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Friday, 20 March 2020 06:15

Oversubscription & Vacancies Kent Non-Selective Secondary Schools 2020


You will find data on allocations, appeals and academic performance, for each school in the Individual Schools Section of this website. Currently, the large data bank is up to date, although commentary is lagging behind in a few cases where indicated (update in progress, or on request).

A huge controversy was created in October when Paul Carter, in his final act as Leader of KCC, vetoed a proposal for a new secondary school in Thanet. However, this decision has itself been overruled by the new Minister of State for the Schools System, throwing the future of non-selective provision in Thanet into turmoil.  

According to the now out of date Commissioning Plan, 'Forecasts indicate a deficit of places for both Year 7 and Years 7-11 over the Plan period. In the short-term this increased demand will be met through temporary additional Year 7 places at Royal Harbour Academy, whilst bringing forward the permanent expansion of King Ethelbert School by 2FE for September 2022. Ursuline College will expand by 1FE later in the plan period to meet the forecast need from 2023'. Meanwhile, the misery for too many parents continues, with 187 children being allocated to Hartsdown and Royal Harbour academies through the LAA process, having tried to avoid the two schools. These are both managed by the Coastal Academies Trust along with King Ethelbert, the second most oversubscribed school in Kent, meaning the Trust controls over half of the secondary places in Thanet.  

St George’s CofE, whilst still the third most oversubscribed non-selective school in Kent, is declining in popularity! This year 129 first choices were turned down, against 2019’s 182, the fall possibly reflecting the disappointing GCSE performance in 2019. Performance is still significantly better than Hartsdown, Royal Harbour and Charles Dickens, three of the lowest five performers in Progress 8 GCSE in Kent.

It has now been overtaken by King Ethelbert, with 144 disappointed first choices. The other two oversubscribed schools are Charles Dickens, which has fallen from 77 to 37 first choices declined, and Ursuline College, which has chosen to reduce its intake back to 150 from the 180 of the two previous years, and is oversubscribed by 24 places (23 in 2019).

The previous link also provides much background information to the following data for Hartsdown and Royal Harbour, as my most recent article on the decision to reinstate the new Thanet Skies Academy.  

Hartsdown: 65 first preferences for 180 places (third lowest of any school in Kent); 78 LAAs, no vacancies.
Royal Harbour: increased its roll by 50 places to 300 for 2020, on top of a further increase of 50 last year which was partly to balance the Ursuline reduction. I don’t quite see why the latest increase has happened, as Royal Harbour now has 49 of the 50 non-selective vacancies in Thanet and will lose more by September. On top of this, 109 of the Royal Harbour 251 offers are LAAs, the largest figure in the county. Coincidentally, both these two schools lost 18% of the pupils placed in them in March 2019 by the time of  the census in  the following October.

A further issue in the District is that 79 local grammar qualified pupils have been rejected from their first choice grammar school, so it is unlikely that many will be taken out of these two schools through grammar school appeals.

Tonbridge and Malling
The District is geographically long and thin, stretching from Aylesford in the North, curving round Maidstone to Tonbridge itself, with a very mixed picture for its schools. The two most oversubscribed schools, well ahead of the rest are Hillview Girls (64 first choices oversubscribed) and Hadlow Rural Community (45), both first time at the top. At the other end of the scale are two of the four Kent schools with most vacancies before both receiving large numbers of LAAS. These are Hayesbrook in Tonbridge and Holmesdale.

I have written previously about the avoidable disaster that led to Holmesdale  being placed in Special Measures following repeated failures by KCC to take action. A more recent article contains further revelations about KCC’s failures. The school is now rapidly improving its standards under the leadership of Swale Academies Trust with a much better GCSE performance and pupils no longer leaving the school during the course; however it takes time to rebuild a school’s reputation. As a result, there are still 70 LAAS out of the school’s 155 offers, and it currently depends on children from Medway to keep it afloat. 

Two other much improved schools are also oversubscribed: Aylesford, turning away 19 first choices under the umbrella of the consistently strong Wrotham School (26 disappointed first choices); and Malling School, disappointing 31 families, making its way under its own steam.  

Hayesbrook School continues on a downward slide as GCSE performance continues to decline from being the fourth highest performing Kent non-selective school in 2015 to Well Below Average and one of the lowest Kent performers in 2019. This will no doubt have influenced its current sorry state where it depends on pressure for places in Tunbridge Wells to keep afloat (see below). 56 of the 133 places awarded were LAAs, more than the number of first choices, at 54 the lowest number of any school in the county. Even more worrying, last year 59 of the 130 pupils offered places in March 2019, did not arrive in the school according to the following October census. That is 45% of the original number of places allocated, the highest dropout rate in the county. There is an item about the Brook Learning Trust which runs the school, earlier in this article. 

