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Friday, 23 October 2020 08:25

Changes in the Secondary Admission Application Procedures: Kent and Medway

The Kent Test was delayed for a month this year because of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, as explained here. Along with this change, Kent County Council increased the number of choices on the secondary school application form from four to six, to cater for families not knowing the test result before the closing date. KCC has also made another unpublicised change to its secondary school admission rules for September 2021. The new arrangement is as follows.

The closing date for applications is Monday 2nd November. This is a deadline that is set in legislation, however KCC allows parents to make changes to their application up until Friday 11th December. That means even with Kent Test results being available later this year parents still have the opportunity to change their preferences. 

In previous years, this option was only allowable in exceptional circumstances such as house moves. KCC has now removed these conditions and made it a positive opportunity for all, so there appears no restriction on parents making any late change for 2021 entry. However, I can’t at present envisage situations where any sensible ordering of the six choices of school available in this very different year would need to be revised after the results of the Kent Test, due out on 26th November, are known. Decisions to make changes to the preference scheme should not be taken lightly as removing a school from your list also removes the right to appeal later for a place at that school. 

Meanwhile, in Medway where the Test and Review outcomes will also be known by 26th November, the Council has simply put back the closing date for submitting all applications to 1st December. This gives relevant Medway residents a clear advantage as they will know the results of both Medway and Kent Tests before needing to submit their applications.  

The quotation above is taken from a document sent to all Kent primary schools for headteachers to advise parents, and now published on various school websites. 
 
I can see reasons why parents may wish to change for reasons considered below, and KCC has opened the door for them. The Council now rightly appears to be concerned about the possible consequences of this promised 'opportunity' if too many families were to take up the option and is rightly clear that: 'the equal preference system and extension to 6 preferences enables them to confidently do this without knowing the outcome of the Kent Test, and they do not need to worry about changing preferences once results are known'. It would be wrong for the Council to belatedly impose conditions on making such changes after the initial closing date for applications in ten days time, if numbers are too great, but I have failed to get confirmation this will not happen.    
 
Possible Reasons for Families to wish to change schools on the Application Form
Please note that there has never been a bar on changing choices of schools before the closing date for online applications, 2nd November.
 
It is important to realise that if you make a change and remove a school from your preference list you forfeit the right to appeal later for a place at that school. This is probably the most important reason not to change. For 2020 entry, 677 appeals were upheld for places in Kent and Medway secondary schools. 
 
Under the new procedure, families most likely to want to make changes include those who:
a) have misunderstood the process, including those who are confused about the equal preference scheme explained here.  However, this gives every child a place at the highest preference selective or non-selective school for which they are qualified. Sadly there is plenty of false advice around. You will find plenty of helpful advice below and in the information sections of this website. 
b) simply have had second thoughts;
c) wish to cut out choices made irrelevant by the outcomes of the Kent Test in a belt and braces move, although this is rarely necessary (but see below). Do not forget the appeal advice above when considering if such choices are really irrelevant. 
 
The equal preference scheme explained here goes a long way to simplifying choice and ensures that the rule of placing schools in the order you want always works to your advantage.

What I am concerned about is if KCC retrospectively tries to introduce conditions for making changes to proposed parental choices, although the rules have been put in writing (pages 2 & 5) and sent to primary schools for sharing with parents. This is only likely if the numbers making changes are too high, creating a heavy administrative workload in this most difficult of years, as the system for allocating places requires a sophisticated calculation, also taking into account many children who wish cross Local Authority boundaries.  

Choices involving grammar school applications.
In most cases involving selection, Kent families will still find the application process fairly straightforward because of the increase in choices to six.  Although I have not adapted them for this unique year, my website pages on Kent Secondary School Admissions are packed with information and advice, including links to more detailed pages. As always pay particular attention to the previous demand for places at individual schools, detailed here.

In most parts of the county (apart from a few blackspots highlighted here for 2020 entry), there will be at least one local grammar school where a child will be guaranteed a place if they are assessed as selective. So most parents considering grammar school for their children should list up to say three in preference order, along with a number of non-selective places.  Then place all possibilities in the order in which you and your child want them. Do not listen to advice that encourages you to play games with the ordering, or schools that still wrongly tell you to put them first if you wish to be considered. If the child is successful in the Kent Test, then the strict ordering will come into play. If unsuccessful, then the grammar schools will be ignored in the decision-making process without disadvantage at the non-selective schools. I am afraid if you are looking at super-selective schools outcomes can be slightly more complicated, being dependent on the aggregate score achieved after you have made your choices. In some of these cases, you may sensibly wish to take up more or different grammar schools in the light of your child's Kent Test score in your six choices, including some cross-border, as this is only a problem for a minority in the West and North West of the county. But I believe it still works for the overwhelming majority, including those on the Kent/Medway border, especially when taking the appeals advice into account.

Medway families are clearly better placed than those living in Kent, as they will know the results of the Medway Test and Kent Test if relevant before the closing date for applications, and so need no provision to make late changes. 

Finally
I suspect that KCC hadn't considered the consequences of its action when it offered the new opportunity to change choices in this way for 2021 entry and will now be regretting it. 
 
The remaining puzzle to me is that KCC claims that it is a mandatory requirement for the National Closing Date to be 31st October (2nd November this year after the weekend), Medway Council has simply postponed its own closing date to 30th November, to allow all parents to make admission decisions after the Medway Test and Review results are published on the 26th November (and indeed the Kent Test results if their children have taken it). It's certainly exceptional to see Kent families discriminated against in education matters when compared with Medway. Why could KCC not have simply followed suit?
Last modified on Tuesday, 10 November 2020 13:46

2 comments

  • Comment Link Saturday, 24 October 2020 19:27 posted by Maidstone Parent

    Peter, do you see KCC withdrawing the advertised right to change our choices up to the 11th December. PETER: I honestly don't know, but I would not recommend making decisions based on the option being allowed for all.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 24 October 2020 19:24 posted by Retired Education Officer

    You observe that Kent families are discriminated against, as Medway appears to be getting its act together. It is surely relevant that Scott Bagshaw, the excellent officer who had oversight of Kent admissions, left the Authority last year. There was another relevant departure in Medway which appears to have seen its appalling record improve.

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