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Thursday, 04 June 2020 16:01

Kent Primary Schools: Oversubscription & Vacancies 2020


This is the eastern and mainly rural half of Tonbridge District, stretching from Wouldham on the Medway border, through to Wateringbury and Borough Green,  containing 28 schools, with two urban areas near Maidstone,  Aylesford/East Malling and Kings Hill.

The most oversubscribed school is Valley Invicta School at Aylesford (A), with 23 first choices rejected for its 30 places. However, the PAN of 30 is somewhat puzzling. Until 2019 the Planned Admission Number was 45, but for the past two years the Valley Invicta Academy Trust has raised the intake to 60 children, with most Year Groups now having 50 or more children. For 2020, the PAN was reduced to 30 children, although no explanation is offered for this reduction and presumably the accommodation is there with the larger numbers leaving at the top end. Hence 23 families deprived of their first choice.

Of the other ten oversubscribed schools, only three have rejected more than four first choices. These are Valley Invicta (Holborough Lakes) (A) at Snodland, turning away 18 first choices, serving a major new housing development, Ryarsh with 12, perennially popular with its Outstanding Ofsted dating back to 2012, and Brookfield Infant (very close to Aylesford), nine.  A few years ago, the three Kings Hill primary schools were all oversubscribed, with some children being diverted to West Malling, but numbers have fallen perhaps as families have matured, and just two families lost out on their first choice across the community.

Plenty of vacancies, including four schools with more than a third of their places empty. A few years ago, West Malling (A) was very popular, but has lost its attraction with 16 of its 30 places unfilled on allocation. The other three are also well down on previous years Burham CofE has half its 28 places unfilled, well down on previous years. Platt CofE has 10 vacancies out of 26, again well down on previous years.

Five of the six town schools are oversubscribed, with most popular Riverhead Infants turning away 40 first choices, third highest figure in the county. A few years ago it was regularly at the top of the table, but then dropped off with just 14 first choices turned away in 2019, but is now back again. Next is St Johns CofE, with 27, again well up on 2019’s 14 first choices oversubscribed, and one of the highest proportions of first choices to places in the county at 190%. Lady Boswell’s CofE has lost considerable popularity in the last couple of years, but is still 6 first choices oversubscribed, as is St Thomas’ Catholic (A), which had vacancies in 2019. Just outside town is Seal CofE with 8 vacancies for its 60 places. The Kent Commissioning Plan loses the pressure on town schools, by combining them with a number of nearby villages in its analysis.

I split the large hinterland of Sevenoaks into three sub districts, Rural, Rural East and Swanley, the last named forming a separate section.

The main rural area has 21 schools, with eight oversubscribed, but only two in double figures. These are Chiddingstone CofE with 20 unsuccessful first preferences and Crockham Hill CofE with 12. These were also the two top schools last year, but the numbers not getting first preferences are up for 2020.

There are two schools with more than a half of their places unfilled: Churchill CofE, Westerham, whose Ofsted outcome improved to Good arrived to late for admission numbers, with 38 vacancies out of 60; and Halstead which always struggles for numbers, and has slipped back to Requires Improvement, with 15 unfilled places out of 25.

Of the six rural Sevenoaks schools to the East, four are full, led by Ofsted Outstanding Hartley Primary Academy (A), oversubscribed by 21 first choices and  New Ash Green with ten. Horton Kirby CofE (A) with 16 vacancies out of 45 has recently had a Short Inspection where Ofsted found concerns, so it could slip back to RI. West Kingsdown CofE, which has finally had a Good Ofsted after a long period of concern, did at least see an improvement in numbers up to 24 of its 45 places filled, although with seven LAAs.

Three of the 10 schools are oversubscribed, Queenborough (Outstanding Ofsted) again leading the way, turning away 24 first choices, followed this year by Rose Street, also in Sheerness, in a complete turnaround which saw 19 families disappointed, having had 15 vacancies in 2019. Minster in Sheppey Primary was oversubscribed by 16.

Two schools which regularly struggle for numbers had over a third of their places empty again. Thistle Hill (A) was brought to its knees by the unlamented Lilac Sky Academy Trust three years ago, but does not seem to have recovered, with poor KS2 results, and 22 vacancies out of 60 places. Eastchurch, somewhat remote on the far east of the island with two sites several miles apart, a recent Requires Improvement Ofsted and recent difficulties,  continues to struggle to attract children with 21 of its 60 places left empty.   

Sittingbourne & Rural Swale
I have considered Faversham and Sheppey, both also parts of Swale, in separate sections.

Last year five schools in and near the town of Sittingbourne had vacancies, with 715 offers of Reception places made in total. This year all but two of the 15 schools are oversubscribed as the number of children has leapt to 781, an increase of 8% in twelve months. There are 4% of empty spaces, second lowest proportion in the county. Strangely, the Kent Schools Commissioning Plan (page 123) does not identify this as a problem, identifying a surplus of 13.7% of places across the whole of Swale, whereas it is just Sittingbourne itself with the problem.

The Kent Plan identifies pressure to the north of the town, which apparently can be eased in future years by children taking up places in other areas. It is hoped to have a new all through school for 2023/24 to meet a major development in this part of Sittingbourne, although there are no signs of any progress at present, which may help to ease pressures. Any other pressures will be eased by expanding Sunny Bank School (A) although this is against KCC policy as the school failed its Ofsted last year. The Report made a withering attack on leadership and KCC support, which combined with its dreadful KS2 results last summer, led to an Academy Order and it has now been taken over by the Island Trust. At first glance Sunny Bank has filled for September, which may have taken KCC in, but this is only because of the 19 LAA children allocated to the school, the fifth highest figure in Kent. The Plan forecasts 51 Reception vacancies for the town schools in September, against an actual total of 34.

101 children did not get their first choice school, the most oversubscribed being Canterbury Road again, oversubscribed by 21, followed by Kemsley (A) with 19, another school taken out of KCC control after failing its Ofsted. Then come Iwade (A) and Tunstall CofE with 17; the latter with its Outstanding Ofsted having navigated a difficult period after doubling in size to 60, relocating to the outskirts of town to ease the ‘non-existent’ pressure, and seeing 7 vacancies in 2019. Bobbing (A) has 14 disappointed first choices, Oaks Community Infants(A)  had 13 and South Avenue (A), 10.

The two schools with vacancies are St Peter’s Catholic with nine, 30% of its total and a school that is usually oversubscribed, and Westlands (A) with 25 out of 90, which continues to bump along at the bottom of the table.

Away from the town, Bapchild & Tonge CofE is oversubscribed by six first choices, and Rodmersham with its consistently high KS2 performance and Outstanding Ofsted, oversubscribed by five, half of the ten schools having vacancies.

For the third year running, St Paul’s CofE and Horizon (A) are the two schools out of the eight primaries in the area which are significantly oversubscribed. Both schools turned away 11 first preferences for 2020. St Paul’s has 1.73 first choices for every one of its 15 places, which is the seventh highest proportion in the county.   Two other local schools are oversubscribed by two first choices. Downsview has 30% of its 30 places vacant, the same percentage as in 2019, its critical Ofsted Report of January 2020 arriving too late to influence decisions. The other school with vacancies is Hextable with 14 of its 90 places unfilled.    

Next: Thanet; Tonbridge;Tunbridge Wells; Junior Schools

Last modified on Sunday, 21 March 2021 12:41

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