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Peter Read

Wednesday, 20 October 2021 06:00

Kent Test 2021: Initial Results and Comment

The Kent Test results have again produced a pass mark with an aggregate score of 332, with an additional requirement to score 109 on each of the three sections - English, mathematics, and reasoning, one up on last year’s individual pass mark.  The level of pass marks is no indication of difficulty in the Test, rather a complex standardisation of raw scores against a national sample of children, comparing like ages with each other. The intention is to select 21% of the Kent cohort by this method for automatic selection along with another four per cent by Headteacher Assessment, as explained here, making up a target of 25%. In the event this year, 25.8% of the cohort, comprising all of Kent’s Year six cohort in primary schools, added to all Kent private school pupils who took the Test, were found selective. This is up from last year’s 25.4%, but down on 2019’s 26.6%. 

There was an increase of 364 in the number of children taking the Test overall this year, with 159 additional children found selective over the 2020 figure, but I don’t yet have a further breakdown of the figures as I eventually did for 2020, as shown in the table below. What I have been told is that the differential between pass rates in East and West Kent has widened further, as discussed extensively in previous articles, most recently at ‘Covid-19 and the Kent Grammar School Selection Process for 2022 Entry’. This describes KCC’s complete failure to compensate for the effects of Covid on ‘ordinary’ and disadvantaged families in the selection process. I have still to learn the detail of this but have been told for example, that in Swale, an area with high numbers of socially disadvantaged families, the pass rate has slumped alarmingly. I have talked with a number of school leaders in the East of the county and there is no doubt that pupil absence, teacher absence and other factors over the past two years have played havoc with the learning of too many children, many of whom have the ability to thrive in grammar schools but have now been denied a place.

Please note that this article was initially produced to meet the Thursday 4 p.m. deadline for the release of results and will be revised as I learn more details. I explore further below all the matters in the introduction, along with sections on Sources of Information and Advice on admissions and appeals, Out of County Children, Pressure Points and Finally

This news item is essentially a guide to a host of information and advice articles for local families looking to make applications for secondary school places in state schools in Kent and Medway next September, together with 2021 appeal outcomes. Across the country, families will be making use of their own Local Authority co-ordinated admissions schemes and make applications by the national closing date of Sunday 31st October, although Kent extends this to Monday 1st November. The co-ordination then spreads across county boundaries to take in cross-border applications, in a gigantic data handling mechanism.

The most important news is that last year, whilst just 70% of Kent families were awarded their first choice school, this was an exceptionally low figure, caused by a one-off change in the application procedure because of Covid, the norm is nearer 80% and I would expect something similar for 2022 entry. Unfortunately, Medway does not issue this information, but I believe it will be higher.  

Around half of all K & M families will apply for grammar school places, with the results of the Kent Test due out next Thursday 21st October. The Medway Test results have already been sent to parents, with the outcomes of the Review process to be posted on 22nd October.

I am currently updating all the relevant articles, but even those still to be tackled can be highly relevant, although they may be up to a year out of date I am afraid. I am also preparing my article surveying 2021 appeals outcomes, although you will already find the data for every school that held appeals this year in my Individual Schools sections for Kent and Medway.

There is also a list of all the key sections, with a link to them, on the right-hand side of this page, followed immediately afterwards by a link to become a subscriber to my news and blog items as they are published (no charges, no unwanted advertising).

Five popular and successful West Kent secondary schools, Hadlow Rural Community School, Hillview School for Girls, Knole Academy, Tonbridge Grammar School, and Trinity School will announce today that they are joining in a formal collaboration to work closely together. Their aims in doing this are that the schools should together grow stronger and provide an even higher level of educational provision for their students, whilst keeping their individual identities and shielding them from the government target that all schools should come together in Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) of twelve or more schools.   

The enclosed joint Letter to Parents and FAQ are very clear on the underlying principles of the Alliance. The five schools are all very different in character as outlined below and are in no doubt that the government drive for large MATs would change and damage those characters. 

I heartily applaud this initiative which appears to have many benefits as set out in the above documentation for these schools. There is no doubt that many other schools have benefitted by the alternative MAT model, but this is a welcome reminder that there are others that would be equally effective. Also below, you will find sections on Government Policy on Academisation and Other Kent and Medway ‘Alliances’

Kent County Council Media release: Friday, October 15, 2021

Starting a placement as a teaching assistant through a scheme that helps young people into work has already been life changing for one 20-year-old in Kent.

