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Sunday, 11 April 2021 19:53

Oversubscription & Vacancies: Kent Non-Selective Schools 2021


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, including full information on allocation figures, is being brought up to date, with commentary lagging behind by a few months (but can be brought up to date on request).


The Kent Schools Commissioning Plan (p 123) records that:

The increasing pressure showing in Sittingbourne is exacerbated by large numbers of pupils travelling off the Isle of Sheppey for their secondary education. Surplus capacity in Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy will help to offset some of the deficit in Sittingbourne but will not meet all the need from 2023 when demand peaks.

Last year's equivalent comment ended with 'will help to offset some of the deficit in Sittingbourne', but the 2021 version has been changed to emphasise the coming crisis.  

Unfortunately, the problem is now, with a large number of Sheppey families trying to avoid Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS) at any price. These, along with families, often to the south of the town, who would have looked to Fulston Manor are desperately seeking schools on the mainland but instead find themselves part of the 108 Local Authority Allocations at OAIOS (highest figure in Kent and one place below the all-time record number). This reduced the number of vacancies at the school to 20.

This year for the first time Fulston Manor and Westlands schools in Sittingbourne are the two most oversubscribed schools in Kent, with it proving very difficult to win an appeal at either last year. Fulston Manor had 134 first choices turned down, Westlands in second place with 110, only because it accepted an additional 45 children at the request of KCC. The Sittingbourne School to the East of the town and so furthest from the island crossing, was four first choices oversubscribed.

The Commissioning Plan continues: ‘Discussions are taking place with Swale Secondary Schools to identify options to meet the growing pressure for places peaking in 2023. We will continue to press for access to the North Sittingbourne (Quinton Road) development to establish a new 6FE secondary school to meet the future need from the population growth and new housing developments’. Two questions: are there any clues about where these discussions are heading, given there is no current overall shortage of places in the District, and secondly the ambition to build a new school appears to be no nearer to fruition than when it was first proposed some years ago.   

 Abbey School, Faversham, which is slowly losing out in popularity to the much improved Whitstable in Canterbury District, had four vacancies despite offering 23 places to LAA children.
It is in Thanet that the choice of six schools instead of four has had the greatest effect, The number of children making a Thanet N/S school their first choice has fallen by 303 to 796, affecting every school in the District, much of this no doubt accounted by additional numbers placing grammar schools at the top of their lists. My speculation is that the large size of the fall in first preferences, much higher than elsewhere in Kent is a measure of the desperation of some families to find an alternative to the two unpopular schools in the District, with some unrealistically applying for grammar school, following the exceptional 2020 high rate of success in Thanet and others looking elsewhere.   
Oversubscribed Thanet Schools
on Allocation March 2021
Published Admission Number
First Prefs
Turned Down
Successful Appeals
  2020 & 2021 2020 2021 2020 2021 2020
Charles Dickens 232 191 117 37 21 6/24
King Ethelbert* 150 279 172 144 56 6/50
St George's CofE 217 328 249 129 88 7/30
Ursuline 150 130 118 24 32 24/33

Note: *At King Ethelbert School, the number of offers made was actually 158 in both years

The number with no school of their choice has fallen by 71 to 116, almost identical to a fall in the number of offers at the six N/S schools. Whilst there was also a fall in the number of Thanet grammar school places offered, this suggests more children securing places outside the District. The number of places made available remained the same at each school, KCC choosing to place 80 LAAs at Hartsdown this year, almost the same as in 2020 and filling the school, leaving Royal Harbour with 124 vacancies for its 300 places although, as in previous years, a considerable proportion of those offered places at the two schools will make alternative arrangements including successful grammar school appeals and receiving late offers from the other four schools. I have analysed the problems of these two schools several times before, including here, looking at different aspects of their difficulties and performance.

The 2019 Commissioning Plan had a hollow ring to it, having forecast both a shortage of 161 Thanet N/S places for this year with the opening of the controversial new Park Crescent Academy in 2020 in temporary premises built into the calculation! My article of last September demonstrated that (a) there is no need for the school in the next few years, and (b) the Consultation Document on a proposed Planning Application by the Howard Trust is not just flawed, the whole premises proposal is completely impractical. I did file an objection to the Planning Proposal on grounds of its inadequacy, but there has been complete silence on the matter ever since, and no Planning Application submitted in the subsequent six months, as far as I can see so, perhaps KCC or the Howard Trust are having second (actually about fifth) thoughts on it! This year’s Commissioning Plan (page 130)  continues to get it wrong again in its attempts to justify the new school, forecasting a deficit of just one Year Seven place just two months before allocation took place with its surplus of 126, but now stating the new school will open in 2023!  Unsurprisingly, but unforgivably, there is no reference to the fact that none of the 180 new places in Year Seven are likely to be needed. Instead, the Plan falsely claims that 'The new school will meet the demand for places in Thanet and support the reversal of an increasing trend of pupils travelling to schools in neighbouring districts for their secondary education'. The only demand is for quality places, not additional places. 

Tonbridge and Malling
The District is geographically long and thin, stretching from Aylesford in the North, curving around Maidstone to Tonbridge itself, with a mixed picture for its schools. Four are oversubscribed with first choices headed up by Hillview Girls (23) and Hadlow Rural Community (21), although both have dropped out of the list of most oversubscribed schools. Then come Wrotham and Aylesford, in Federation and both with 15 disappointed first choices. Aylesford’s academy application is currently blocked by the PFI hold up. It continues to draw pupils from Medway down Bluebell Hill, 16 in the current year. Malling School just filled but has seen its number of first choices fall sharply, probably because of the opening of the new SSTM. 

All but five of the 69 vacancies are at Holmesdale, which is still struggling for numbers after its Special Measures failure under KCC control, helped on its way by support from the Brook Learning Trust. It is now managed by Swale Academies Trust, which has an excellent record for turning schools around but is thwarted at present because of the PFI problem. Numbers were boosted by 36 LAAs, and by 11 Medway pupils, a figure that has fallen in recent years. However, the school lost 48% of the children offered places last year before term started in September, according to the October Kent census, the highest proportion in the county. There are two other PFI schools in the District, Malling and Hugh Christie, which expanded by 15 places, including offering places to 27 LAAs.

That leaves Hayesbrook School, once highly popular and academically successful, but which is now at the bottom of both tables. Although the town of Tonbridge offered an additional 47 places this year, this was brought about by pressure in Tunbridge Wells (see below), with Hayesbrook offering 51 allocations. It only had 51 first preferences, the second-lowest ever for the school, and third lowest in the county. It lost 46% of the children offered places last year before the September term started, the second highest figure i Kent.  The Brook Learning Trust is failing all its three schools, Ebbsfleet, Hayesbrook and High Weald and has now paid the price, being taken over by Leigh Academies Trust. Never mind the children’s education it has ruined at all three in recent years.

Next Page: District Survey of Tunbridge Wells

Last modified on Saturday, 07 August 2021 17:23


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