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Tuesday, 28 September 2021 07:57

Pressure on Secondary Places in Gravesham, including at Meopham School

I have been highlighting the shortage of secondary school places at key pressure points across the county for some years, and this article looks at current problems for non-selective provision in Gravesham. The Government approved a new school in February, the Gravesend Central School, to ease these pressures although currently it has no site. Instead, KCC has made clear that until and unless the new school arrives, a partial solution to the lack of places is to just keep expanding the six current ones. Even then some children will have to be offered places outside Gravesham, almost certainly at Ebbsfleet Academy, the only NW Kent school with significant vacancies.

Meopham School was completely rebuilt to cater for an intake of 140 in 2018, but its Published Admission Number (PAN) was increased to 200 this September as part of the fix, although the application for Planning Permission has now been withdrawn for the additional permanent provision agreed back in 2019 because of traffic problems.  As a result, temporary accommodation will need to be brought in to house some 350 extra children due to arrive over the next four years. Approval has been sought for an expansion at Thamesview School in 2023 to increase the intake from 180 to 210.  

My next article will look again at provision of places in Swale, following a Council Meeting which underlined the problems I analysed earlier. My Individual Secondary Schools section is regularly consulted by browsers to the site, providing information covering every secondary school in Kent and Medway on pupil allocations and intakes over the past five years, appeal data, academic performance and Ofsted record, amongst other features. It provides invaluable background to each of the schools referred to below.

Currently, every one of the expansions and projected expansions takes the schools into KCC's view, put forward in its Commissioning Plan that the ideal size for the efficient deployment of resources is between 6FE and 8FE.

Other Gravesham Secondary Schools
Both St George’s CofE and St John’s Catholic schools in the town are heavily oversubscribed and have recently increased their intakes from 180 pupils, to 210 and 195 respectively. According to the KCC Proposed Record of Decision regarding Thamesview’s expansion, Northfleet School for Girls is the subject of a future proposal to expand and  Northfleet Technology College is under feasibility for an expansion.
Meopham School
Meopham School has had what I have described elsewhere as a meteoric rise in performance and popularity since being taken over by Swale Academies Trust, after it failed its Ofsted under KCC in 2012. Even with this year’s expansion it was still the fourth most oversubscribed N/S school in the county, and following its current Outstanding Ofsted Report, one of only three held by N/S schools in the county.  

The school had a complete rebuild in 2018 for its intake of 140 pupils, and it was only the following year that the decision was made to expand it to admit 210 children each year, with funding approved for an independent teaching block on a separate part of the site, to cater for some 350 pupils. The decision reads:

KCC propose increasing the accommodation and the amount of school social space including, dining, recreational and circulation space over the expansion period.   This work would be completed before the September 2021 intake.  This build would enable the school to offer 210 Year 7 places for September 2021.

As so often the case, the start of the project was severely delayed and it was only in March this year that a Planning Application was submitted. Three months later it was withdrawn because no solution was put forward to resolve the major traffic issue with the busy Wrotham Road, which provides the only vehicular access to the school, often blocked at school opening and closing times.

The PAN was subsequently finalised at 200, perhaps when it was realised that there was to be no permanent accommodation, and the school is now committed to accept that number into Year Seven each year as it did this month. The state of the art new premises will not be able to accommodate over a quarter of the school roll when it reaches capacity in four years, as the bulge works through, with no immediate expectation of relief from the growth of a mobile classroom provision.

The transport issue was only picked up in a ‘Transport Statement’ in the Planning Application back in March this year: ‘During busy periods, congestion within the site can sometimes cause blocking back onto Wrotham Road which causes delays for vehicles seeking to turn right into the site. This in turn can block the through traffic on Wrotham Road’. This appears to be directly contradicted by the conclusion in the Planning Statement published at the same time that ‘The Transport Statement concludes that there are no highways reasons why planning permission for the proposed expansion of the should be refused’ . In the end it was KCC Highways that refused to approve the plans in accord with the Transport Statement, and the Planning Application was withdrawn to save the embarrassment of it being turned down.

Presumably, there is a solution to the traffic problem; such a pity no one thought of it before! As it is, until it is resolved a new Planning Application for permanent premises will have to wait, with the construction completed perhaps two years later.

Thamesview School
Funding has now been approved for an expansion of 30 pupils in each year group at Thamesview taking it to 210 pupils for 2023, although it also has potential traffic issues with access only via the narrow Thong Lane. The school is one of the minority of Kent secondaries that is still maintained by KCC.

This year Thamesview had 32 children allocated to it who never applied for the school, as all other choices of school were full of children with a greater priority. There were 40 Local Authority Allocations the previous year as its popularity fell sharply from having been oversubscribed up until 2019. In that year, the most recent for which GCSE results were published, Thamesview had the sixth-lowest Progress Eight score of any school in the county at -0.79, classified as Well Below Average. It has a very small Sixth Form, averaging around 20 pupils in each year, similar to Meopham, although the latter’s sharp increase in popularity is now working through the school and will surely see a surge in Sixth Form numbers shortly. All of the other four schools have substantial Sixth Form cohorts. I am very concerned about the Sixth Form page on the Thamesview website, which describes in graphic terms how students will experience ‘the buzz of a Sixth Form College’. It talks about the 100% success rate of its students, although according to DfE data, not one took A Level or technology vocational courses in 2019, the last year that data was published. None of this fits the description of a ‘popular’ and ‘successful’ school in a local newspaper reporting the proposed expansion.

Gravesend Central School
The proposed new school is/was to be sponsored by the Endeavour Trust based on the two Wilmington Grammar Schools, as explained here. However, if all the expansions and proposals to expand every one of the six existing Gravesham N/S schools take place, even assuming that a site can be found, there may well be no further case for the school.
The Kent Schools Commissioning Plan for 2021-2025 is silent on the new school, reporting in full for Gravesham N/S secondary schools that:

Gravesham and Longfield Non-Selective Planning Group

There are seven schools in the Gravesham and Longfield non-selective planning group: Longfield Academy, Meopham School, Northfleet Technology College, Northfleet School for Girls, Thamesview School, Saint George’s CE School and Saint John’s Catholic Comprehensive School.

Demand fluctuates throughout the forecast period, with two spikes of demand in September 2023 and September 2025. Additional capacity is required. Unless larger developments are brought online within the District, with land allocated for Education provision, it is unlikely we will accommodate all of the forecast demand within this planning group alone. The additional provision can and will be secured but within the wider North West Kent area.

We will commission a further 1FE at Thamesview for September 2021 and St John’s Catholic Comprehensive can provide 0.5FE. A further 2FE of provision will be required from September 2023-24 which will be managed through the expansion of existing provision within North West Kent.




Last modified on Tuesday, 28 September 2021 13:23

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