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Peter Read

Nothing to do with the purposes of this website but, after talking with a headteacher this morning, he advised me to copyright the following.

The history of this country can now be divided into two parts: previously when we trusted government advice and instruction, including on Coronavirus; and afterwards when that trust has died.

BC: Before Cummings.     AD: After Dominic 

Saturday, 30 May 2020 12:24

Schools Opening 1st June

I have been asked several times for my views on the merits of Kent and Medway schools opening on 1st June, and these are quite simple. I cannot imagine being in the position of current headteachers facing the challenge of deciding whether to open their schools or not, as they weigh up all the risks if they open and the brickbats if they stay closed. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of headteachers will make decisions for the benefit of their pupils, taking into account the individual circumstances of their own school, the safety and educational needs of pupils, and the safety and welfare of staff and their families. As a result there are many models for opening schools around, along with those that have decided to stay closed. As a retired headteacher and chairman of governors  myself, I am just glad it is not for me to take on that responsibility and do not consider myself qualified any more to have a view on individual circumstances. 

I will shortly be publishing my annual survey of Kent primary school oversubscription and vacancies. The timing is not good to say the least, with its focus on the situation of individual schools. However, I am being asked by many parents about this, as some need to know urgently if there are alternatives to the difficult situations in which they find themselves. I published my Medway survey a couple of weeks ago. 

Aspects of the current situation with regard to the Kent Test are that:
  • The date for the Kent Test is still currently set for September. To change it would require government approval. KCC is in discussion with government about an aspect of the Kent Test, presumably about a possible postponement.
  • There is no guarantee that any change of date would see the county free of Coronavirus, or schools operating normally.
  • There are no arrangements in place for children who are: unable to take the Kent Test because their schools are not open, or cannot provide facilities; or whose parents or schools judge it is unsafe to participate; or who are ill in large numbers. 
  • The School Admissions Code of Practice requires Admission Authorities to ‘take all reasonable steps to inform parents of the outcome of selection tests before the closing date for secondary applications on 2nd November so as to allow parents time to make an informed choice of school’.
  • The five thousand out of county children who normally take the Kent Test each year still need somewhere to sit it where it can be independently invigilated. In the past this has taken place in obliging Kent schools.   
As of today (19th May), Kent County County Council has provided no further information about the date of Testing. This is not a criticism as I don't see how they can with the current uncertainties. Registration for the Kent Test remains for a month from 1st June.

Sub Heading: Academies back government despite virus fears.

Update: Kent Council issues what appears to be a non-statement on school opening. According to KentLiveKent County Council breaks silence on planned schools reopening date - Matt Dunkley, Kent County Council’s Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, said they will still open in a safe environment. He said: “We are monitoring the national position carefully, following guidance from Government and working closely with head teachers in support of their preparations to further open schools to a wider cohort of children on Monday, June 1, at the earliest. "Our priority will be to ensure all children, young people and staff in Kent schools can learn and work in a safe environment and we will do everything necessary to support schools to achieve this.”

I rarely comment on national issues, but this utterly misleading headline above the only front page story on The Times today, has incensed me even though I am a subscriber. It draws its conclusion from just four macho academy trusts who haven't waited until details have been agreed, and ignoring many others with a contrary view. 

Harris Federation is a large and high performing chain with 49 schools, although none in Kent or Medway, and is a favourite of government so is indeed worth listening to but not to this extent. 

The next two, Oasis and REAch2 are well known in Kent for running two of the worst schools in the county for years and I have written extensively about both. One of their main features is complete failure to persuade parents they are capable of offering a decent education, so they are hardly likely to be listened to on this issue. Last year, of the 324 offers of places at Oasis Isle of Sheppey  in September, 101 were made up of Local Authority Allocations. By October the number taking up these places had fallen to 251 pupils, with many of the missing 73 pupils, or over 20% of the total offers, having gained places at other local schools, most on appeal. This is an  annual slump in numbers which last September saw the school effectively close one of its two sites. Low academic performance, frequent removal of Principals, very high exclusion rates and high turnover of staff, with a third of them being unqualified teachers last year, are features of the school. I wrote an article in 2019 which looked in some detail at the shocking failings of the Copperfield Academy in Gravesham and its sponsors REAch2, identifying the massive turnover of teachers and headteachers as the central issue during the Trust's six years in charge, never mind its being in Special Measures with amongst the worst KS2 performances in the county. For the coming September, 42 of the 71 places offered are Local Authority Allocations. I can see no way whatsoever, that the government initiative will be supported by the families of children attending these two schools. 

I had never heard of the fourth Trust, Guildford Educational Partnership until today, but it turns out to be a small academy Trust in Guildford, with just  three secondary and four primary schools. The sponsors of this article must be desperate!

 This article looks at Kent and Medway primary school Ofsted outcomes for the current school year. The headline news is the strong improvement in Academy levels in the past few years, both in Kent and Medway, whereas at best Kent County Council Local Authority (KCC) schools are standing still, with 20% of those inspected seeing a drop in level since September.

Ightham

 

Just one local school, Ightham Primary in Sevenoaks District, has been classified as Outstanding since September and none found Inadequate. 

I look at all the changes in primary school Ofsted assessments across Kent and Medway below, along with the performance of The Education People, responsible for performance in Kent Local Authority schools. .

Update on Kent Appeals 13th May, here.

