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Sunday, 05 April 2015 20:14

Oversubscription and Vacancies in Kent & Medway Non-Selective Secondary Schools: March 2015

This article looks at secondary allocations for non-selective and Free schools across Kent and Medway with further articles on grammar schools and cross-county movement to come. It is somewhat delayed as I have been overwhelmed with clients for secondary appeals this year, the number of parents going to appeal appearing to have shot up. A previous article provides the initial key statistics about school allocation.

After the headlines, immediately, below, I look at the key points in each of the Kent Districts and Medway.

    • Most oversubscribed non-selective school for the second year running is Brompton Academy, with 159 first choices turned away, just pipped by Dartford Grammar School overall with 162 grammar qualified first choices rejected. Next comes St George’s in Broadstairs, up from 4th place with 150 first preferences not offered. 
    •  Two of Kent’s Free Schools, Wye and Trinity, are in the top ten of most oversubscribed non-selective schools in the county. The third, Hadlow Rural Community School, is also full. 
    • The sudden closure of Oasis Hextable School with the consequent pressure on neighbouring schools, has seen 95 additional Kent children having to be allocated by KCC to schools in Bexley. 
    • I have featured five schools with serious problems in recruitment in recent years. Three of these have closed, but Pent Valley, Folkestone (““Good”” OFSTED) and High Weald Academy, Cranbrook (“Requires Improvement” twice, so not a bad school) still have over 50% of their Year 7 places vacant for September, now joined by Castle Community College, suffering for its disastrous fall from “Outstanding” to Special Measures a year ago.

I recently wrote an article at the request of Kent on Sunday on some of the many good non-selective schools of Kent. With apologies to those I have missed out, you will find the article here......

The most popular Kent schools in order of first choices turned away are as follows:

  Non-Selective 2015   Non-Selective 2014 Number
1 Brompton Academy 159 Brompton Academy 173
2 St George’s, Broadstairs 150 Leigh Academy 106
3 Valley Park 145 Fulston Manor 103
4 Leigh Academy 179 St George's, Broadstairs 93
5 Fulston Manor 113 Westlands 92
6 Wilmington Academy 94 Bennett Memorial 83
7 Trinity School 82 Longfield Academy 75
8 King Ethelbert 80 Charles Dickens 53
9 Wye Free 74 Valley Park 50
10 Skinners Kent Academy 72 Knole Academy 49
11 St Gregory’s Catholic 69 Skinners Kent Academy 49

Four of the new arrivals occupied the next four places in 2014, with St Gregory’s not far behind at 19th. Those that have disappeared are also clustered close to the cut off point, so really little variation. However, the big difference is the continued polarisation towards these most popular schools, with every one of them seeing a significantly increased demand for places. This can only lead to more appeals, as I also forecast would happen in the selective sector, and I can only hope there is sufficient capacity to meet demand for trained voluntary appeal panellists.

The following area summaries describe the situation before grammar school appeals, which will free up a number of places in each district, the pattern varying widely according to individual grammar school circumstances. 


The success of the Wye Free School, in a lovely rural village near to Ashford has caused difficulties elsewhere, with its nearest neighbour, Towers School in Kennington, severely hit being a third empty before grammar school appeals. The North School in Ashford, two years ago heavily oversubscribed, has now been taken over by the Swale Academy Trust after being placed in Special Measures, wrongly some may say, and is now also in difficulties attracting students, with 48 vacancies.


The controversial closure of Chaucer Technology School last year after mismanagement led to children avoiding it, has produced severe pressure on places. Canterbury Academy is no longer able to sustain the 60 additional places it offered last year to children last year and, for 2015 entry there are no spaces available in any school except the Community College, Whitstable, which also had 23 children allocated by KCC, who had not applied to the school, I suspect mainly from North Canterbury.


The sudden closure of the Oasis Hextable Academy has caused severe pressure on places, with every school in Dartford along with Orchard Academy in Swanley, full to overflowing, apart from Ebbsfleet Academy. Leigh, Longfield and Wilmington Academies, all run by the Leigh Academy Trust, continue to be amongst the most oversubscribed schools in Kent, with Dartford Science and Technology College having got over its 2011 difficulties, being the only school in Kent to have improved its OFSTED rating by two levels in one go in the past few years, to “Good”, in 2012. Ebbsfleet Academy to the east, continues to be very unpopular, with 52 Local Authority allocations, the highest proportion in the county. This still left it with 13 of its 150 place vacant, KCC evidently deciding that  it was better to place children in nearer and more acceptable schools in Bexley.


The Kent Test and the Dover Test together now take out around 32% of Dover children to the two local grammar schools, so all three non-selective schools are feeling the pinch, St Edmund’s Catholic School, having only recently got out of Special Measures suffering worst, with 47% vacancies. Up the road, Castle Community in Deal is paying the price for collapsing from “Outstanding” to Special Measures last year, with over half its places vacant. Just three years ago it, together with Walmer Science College which it took over, made 192 offers at this time, the current figure of just 87, including 9 Local Authority allocations showing the lack of confidence in the school. Where have the other 100 gone?  One answer is Sandwich Technology College, whose popularity has shot up with 46 first choices turned down. Others may have gone to one of the Dover schools, keeping their vacancy numbers down a little.


