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Monday, 24 May 2021 18:38

Oversubscription and Vacancies in Kent Primary Schools: 2021


The Districts surveyed are:

Page 3 - AshfordCanterbury (including Whitstable and Herne Bay); CranbrookDartford

Page 4 – Dover Deal & SandwichFaversham; Folkestone & HytheGraveshamMaidstone

Page 5 -Malling (including Kings Hill); SevenoaksSheppey; SittingbourneSwanley

Page 6 -ThanetTonbridgeTunbridge WellsJunior Schools

Individual academies are denoted (A) and schools set up as Free Schools (F).

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School District
First Choices
First Choices
76 44
Great Chart   Ashford 60 65 39
Claremont TW 60  54 29 
Gateway Dartford 30  42 28 
Our Lady's Catholic Dartford 30 41
Chilton  Thanet 60  39 31
Allington Maidstone 60  38 20 
Bobbing Swale  30 35 14 
Holy Trinity & St Johns Thanet 60  33 9
St John's CofE Maidstone 60 33 55
Sandgate Folkestone  60 32 26 

Brent Primary, in first place, is regularly at the top of the oversubscription table of schools with more than 30 disappointed first choices and was also top in 2018, 2019 and 2021 (and second in 2020). It is no coincidence that two other schools in Dartford, Gateway and Our Lady’s Catholic are also in the top five in the county, with just 3% vacancies across the town. Great Chart, Ashford, in second place is also regularly near the top of the table, 4th in 2020, 2nd in 2019, and 4th in 2018. St John’s CofE, Maidstone, also in the list came top in 2020, Chilton in Thanet also being present for both the last two years.

Although the other seven most oversubscribed schools were not in the table in 2020, both Sandgate and Claremont have regularly featured before, with Sandgate heading it up in 2015.

The level of oversubscription of a school can be strongly influenced by at least two factors out of its control. Firstly, is the matter of siblings who are generally given priority. A classic case was at Singlewell Primary in 2015, when 25 out of 30 places were awarded to siblings and the catchment distance shrunk to 200 yards. Secondly, variation in the number of children living in small villages can produce a considerable effect on intake, although families will still send their children some distance, and I am aware of a number of traditional routes of this nature.
 Local Authority Allocations
The number of children with no school of their choice has fallen by 59 children this year to 398 because of the fall in numbers and the increase in place.  Whilst most will be sad stories, some issues will be resolved as children drop out and waiting lists gather up other children, so that the final figure will be significantly lower. One reason for this churning is because, especially in the West of the county, some families have their eyes on particular popular schools and go private if unsuccessful. Some will follow that route anyway. Other families will have made an unrealistic set of choices and if they are prepared to settle for a less popular school may find somewhere they prefer.

21 schools have more than five LAAs, I don’t have data for lower numbers as these are not supplied because of Freedom of Information restrictions.  Highest figure is 25 at Temple Hill, with 15 at Knockhall, 11 in Dartford Primary Academy, all in Dartford, these numbers forced up as there were so few alternatives with vacancies in the District.

It is not always clear why some schools are chosen to receive these, so if you don’t like the one you have been allocated it may be worth contacting KCC to see where else has vacancies.

The increase of 404 vacancies since 2020, appears to have been spread across each District, rather than settling on individual schools. So, there are nine schools with more than 60% of their places unfilled, just one more than in 2020. Some make up their numbers with LAAs, sometimes a difficult decision if the school has a say in it. Do they want the money the extra children bring, or will they settle for admitting children whose families may not want that school?

A continued high vacancy rate will put considerable financial pressure on a school. In the case of an academy, they are technically not allowed to run at a deficit, but if part of a Multi-Academy Trust, finances can be shuffled round, but not for ever.

Halstead Community, in Sevenoaks District, has the highest vacancy rate in the county, with at least 80% of its 25 places unfilled, with five or fewer pupils being offered places.  The vacancy rate has been 60% for the previous two years. I do not understand why it has not been compulsorily academised by now, as clearly it must be in financial difficulty and KCC does not know how to handle the school. Ofsted found the school Requires Improvement in 2019, which won’t have helped.  For some reason, although KCC has organised many of its smaller schools into Federations, presumably for mutual support, Halstead is not one of these and although its PAN is 25, it has not attracted more than 10 pupils in any of the last four years.

Sunny Bank in Swale, placed into Special Measures by Ofsted in 2019, another KCC failure, has not yet seen any improvement in reputation as an academy, under The Island Trust. Last year it filled its 45 places by virtue of 19 LAAs, and the 2020 Census showed that 41 of these children were still on the books. However for 2021, KCc did not need the extra places, and just 12 children have been offered places, a vacancy rate of 73%.

Next come Bysing Wood in Faversham, Martello in Folkestone, and Selling in rural Swale, all with 70%, looked at more closely below. Several other schools with traditionally high vacancy rates have trimmed their intake numbers, so interpretation of data across the county is more difficult.

Cross County Movement
Of the 199 out of county children offered places, 59 have been offered places at three Dartford schools, all very close to the Bexley boundary, and so these children will qualify as being nearest, but inevitably make a contribution to the pressure in Dartford. 38 are at Wentworth, situated in the town, 12 were at Maypole and nine at Joyden Woods Infants, bothon the outskirts. 85 children are coming from Medway schools, 27 to Tunbury which still has 21 of its 90 places empty following its recent troubles and is geographically, if not politically in Medway, being north of the M2 in side the built up area. Another 11 are bound for Bredhurst CofE (address - The Street Gillingham) although it only has 15 places and is 14 first choices oversubscribed, many no doubt attracted by its reputation. This is confirmed by the Outstanding Ofsted, although it was awarded 10 years ago! Another 10 children are bound for Wouldham CofE, 60 places, 14 first choices oversubscribed, just across the Medway by Peter’s Bridge from the village of Halling, whose primary school is in a very controversial state at present. 

Travelling the other way are 171 children, not surprisingly most into Medway, with 11 going to Swingate, itself adjacent to the boundary, drawing from a small part of Kent north of the M2. 34 cross into Bexley, 28 to East Sussex and 26 to Bromley, all small numbers to each school.

 Next: Individual Schools in Ashford; Canterbury (including Whitstable and Herne Bay); Cranbrook; Dartford.

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 20:41


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 26 May 2021 19:30 posted by Kent Primary Headteacher (name suplied)

    Another tour de force Peter. Your website is unique I am sure, across the country. This annual article is eagerly scanned by many headteachers across the county, appreciative of its honesty and independence. On a personal note, I am delighted once again that you have given well earned credit to my school! Congratulations.

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