Letter from Kent Primary Head on Consequences of Schools Re-Opening here

Some issues relating to the Emergency Regulations for School Appeals are now resolving, but the large majority of Local Authorities appear still to be struggling to come to a view. My previous article concluded that these proposals are unworkable in most cases, especially where there are large numbers of appeals or grammar school appeals. This is now the fifth article exploring the situation as it has developed, looking at how it has been interpreted, the previous four all containing considerable detail, along with advice for appellants. I propose to update it as I receive more information, the dates of the latest update being recorded at the top of the article. 

I continue with my view that the Government emergency regulations appear to be solely for the benefit of bureaucrats and show little interest in the challenges faced by families, panellists, clerks or schools. A parallel set of rules published by the Welsh Office was in complete contrast to this and placed families first, but the relevant section appears to have mysteriously vanished, see below!  

There are three approaches allowed for hearing remote appeals. These are: video conference, telephone conference, and written submission of cases and evidence. There is no indication that these different types of hearing can be mixed for a single school’s appeals, but no specific ban, and I have already been told of several schools that are planning to go this way.

In my previous article, written nearly two weeks ago, I described a ‘chink of light’ in an omission by the regulations to be prescriptive about the written submission process. I was delighted to learn yesterday that KCC has just sent out appeal invitations to grammar school appellants using this to the full. I don't know yet if it will be applied to non-selective schools, but anticipate this. Some Kent appeals for other types of school are being heard by audio-conferencing, with clerks establishing whether appellants can manage this. If not there is a fall back to a written submission hearing. 

Further details on all these matters below, including some Local Authorities which have now made decisions (please feel free to add to these).

Overall, there has been little change in Medway primary school admission data since my 2019 article, with an extra 94 children offered local schools bringing the total to 3447, and 45 additional places created.  The proportion of Medway children offered one of their choices in a Medway primary school has remained at 97.4%, coincidentally the same percentage as two out of the last three years. Overall, 12% of places are unfilled, down from 13% in 2019.  

Cliffe Woods Primary has shot up in popularity to become the most oversubscribed school, turning away 50 first choices, edging out last year's leader Barnsole Primary with 49 disappointed first choices. They are followed at some distance by the Academy of Woodlands and All Saints CofE. Barnsole, along with Swingate are the only two of the ten most oversubscribed schools to feature in each of the past three years.  There are eight schools with 15 or more first choices turned away (down from 10 last year), spread across the Authority, and listed in the table below. The most remarkable difference is for St Margaret's Infant School in Rainham, which has turned away 24 first choices for this September, but did not quite fill in 2019.

 Cliffe Woods       Barnsole  St Margarets Infant

 

 I have explored the changes at Greenvale Infant School and Phoenix Junior Academy below , as they have both become all through primary schools, giving an increase between them of 15 places for September. In Chatham, Walderslade and Wayfield primaries have seen their intake double from 30 to 60 places, Two other schools have minor changes in their intakes.  

I look more closely at each Medway area separately, below, links as follows: Chatham; Gillingham; Hoo Peninsula; Rainham; Rochester; Strood, together with the situation for Junior Schools, here 

If there are sections or individual school details that need amplification, please let me know…….

I have now written a further article looking at fresh developments: Coronavirus and School Appeals: Five 

The government has now published temporary regulations for the operation of school admission appeals during the Coronavirus emergency. Not to put too fine a point on it, my personal view is that as set out these are unworkable in Kent and Medway, whose schools held over 10% of all secondary school admission appeals in the country in 2019. The new regulations appear to have been drawn up without regard for the people who matter at this difficult time. Instead, when there was opportunity to be flexible by varying aspects of the non-statutory School Admissions Appeals Code in order to be fair to families, the regulations attempt to force the new circumstances into the existing Code.   

There are three groups of people to consider. Most importantly are the thousands of families, some of whom have spent up to eight months worrying about their children’s futures and all hoping they would get a fair hearing at an appeal which will affect their children’s life chances. Secondly, there are the army of volunteer appeal panellists  who freely give of their time to bring this about, but given no consideration here. Finally, do not forget the shrinking number of administrators whose workload and responsibilities are expanded enormously by the new regulations, but also given no consideration;whose  job is made all the more difficult because schools are closed at this time and access to documentation can be impossible.  

I look in more detail below at the implications for these new Emergency Regulations, mainly as applicable to Kent and Medway.

This article looks at three communications from Kent County Council to headteachers, addressing issues about  grammar school admissions and appeals at this time of Coronavirus.

The first is a letter sent to schools regarding the timing of the 2020 Kent Test for grammar school suitability in 2021, currently planned for September. 

I also look at two separate items relating to grammar school places for this September for some children. The first of these is about problems at appeal regarding unsuccessful Headteacher Assessments caused through the crisis; the second looks at late applications and testing.

An article in Kent Online records the particular challenge faced by the new Ebbsfleet Green Primary School, due to open in September. This one form entry school (increasing to two as demand grows due to new housing) which will be admitting children into nursery, reception, year 1 and year 2 classes was going to begin with temporary classrooms on site, before moving into the permanent premises in September 2021. 

However, the builders, Kier, are reported to be behind schedule on the temporary buildings which will not now be ready for September. As a result the school, to be run by the Maritime Academy Trust, is to open in spare classrooms at Bligh Primary School in Strood. 

One can only wonder how many other major building projects across Kent and Medway are similarly stalled. I am hearing rumours of one new school not opening at all for September.

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