Tunbridge Wells
Quite simply, District non-selective provision is a shambles which, although it is not responsible for the  disgrace, KCC appears intent on covering up.

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 which set out the need. The 2019 Plan was 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. The 2020 Plan loses the problem completely recording that:

‘Our strategic response to the forecast pressure within the planning group is the proposed permanent 2FE expansion of an existing secondary school in Tunbridge Wells from 2022-23. The expansion will provide sufficient non-selective places to cover the medium-term pressure through to the end of the Plan period’.

The use of the term ‘permanent’ makes it unclear if this extra provision, presumably at Skinners Kent Academy, is in addition to its current intake of 240 pupils, or if it is merely consolidation of the 60 places put in last year. 

So how is this sleight of hand achieved? Quite simply by spreading the children across a ‘Planning Group’ vision that takes in Tonbridge and Cranbrook, with some Tunbridge Wells boys unable to access local schools being dispatched to Hayesbrook (56 LAAs) and, I suspect, mainly local girls off to High Weald (32 LAAs), 20 miles away - last year some came from as far away as Edenbridge. TW girls cannot access the heavily oversubscribed Hillview School in Tonbridge. That totals up to 88 Tunbridge Wells children excluded from schools in their own town. There is still plenty of room in the low performing Hayesbrook and High Weald schools, both Brook Learning Trust Schools, see earlier item

High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, has recently had a major building programme, at a cost of some £13 million, replacing most of its older buildings. This has to be a high risk strategy, as the school has seen for some years the  biggest vacancy rate in the county along with a regular replacement programme of leaders in a vain attempt to improve matters, but no doubt the new premises were seen as an attraction to improve matters. Perhaps because the premises works were not completed by the time secondary admission forms were submitted in November, this hasn't worked yet, attracting just 55 first preferences with 96 places being offered in total for a school with a PAN of 180, at 36% the highest vacancy rate in Kent.  

Apart from the lack of the planned new school, the root of the problem lies with the two church schools. Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, which is consistently the highest performing (together with attainment) non-selective school in Kent and amongst the most oversubscribed, turning away 85 first choices this year. A key factor in this success is its highly selective religious criteria for admission, across seven categories, which only give limited priority to distance from the school. As a result, 41 places are going to Out Of County children this year (39 from East Sussex), and many others will be drawn from outside TW, at the expense of local children. St Gregory’s Catholic, 37 first choices disappointed, has a similar complex arrangement, but with just eight children from East Sussex. This leaves just one secular school in TW, Skinners Kent Academy, with 12 first choices oversubscribed for its 240 places, having expanded from 180 last year. 51 children from the area have decamped to East Sussex schools, 44 of them to Uplands Community College, the nearest school to TW.

Mascalls School in Paddock Wood has seen a sharp loss in popularity for reasons that are unclear, down by 59. but still leaving just one vacancy. 

Last year I finished this section with: 'In other words, KCC does not know either where  the needed additional 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!' The quotation still stands.

Last modified on Monday, 14 June 2021 17:00


  • Comment Link Friday, 27 March 2020 23:24 posted by Dover Girl

    What has happened in Dover? You report two schools oversubscribed, when last year there were none. We didn't get into St Edmund's or Christ Church. We are not Catholic but its the best school. We have been given Astor. PETER: Where they came from I am not sure, but there are an extra 84 children in the three Dover schools. Some may have come up from Folkestone, some from towards Deal as Goodwin Academy is also oversubscribed for the first time, and there is enormous pressure in Canterbury schools. I suspect you stand a good chance on appeal or off the waiting list at Dover Christ Church at least, but go for both.

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 March 2020 16:17 posted by Despairing Thanet Parent

    We are Thanet parents whose daughter has been offered Hartsdown after being rejected from all our four choices. We are in despair. Home Education is all wrong for us and we haven't got the background anyway. We can't afford private. Please give us some good advice. PETER: Sadly, I am afraid have little for you or any others of the 100+ families in the same situation. It is trite to say you will have to put up with it and hope the school is improving - I hear various claims that things are changing. What I think is important is that your daughter is given some encouragement about the school by you somehow.
    I just wish there was something else I could say.

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 March 2020 12:40 posted by MSST parent in waiting

    Are you suggesting that Maidstone Schol of Science and Technology may not open in September. PETER: The construction industry is closing down for the time being. There must be a risk unless the project is past the critical date. I have merely asked the question and am waiting for a reassuring reply

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 March 2020 12:36 posted by Seeker after Knowledge

    So which is the worst Academy Trust in Kent, Turner Schools or Brook Learning Trust?
    PETER: There were worse - Lilac Sky and SchoolsCompany, both corrupt, but both closed down by government. These are both small Trusts: Brook - three secondary schools; Turner - two secondary and two primary. There have been others, TKAT appears to have got its act together, but nothing springs to mind. I would go for Turner Schools on the scale of its misrepresentations and false claims about its awful performance.

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