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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).
Tunbridge Wells
Quite simply, District non-selective provision is a shambles which, although it is not responsible for the initial disgrace, KCC is shamefully covering up.
The Commissioning Plan for Education Provision in Kent (CPEPK) reports on various planning groups, which tend to reflect population movement, the relevant one being that for Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells N/S Schools. It has reported as follows for the last four years. The links are to my articles at the time.

2018: The crisis in secular non-selective provision in Tunbridge Wells (TW) is set out clearly in an article I wrote at the time, which explains how a new school was lost through lack of a sponsor, and CPEPK for 2018 which set out the pressing need: There is significant pressure for Year 7 places across the Borough that rises from a forecast deficit of 121 places in 2018-19 to a peak of 245 in 2022-23. There is particular pressure in the urban areas, with approximately 8FE deficit of places forecast in central Tunbridge Wells for the September 2018 intake, based on published admissions numbers. The forecast demand indicated in the table above is skewed by surplus capacity in Cranbrook, which is outside of the historical travel to learn distance for children resident in Tunbridge Wells Town.

2019 The CPEPK 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.

2020 The CPEPK  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’.

 2021 (CPEPK Page 145): No problem whatever: ‘forecasts indicate that there will be sufficient places at the start and end years of the Plan period, but there will be a 50 place deficit in 2023-24 and 36 deficit in 2023-24. These deficits will require up to 60 temporary places to be offered via existing secondary schools’. 

To date, just 30 of the 240 deficit places for central TW forecast in the 2018 report above have been found, all at Bennett Memorial Diocesan, so may not even be taken up by local children whose families don't attend church regularly (although I am informed that this policy does have a very positive effect on church membership locally!). Bennett was given a generous £6.5 million from the KCC Basic Need Budget in 2018 to expand by 60 permanent places to 300 (although its intake had been 270 for at least three years, so effectively the 30 places I have identified). Whilst I am not sure which of the complex religious criteria this applies to, but for 2021 entry, children in the lowest category offered were only awarded places if they lived less than 2.93 miles from the school. 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 TW boys unable to access local schools being dispatched to Hayesbrook (51 LAAs), Hugh Christie (27 LAAS, opening up the school to another 15 children) in Tonbridge. A further 37 LAAs have gone to Mascalls in Paddock Wood (always popular with some TW parents), expanded by 30 places for the purpose. Mascalls is a successful school that has replaced High Weald for this purpose in 2021, possibly because of the high rate of protests from families being sent out 20 miles from TW to that deeply unpopular school run by the failed Brook Learning Trust (also see Hayesbrook entry for Tonbridge earlier in this article for more details).

I suspect that TW girls cannot access the heavily oversubscribed Hillview School in Tonbridge.  This gives possibly as many as 127 TW children excluded from schools in their own town, to which can be added some of the 64 Kent children who have been offered places across the county boundary at Uplands Community College in East Sussex, which in performance terms comes some way below Skinners Kent Academy in terms of Progress 8, but similar on Attainment 8. Some of these children will be unsuccessful grammar school candidates looking for a comprehensive school, others simply not being offered a suitable local N/S school.

As well as the failure to secure that new school, promised in 2018, the admission policy of Bennett Memorial Diocesan plays a big part in the problem, as it has drawn in 51 children from across the county border this year, mainly from East Sussex, along with others from outside the town and District.  

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 have been a high-risk strategy, as the school has already seen the biggest vacancy rate in the county for some years.  along with a regular replacement programme of leaders in a vain attempt to improve matters, No doubt the new premises were seen as an attraction to improve matters but the number of first choices has risen by just one to 56 this year, and without the LAAs, the overall vacancy rate has shot up 52% at this stage, by some way the largest percentage in the county, so over half its capacity remains unfilled. Much of this calamity is no doubt down to the poor leadership of Brook Learning Trust, but its new sponsors have a big task on their hands.

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 80 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, a record 51 places are going to Out Of County children this year (44 from East Sussex), and many others will be drawn from outside TW, at the expense of local children. St Gregory’s Catholic, 26 first choices disappointed, has a similar complex arrangement, but with fewer than children from East Sussex, the lowest for many many years. For the lowest criterion offered, only children living less than 0.96 miles from the school were offered places.  There is just one secular school in TW, Skinners Kent Academy which serves the East of the town, with 42 first choices oversubscribed, having reduced its intake by 60 places this year to 180. What is likely is that the school was asked to expand to ease the pressure over the previous two years by taking in the extra pupils but cannot sustain this.  

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Last modified on Tuesday, 30 November 2021 23:11


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