Fiona Cashman began a six-month paid placement at The Wyvern School – a special school in Ashford that caters for pupils aged three to 19 – at the start of the current school year as part of the Kickstart scheme. The national initiative, which creates new job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment, is being promoted widely in the county, including by the Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People programme. The KCC-led community programme aims to help children and young people reconnect with aspects of their lives that have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and one of its five aims focuses on promoting economic well-being and boosting young people’s employment potential. 

Fiona is one of 19 young people in Kent who started a teaching assistant placement at a school for pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) this September; 13 more are preparing to start. There are currently 19 additional teaching assistant places available at SEND schools and a further 11 in mainstream schools, but the placements must be started before the end of March 2022. Although the Kickstart scheme is aimed at 16-24-year-olds, participants must be 18 to start a placement in a school.

New Query: Why has the New Horizons Teaching School Alliance website been closed. Can anyone help? In my own view, the article below sets out good reasons why the whole thing should be scrapped before any more potential teachers are disillusioned.  

The Gordon School Children’s Academy in Strood saw 15 of its 25 teachers leave last year, part of a list I have of over 50 names departing in the past four years.  I have been sent several sets of grievances from different staff which add up to a consistent pattern and may go to explain these startling facts but, without corroborating evidence, it is inappropriate to quote these. The astonishing turnover of headteachers at the school, with seven in seven years, is also indicative of the pressures under which they are placed to deliver results. However, the enclosed letter sent to all teachers earlier this year is indicative of the style. The use of non-disclosure agreements for some Gordon managerial staff who have left the school has not been helpful with regard to this article. The turnover of other staff, especially Teaching Assistants is also very large. The pattern of demanding ever higher standards across the Trust's Medway schools appears common, whatever the cost to teachers and their careers or, in the case of the grammar schools of pupils who may struggle, and through the selection procedures. The high turnover of headteachers is also common in at least three other TSAT schools.  

The headteacher of Gordon, Mrs Murphy, is in her second year at the school, having transferred from the New Horizons Children’s Academy where she was succeeded by her husband. She may not remain there as she is also Principal of the new Maritime Academy, also in Strood, opening next September, although I am not aware of her secondary school background. In the meantime, New Horizons Children's Academy also appears troubled, with 11 of its 24 teachers (two part-time) having left last year. I am concerned about a detailed allegation I have received about SAT performance there, but again have no verification.  

Unsurprisingly the popularity of both schools is falling, Gordon having over a quarter of its places unfilled on allocation in May this year. New Horizons which opened in 2014 had been heavily oversubscribed for some years but had 16% empty places on allocation for this year.

Concerned staff have now been blocked from talking with me, with the Trust taking disciplinary action against at least one member, despite their having had no contact whatever with me.

So what is going wrong at the Thinking Schools Academy Trust?

 The Medway Test results have now been published, with successful candidates achieving an aggregate score of 487 across the three Tests. The pass mark is set to allow a target of 23% of the Medway cohort to be successful, with 833 Medway pupils passing out of a cohort of 3605, a success rate of 23.11%. It is likely that once again well over a thousand out-of-county children will have passed the Medway Test, with more than 200 of them taking up places, including at Holcombe Grammar, blocking local boys hoping to win a  place on appeal.   

All the information at present available is in the table below, along with the results of the two previous years. I am awaiting a more detailed breakdown of information from Medway Council, and will publish this as soon as it is available.

What we do know at this stage is that for the second year running, no consideration whatever has been given to the consequences of lockdown and coronavirus on the performance of children, and indeed no mention of these in the Council Press Statement abut Medway Test results, as distinct from last year, presumably best forgotten as an inconvenience.

I also provide details of the shocking outcomes of the appeals process which saw no appeals upheld for children who did not pass the Medway Test, except at Chatham Grammar School, apart from possibly but unlikely at Rochester Grammar. There were no successes at all for boys who had not passed the Medway Test. 

You will find plenty of further information and advice below and via the links, relating to the Medway Test, the appalling Review process, appeals and application to grammar schools.

