, The 42 families (up from 32 in 2018) whose children have been placed there mainly because of the shortage of secular places in Tunbridge Wells, and now face a round journey of some 30 miles daily, cannot be happy. The most revealing figure in my table above is the new column that shows over half of the children being offered places in March 2018, had found alternative schools by the following September. 

The school is being substantially rebuilt at a cost of some £15 million, although it is a puzzle to many why it was chosen under the government priority, as it does not currently appear viable in terms of numbers. However, presumably government is anticipating that the new buildings will turn this round under the current leadership of Brook Learning Trust.  

The 2018 Commissioning Plan stated

There is significant pressure for Year 7 places across the Borough that rises from a forecast deficit of 121 places in 2018-19 to a peak of 245 in 2022-23. There is particular pressure in the urban areas, with approximately 8FE deficit of places forecast in central Tunbridge Wells for the September 2018 intake, based on published admissions numbers. The forecast demand indicated in the table above is skewed by surplus capacity in Cranbrook, which is outside of the historical travel to learn distance for children resident in Tunbridge Wells Town. Consequently the pressure on places in Tunbridge Wells Town will be approximately 3 FE greater than indicated in the table. It was previously anticipated that the majority of the central Tunbridge Wells demand would be met by a new 6FE free school from 2018/19. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) had agreed to undertake purchase of the identified site in conjunction with TWBC and KCC. No Wave 12 application was submitted to sponsor the free school. This alongside the ESFA’s change in policy around speculative land purchases, has meant that a new school could not be delivered before 2020 at the earliest, necessitating the expansion of existing schools for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

In order to address the demand for Year 7 places we are working with existing Secondary schools in the Tunbridge Wells urban areas to offer 190 temporary Year 7 places in 2018-19, leading to 4.3FE permanent provision and 120 temporary places for 2019-20. During the 2017-18 year we will finalise proposals to establish a further 6FE of provision from 2020-21.

For some reason this is downgraded in the 2019 Plan to 
The place pressure is forecast to continue to increase through the Plan period, reaching a peak of a -241 Year 7 place deficit in 2023-24. The strategic response to this demand is a proposed 6FE expansion of an existing school or a new school from 2021-22. We will also commission a 1FE permanent expansion of Mascalls Academy for 2020. These proposals will provide sufficient non-selective places until at least 2022-23, at which point new expansions will be linked to additional place pressures driven by the Local Plan developments. In the longer-term, new development will necessitate two new 6FE secondary schools at a sites to be identified through the Local Plan process. A
So the problem remains the same, the solution lying in the mysterious and unidentified 'strategic response'! 
Tunbridge Wells Conclusion
In other words, KCC does not know either where the places are coming from or where they are going to place non-selective children who don’t qualify for faith schools, an issue that is not even mentioned!!






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