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Monday, 03 November 2014 00:00

Secondary School Admission Applications in Kent and Medway: reflections

This has been a particularly busy admission season for me, primarily because the change in structure and scoring pattern of the Kent Test have considerably increased uncertainty about chances of access to super selective schools and appeal success to grammar schools across the county. My news item on the Kent Test saw the fastest rate of hits ever on the website, totalling 7000 in just over a week. The article on the Medway Test, with about a sixth the number of applicants has already attracted over 3000 visitors.

The other major factor has been the urban myth and misinformation circulating amongst parents, too often driven by some primary headteachers trying to be helpful and some secondary headteachers keen to encourage numbers.

I have covered most of the comment and information below in previous news and information items on this website, but now that most  Secondary School Common Application Forms (SCAF) have been submitted, I have time to reflect. Kent parents will know that exceptionally, KCC has extended the closing date to 5th November (nationally it was 31st October) to give parents good time to consult schools after the Kent Tests results were sent out, allowing for half-term in between.

I hear many good reports about the advice freely given by KCC School Admissions, and know that, as always, the Department has been massively overworked. However, they are not allowed to comment about individual schools as I am. Medway Council also runs an advice service. 

I explore these issues and a variety of others below......

An article I wrote for Kent on Sunday on secondary admissions, at the end of September and reproduced here, has also attracted wide interest. My articles on the Kent and Medway tests will shortly be supplemented by fuller details of the test outcomes as I receive FOI information.

Ordering of Schools on the SCAF

All Local Authorities now run what is called an equal preference scheme which ensures that, if you place schools in your genuinely preferred order, you will not be disadvantaged in any way for consideration at a particular school and will be offered the highest one on the list for which you qualify according to oversubscription rules for each school.  

Too many secondary headteachers are still falsely claiming at Open sessions that you must put their school first on the list to be considered for a place. Reports of one school where the headteacher allegedly claimed to use Freedom of Information Requests to determine school order on application forms (not possible), were apparently greeted with shock by parents!

It is clear that some primary heads still believe that the now defunct process of what was called “first preference first” is still in existence.

There is much conflicting advice circulating about where parents should place grammar schools for which they are appealing on the SCAF. In Kent, it is quite straightforward – it is completely irrelevant as the child will be turned down, not having qualified for a grammar school place. For Medway parents it is not quite as simple as that, although schools do not have sight of the SCAF at admission time, if parents appeal the school and Independent Appeal Panel are given copies of the full document, including school order and any comments made about individual schools. Some, but not all, Panels will make use of this information.

Kent Test

There has been much speculation about the content and marking scheme for the new Kent Test. The main analysis in my initial article stands, my concerns remaining:

  1. The small number of questions in the English (24) and maths (30) papers, making up two thirds of the marks, compared to the (80) of the reasoning papers. Children were given a choice of five multiple choice possibilities for each question, so could gain an average of 5 marks by simply guessing, the remainder being spread somehow over the full range of age standardised marks from 69 to 140.
  2. the small spread of age standardised marks between the cut off pass mark for each paper of 106, and the 50th percentile of population at 100, which means a large number of appeal candidates will have very similar marks. Appeal panels look at all academic factors, not just the Kent Test results, but how much weight will they place on small differences? I certainly doubt very much if we shall see a change in the pattern of successful appeals. 
  3. The obsession with the hunt to determine what scores will get children into the super selectives, which has seen KCC swamped with FOIs at a peak time for dealing with parents' real concerns, each FOI featuring slightly different takes on the range of scores and number of children scoring each. There will be no answer until March.
  4. Many parents of bright boys looking for places at Maidstone and Simon Langton Grammars are dismayed by the two schools' retention of a cut off for high score priorities at 390 and 385 aggregates, which will advantage those dependent on gaining places on the lower priority of distance grounds. As there are only 7 boys attending state schools in Maidstone District and 5 in Canterbury who have achieved the relevant scores, the high scoring criterion has become almost irrelevant for 2015 entry (a total of 30 at private schools across the county with an aggregate of over 390, mainly in West Kent, is not going to make much change).
  5. The enthusiasm for chasing mark details has even spread to Romney Marsh, where parents of girls fear that because of remarks by Folkestone School for Girls about the new Shepway Test finding even more girls selective, the school  could be full with local girls and no room for the more distant Marsh girls. The obverse side of this is that the four local non-selective schools in Shepway saw their Year Seven demand fall sharply last year, as they lost their brightest potential pupils, a trend that will continue in 2015, and indeed is starting to impact in much of East Kent.

11 Plus Exams Kent Forum

The commercial 11 plus exams website, which censors any mention of, because I advertise my professional services, has been the source of much unintentional misinformation and grief amongst browsers across the county. The problem is that the website is based in Buckinghamshire, and much of the advice comes from an area which operates very differently from Kent. However, more importantly, the Kent Forum is dominated by parents only interested in super selection issues from West Kent and out of the county. As a result some other very good grammar schools in that area get unfairly maligned. More importantly, parents in other parts of the county tend to assume that because this is a “Kent” Forum, the points made apply across our very large and diverse county, and form very wrong opinions about their area as a result. This year, more than ever, I have spent considerable time disabusing parents of these views.

Non-Selective School Admissions

Rarely making the headlines, some two thirds of all families are solely concerned with applications to non-selective schools.

There are clearly going to be serious problems in Canterbury with the demise of Chaucer Technology College, if The Canterbury Academy, as it has made clear, is unable to repeat its expansion of last year, and parents are rightly concerned. Dartford, especially for boys continues to be a worry, and the placing of Charles Dickens School in Thanet into Special Measures has made life even more worrying for parents with fewer options left if they are to avoid the most unpopular school.

The often complex and very different oversubscription criteria for church schools continue to vex families in different ways, especially where non-faith children are effectively disenfranchised from good schools in their areas.

The three Free Schools, all now established even if there are some short-term concerns about premises are looking even more popular this year.

Medway parents also worry about several schools they are trying to avoid, with Bropmpton Academy, the most oversubscribed school in Kent or Medway last year maintaining its draw, partly on a negative vote for alternatives.

Grammar School Appeals

 Many parents still reasonably assume that demonstration of grammar school ability is all that is necessary to secure a successful grammar school appeal. If this were the case, then most grammar schools would be swamped. So, appeal panels have to make a judgement about the capacity of the school, and are then likely to raise or lower the bar to suit this. Panels will also be influenced by the pressure on places; do they decide to put in an additional form of entry, put in numbers that will force the school to increase numbers in each class or else split classes, find children of grammar school ability then not offer them a place because of capacity issues, the most disappointing of all decisions. I have spent many hours discussing possible outcomes with parents who want me to forecast chances of success, but even with my large collections of historical data for each school, and my wide experience of appeals, it is sometimes impossible to answer these questions. My recent article on grammar school appeals in North West Kent gives some likely scenarios.

An increasing number of parents are finding primary headteachers refusing to hand over a Headteacher Assessment (Appeal) decision where this has taken place, even though it will be presented as evidence at an appeal and so parents need to have sight of it. KCC will provide a copy in this case, although it should be unnecessary, as the HTA Report is part of the pupil’s file and so legally available to parents. 

Last modified on Monday, 03 November 2014 13:29

1 comment

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 02 June 2015 18:40 posted by Joanne

    On the KCC website I downloaded the '5 year educational plan'. This document was created last October 7 months after the decision was made to close The Chaucer in Canterbury! Interesting reading! By 2019 The Chaucer will be operational again! Seriously, has money been saved? On going expense of bus passes for relocated pupils would have been ovoided for one! And most definitely heartache for most ovoided as KCC ruined future careers for many!

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