Updated: 4th October

Last week Kentonline published a dramatic story headlined: ‘Shock u-turn as KCC agrees Sheppey needs another secondary school to take on Oasis’. The sub-heading on the web address reads ‘shock as kcc bows to parent power in education shake up’ No such agreement has been made, as I know from notes of the meeting where this claim originated. However, the enthusiasm of KCC for the idea is contained in both the notes and the paperwork for the meeting enclosed, including a lengthy statement from Gordon Henderson, MP for Swale also arguing for a two-school solution, and also in a briefing paper for the meeting from Swale Borough Council.  None of these make any reference to parental views, so where 'parent power' comes from is anyone's guess. Tucked away at the foot of a subsequent KM article without comment or even a header, is a quotation from KCC rightly refuting the claim, although their support for the concept may have misled the newspaper reporter. KM has not retracted the story and so, according to Director of Education, Christine McInnes, further correspondence is being prepared.  

As explained in a previous article, there is a crisis in secondary provision in Swale with the number of pupils in Sittingbourne and Sheppey rising sharply year on year, and the Sheppey area meeting of Swale Council on 14th September explored this issue as the main agenda item. This September, 71 Sittingbourne children have crossed the Swale to start their secondary education at OAIOS, probably nearly all from the 108 children allocated there who had not applied for the school.  They are also likely to have been amongst the 134 first choices turned away from Fulston Manor in Sittingbourne or the 110 from Westlands. The meeting notes also explain the bind which is preventing a new school in Sittingbourne from being built. So the claim by the CEO of Oasis Community Learning that the increase in numbers at OAIOS of 100 pupils (actually it is only 65) is due to the good job being done there is false as it is purely down to an increase, coincidentally also of 65, in the number of pupils in the cohort attending Sheppey primary schools.  

I explore all these issues further below.

Update Ist October : The article has now been revised. 

Leigh Academies Trust (LAT), which took over High Weald Academy in Cranbrook on 1st September, has announced that the Minister of Education for Schools has decided the school will close by 31st August 2022, subject to a final agreement of the closure plan, with pupils will be able to move to the thriving Mascalls School in Tunbridge Wells. LAT has set up a ‘Listening Period’ to obtain views on how the closure will operate. This decision has been planned for some time, probably since the takeover was agreed, and includes a linked proposal for alternative use of the redundant site left by the closure, below.    

High Weald 2 

Followers of this website will be in no doubt as to the continuous failure of High Weald Academy ever since it was taken over as a Sponsored Academy in 2012. I have regularly pointed out what was surely self-evident, that on the number of pupils it was attracting, the school was not viable and so it has at last been recognised. It had the highest proportion of vacancies in Year Seven of any Kent school last school year at 59%, My previous article entitled: Leigh Academies Trust to take over (merge) the Brook Learning Trust analyses the issues more fully.

Assuming the closure goes ahead, the site with its £13 million (I have not seen a precise figure, but this has been quoted) of expenditure on new premises opened less than two years ago to create a school with a capacity of 1020 pupils according to the DfE, but a pupil roll last year of just 256, will become vacant. I look at its probable future below 

Sadly for families, my view is that there is no point in contesting the closure, but to look ahead for the best option for your child, who may well be severely troubled by this decision, on top of the traumas of the last two school years of the coronavirus epidemic.  

Also below: Background; What Next? Mascalls Academy; Alternative Schools for the Future; The Future of the High Weald site if the school is closed; Finally.

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.  

Wednesday, 15 September 2021 21:35

Gavin Williamson

There is little left to say about this man, who has failed children, teachers and headteachers across the country.  As I don't normally comment on national education matters that are not specific to Kent or Medway I will confine myself to referring to the few articles I have written naming him. 

These included one in June last year entitled: Kent's Plan for Grammar School Selection 2020After reviewing KCC's complete  failure to come up with any strategy for supporting disadvantaged children in the Kent selection process, a failure that was underlined by the seriously flawed outcomes last year, I wrote: 

'This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future."' He may have looked but he certainly didn't do anything which made a difference!

My most frequent mention of Mr Williamson was in connection with his appointment of the CEO of Turner Schools, to a post as adviser in the DfE, after her highly controversial three years of leading the Trust, then promoting her to be Chief Regulator of OfQual, in spite of her record.....

For an excellent record of Mr Williiamson's performance as Secretary of State for Education try:  'U-turns, gaffes and mixed messages: lowlights of the Williamson era' on Page Six of the latest Schools Week

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