With every Gravesham secondary school on a ‘“Good”’ OFSTED, there are no particular problems, although St George’s Comprehensive, on a roll, has turned away 63 first choices, as it becomes most popular Gravesham School. Northfleet Technology and St John’s Comprehensive are also significantly oversubscribed, but this pattern seems to change year on year.


Once again, Valley Park is the school everyone wants to get to, with 145 disappointed first preferences. The school has changed its oversubscription criteria to give priority for those children for whom it is the nearest school, then by distance. Sounds complicated, but there is a logic, except that Cornwallis tried it and have now abandoned it in favour of an ability banding scheme. Cornwallis, Maplesdon Noakes and St Simon Stock are all oversubscribed, but it is likely that after grammar school appeals most children other than those applying for VP will get their first choice. New Line Learning Academy still struggles to attract students with a 30% vacancy rate. St Augustine Academy after several years of struggling is now seen as a “Good” choice and is full for the first time on many years.

The proposal by the Valley Park/Invicta Academy Trust to set up the new six form entry Free Maidstone School of Science and Technology to open in 2017 and built on the current joint campus, will certainly shake up the District. Swadelands School in Harrietsham will be hardest hit, along with New Line Learning, but planned housing developments in the town should rapidly absorb any surplus.


North Sevenoaks is discussed under Dartford. All three schools oversubscribed, Knole, 62 first choices turned away, and Trinity 82, both heavily. Knole has made 35 offers to Bromley children.


As with Dover, the Shepway Test has had a heavy effect, but this time just falling on one school. Between them the two grammar schools, but mainly Folkestone School for Girls which has recruited 118 of its 180 places from girls who have passed the Shepway Test only, have selected about 37% of the ability range in the District. This has mainly resulted in another fall in numbers at Pent Valley School, which has only offered places to 45 children from its Admission number of 180 – two years ago its intake number was 240. Will a government decision in principle to offer it a major building project be in time to save the school? It is also losing out to Brockhill Park, in Hythe, which is clearly on the up, turning away 51 first choices. Folkestone Academy, which has just suspended its Executive Headteacher, is just oversubscribed with first choices, but was one of the most popular schools in Kent just 4 years ago.


Fulston Manor is by far the most popular school in the District, turning away 113 first choices. Westlands, which has been neck and neck with it for years, is falling back, although 66 first choices still turned away. However, there is usually a fairly high rate of successful grammar school appeals and in recent years, Westlands has not needed to hold appeals, as all children who wanted to have been offered places. A high proportion of the Westlands unsuccessful first preferences come from the Isle of Sheppey, where Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey is still unpopular, with just 308 offers made out of 390 places. 68 of these being Local Authority Allocations, the largest number of any school in Kent, most probably island children who have only put down Sittingbourne schools. Abbey School in Faversham increases in popularity year on year, having taken some time to live down a previous reputation, filling its 210 places for the first time in many years.


Thanet figures have been constrained for many years by the unpopularity of the failed Marlowe Academy. Now it will effectively close, being assimilated by Ellington and Hereson School and the next pressure will be a shortage of places in Thanet. Many E&H parents are understandably unhappy about the proposal, but in the long term it should work well for the area. Initial figures before children were reallocated from Marlowe showed there were just 48 places vacant in the District, nearly all at Marlowe, even after 77 children were initially allocated there by KCC.

Many parents have made their applications with prime aim to avoid Marlowe, so I anticipate next year’s preference pattern to be different, but the three most popular schools remain St George’s CofE in Broadstairs, the most popular school in Kent turning away 150 first choices, King Ethelbert rejecting 80 first choices, and Charles Dickens which, in spite of being controversially placed in Special Measures by OFSTED, has seen parents keep faith, with 44 disappointed first choice families turned away.


There are only vacancies at the two schools of the Holmesdale Malling Federation with 104 empty spaces between them, although both schools are considered ‘“Good”’ by OFSTED. Aylesford to the north has seen its popularity increase and for the first time in years is oversubscribed with 23 first preferences turned away. This is another district with every secondary school ‘“Good”’, except Hillview Girls which is ‘“Outstanding”’.


The town itself has three non-selective schools, all massively oversubscribed each turning away more than 60 first preferences. As usual, Mascalls School in Paddock Wood is a little oversubscribed offering  places to a large number of children unsuccessful at TW applications, but as in previous years is likely to offer places eventually to all who pursue their application. Hadlow Rural Community School, which offers a specialist land based curriculum, once again has just about filled its 60 places, the real problem being at High Weald, which yet again has attracted less than half the number of children to required to fill its 180 places, losing out to the surrounding comprehensive schools.  


Brompton Academy’s dominance of the oversubscription table across Kent and Medway continues with 159 first preferences turned away. This may sound lower than last year’s 173, but the school has added another 30 places, so it is even tighter.  I have written earlier about polarisation, and in a small urban Authority, where most schools are accessible, it becomes even stronger, with four schools, Bishop of Rochester Academy, St John Fisher Catholic School, Hundred of Hoo Academy, and Robert Napier School taking virtually all of the 167 Local Authority allocations after these families got none of their six choices. Bishop of Rochester Academy, having got rid of yet another Principal over Easter, is the only one of these with vacancies after allocation, with 71 empty spaces 58 of the remainder being filled with LA allocated children.

At the top end of the popularity scale, after Brompton comes Thomas Aveling, 61 first preferences not offered, Rainham School for Girls with 37, Strood Academy with 34 and The Howard with 22.  

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 May 2015 07:43

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