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Thursday, 04 June 2020 16:01

Kent Primary Schools: Oversubscription & Vacancies 2020


Dover, Deal and Sandwich
As usual, there are few problems anywhere across the District, with a 15% vacancy rate across its 38 schools. Most oversubscribed is Hornbeam Primary (A), in rural Deal, with 18 disappointed first choices. Warden House (A), 13, and Northbourne (A), 12. Two others of the group of six Walmer and Deal schools that converted to academies as a group last year, are also popular. Otherwise most of the Deal and Sandwich schools have vacancies, headed up by the ever struggling Nonington CofE with seven of its 12 places empty. 

In Dover, St Martin’s (A) again heads the list turning away 11 first choices, followed by Temple Ewell with eight. For another year, over half of the 20 schools have vacancies.  Not even Sibertswold, with 100% of children reaching the expected KS2 Level in 2019 can fill with six vacancies. 

A Reception Year population bulge across the 12 Faversham schools has seen numbers increase by a third to 334 children being offered places, with 55 not being offered their first choice. In 2019 there were 10 schools with vacancies; this year there are just four. Most popular school is Ethelbert Road, 18 first choices oversubscribed, followed by: Davington with 13 (one vacancy in 2019); Sheldwich (A) eight (11 vacancies in 2019); and Hernhill CofE, six, with its Outstanding Ofsted and excellent KS2 results. Other schools with vacancies in 2019 have also shown a strong increase in numbers. Luddenham (A)  up from 13 to all 30 places filled and  Ospringe up from 22 to all 30 filled are both now oversubscribed. Eastling is up from six pupils, to having all 15 places filled, and Graveney (A) up from six to 13.  

The only school in decline in popularity is Selling (A), which has seen a sharp fall from having made 18 offers for its 30 places in 2019, to just eight for this year.

Bysing Wood (A), perennially struggling ot attract pupils, in spite of two consecutive Good Ofsted inspections, has also seen an increase in numbers for 2020, offering 29 places, although including 12 LAAs reflecting the pressures elsewhere. The school has a PAN of 60, having had this doubled by KCC for some reason, although it hasn’t filled even 30 places since then.  The school has now joined with three other East Kent primaries to academise and form the EKC. According to the most recent inspection, the headteacher is ‘held in high esteem by the local authority which views the curriculum you have developed as a model one’ and it is unclear of the source of the continued unpopularity although it dates back for at least 15 years.

Folkestone and Hythe
Across Years R-6 surplus places are set to increase from 7.1% in 2019-20 to 14.6% in 2023-24. As the surplus places grow, some schools may be impacted by falling rolls and consequently falling budgets. We will work with both schools maintained by KCC and those led by academy trusts to find solutions which may include the reduction of pupil admission numbers in areas of significant surplus places’ (Commissioning Plan).

There is no doubt that the main headline is the success of Brenzett CofE (A) in attracting a full house of 20 Reception pupils, for the first time after many years of failure under Kent County Council. It became an academy with the successful Canterbury Diocesan Trust and is one of a number of schools turned round from Special Measures to Good by the Trust. It has taken time to convince parents and in 2019 just five children were offered places. 

There are no serious problems with oversubscription across the whole Shepway district. Just one of the 36 schools is significantly oversubscribed as it has been for some years. Sandgate Primary has 26 first choices turned away this year, up from 14 in  2019. Three schools have 10: St Martin's CofE; Palmarsh; and Stowting CofE, with its superb KS2 results

However, the other main headline for Shepway is, as it has been for the last three years, the failure of Morehall  (A) with 50% vacancies and Martello Primary (A)  47%, to attract pupils, by some way the highest vacancy rates in Folkestone, both schools being run by the appalling PR organisation that is Turner Schools. You will find the most recent of multiple articles about the Trust’s failures here. The Trust also runs the controversial all-through school, Folkestone Academy (A), but appears to have allowed the primary section to run on its own terms in the past, being an Outstanding school when it was separate. This clearly suffers reputational damage from being associated with Folkestone Academy and so it has been decided to split the two sections, waiting for approval to separate in September 2020. It has been oversubscribed for many years, but for 2020 has 10 vacancies, so clearly it is time for the break. The departure of the previous CEO is clearly an opportunity for the Trust to improve by focusing on the task of improvement. 

There is just one school with a higher vacancy rate than Morehall, the small rural Bodsham primary with 54% of its 13 places empty. In all 10 of Folkestone’s 17 schools have vacancies, and 11 of the 19 Hythe and rural schools.

The most oversubscribed Northfleet school is St Joseph’s Catholic (A), with 32 disappointed first choices. With more than two first choices for every one of its 30 places, this is the highest proportion of any school in Kent, having been most oversubscribed school in the county in 2013.  2013. Cecil Road is not far behind oversubscribed by 25 first choices, St Botolph’s CofE (A) with 20, and Rosherville CofE (A), with 15 for its 20 places, one of the highest proportions in Kent. Rosherville is soon to be rebuilt and expanded on a new site,  both of the last two mentioned schools having problems before academisation.

This is the only area in town under pressure, although  Springhead Park School (F)opening  towards Ebbsfleet in September, creating 60 additional Reception places will ease this considerably. Exceptionally the new school will also take an unspecified number of pupils into years One to Four. As with all new schools, Springhead Park accepts applications directly in its first year,

Previously, KCC persuaded sponsors to pull out of a planned new school in the same area in 2018, on the false grounds it was not needed. They also did exactly the same once before arguing that a new school in the area would place the struggling and nearby Dover Road School (now Copperfield Academy) in jeopardy, resulting in a shortage of places for the past few years. Springhead Park could now well prove terminal at last for Copperfield Academy, as its standards have slipped even further, becoming by several measures the worst primary school in Kent. I looked most recently at Copperfield Academy (A) hereIn 2019  the school was the only one of the eight Northfleet schools, with vacancies, having  just 31 first preferences (along with any children with Education Health Care Plans) with a total of 37 children offered places who applied for the school. There were 14 Local Authority Allocations.

For 2020, quite remarkably each of these situations has declined further, demonstrating the complete lack of faith in the school by local families. There were for 2020 admissions, 22 first preference offers for the 90 places (the lowest proportion in the whole of Kent); 29 children offered places who applied for the school (second lowest in the whole of Kent); 42 Local Authority Allocations (nearly twice as many as any other school in Kent and in any case the highest proportion).  Its Key Stage Two performance last summer, also placed it amongst the worst primary schools in the county. On the other hand, Ofsted thinks in a monitoring inspection that the school is doing a good job. With the new Springhead Park ready to rifle its current Years R to Three for September, many parents are likely vote with their feet.

There are 14 other vacancies, all in one school, the previously well regarded Shears Green Infants, which has traditionally been well oversubscribed. Many of the oversubscription pressures on other schools can be traced back to the problems of Copperfield as families try desperately to avoid it.  

The situation in Gravesend is very different, with four of the eleven schools being oversubscribed, the other seven having vacancies. The new primary section of the all-through St George’s CofE (A) has the highest level of oversubscription, turning away 17 first choices, followed by St John’s Catholic (A), last year's runaway leader, with 13. Next comes Kings Farm, oversubscribed for the first time ever, disappointing seven first choice families, having improved year on year since its disaster in 2014, initially described here. It then joined a Federation with Ifield Special School that proved its salvation. Its recent Good Ofsted and excellent KS2 Progress Level placing it sixth in the county, both reflect the remarkable transformation of the school.

Westcourt (A) has 21 vacancies, followed by Holy Trinity CofE with 20, hit by two nationally covered scandals in the past year. Next comes Tymberwood (A), the second school in Gravesham to be run by REach2 with 19. The Commissioning Plan reports that one primary school in west Gravesend will reduce its PAN by 30 places, because of the surplus, although no sign of this.

The seven village schools in the District are all oversubscribed apart from Vigo Village Primary to the south. Several of the others, especially Cobham (20 disappointed first choices) draw pupils from out of Gravesend, and in the case of Istead Rise (A), 15, now much improved following re-brokering, from Northfleet. The Commissioning Plan considers that any future shortage (although) it has already arrived!) will be met by surplus places elsewhere, presumably in urban Gravesend!

The town currently has 12 vacancies for its 1507 places across its 26 schools. In September a new school, Bearsted Primary Academy (F) will open for up to 60 Reception pupils who have applied directly to the school which will ease matters considerably across that part of Maidstone. We can assume these will primarily be children who currently have places at other local schools, creating vacancies there, in some cases creating a ripple effect through to other schools. Currently, over 60 Maidstone children have been allocated schools their families did not apply to, so many of these will then receive an offer of a school of their choice.

Three of those which may be affected include nearby St John’s CofE (A) which is currently the most oversubscribed primary school in Kent, with 55 disappointed first choices, and the second highest proportion of first choices per place. Others include Valley Invicta (East Borough) (A) 30 children unsuccessful; and Greenfields (A) 26, although their very popularity may enable them to keep pupils. Thurnham CofE Infants, Madginford and Sandling, all oversubscribed to a lesser extent, may also lose pupils. Other popular schools are South Borough (A) with its excellent KS2 results and St Michael’s CofE, turning away 23 first choices; Langley Park (F), a new Free School, four years old, in a growth area of the town with 22 first choice families losing out; and Loose (A) with 21,  but sharply down from the 48 of 2019. 

Coincidentally, the two schools with five vacancies each out of the 12 in total, Jubilee (F) and Tiger (F), were both set up as Free Schools, Jubilee by an Evangelical Christian Group and Tiger  whose Ofsted rating fell from Good to RI, along with some of the poorest KS2 results in Kent last summer, by the Future Schools Academy Trust. Four other schools only filled by significant numbers of Local Authority Allocations, most at Archbishop Courtenay (A) with 23, with some of the poorest KS2 results in Kent, and Molehill (A) with 20 although now armed with a Good Ofsted, two schools which have both struggled for too many years.

The Commissioning Plan is quite gloomy over provision in town: ‘This town centre pressure will be mitigated via places available in the Maidstone North planning group with the September 2020 opening of the new 2FE Bearsted Primary Academy Free School. Forecasting methodology uses existing travel to school flows to distribute Reception pupils from each primary planning group into individual primary schools’. i.e. There aren’t and won’t be sufficient places locally and children will need to be sent elsewhere.  

The situation outside the town is very different with none of the 20 schools being significantly oversubscribed. Bredhurst is oversubscribed by 10 first choices losing out for just 15 places, and Hollingbourne with five.   There are just four other schools oversubscribed by one or two families losing out. 

Of the twelve schools with vacancies, four have over half of their places empty. Three of these have just four pupils offered places in Reception for September: Laddingford St Mary’s CofE (PAN of 13), continuation of a steady decline over recent years; Leeds and Bromfield CofE (PAN of 15), also with five or fewer pupils in two other age groups, second lowest achieving school at KS2 in 2019; and Platts Heath (PAN of 13),  normally much higher. One problem with schools serving small rural communities is that numbers can vary considerably year on year, but one can only wonder how long some of these small schools will survive independently, although Leeds & Bromfield and Platts Heath are already part of the Aspire Federation of four small village schools.

Next: Malling (including Kings Hill); Sevenoaks; Sheppey; Sittingbourne; Swanley

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 June 2022 05:53

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