Supporting Families
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Peter Read

There was only a small increase of 37 in the number of Kent primary pupils allocated places at secondary schools this year but with 267 additional secondary places created. This leaves 724 empty spaces, a 5.1% vacancy rate overall, well up on last year's 3.5%. As a result, across the county, there were few extra pressure points in Non-Selective (N/S) schools. Key areas were Canterbury, Gravesham and Sevenoaks which had just five vacancies across their 15 schools, but Ashford, Dartford, Swale and Thanet all have localised problems created by polarisation of choices. Unfortunately, misleading information by KCC appears to hide a large shortage of places in Tunbridge Wells (TW). The converse problem exists in Thanet, where KCC is promoting an unnecessary new school in Margate.

The unpopularity of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey with its 108 Local Authority Allocations has propelled Fulston Manor and Westlands to the top of the oversubscription table.  These two schools are followed by Knole Academy, Meopham School, St George's CofE Foundation (Broadstairs) and the recently opened Stone Lodge School. Most of the others were also present in the table last year, apart from newly arrived Canterbury Academy, the new School of Science and Technology Maidstone (SSTM), The Lenham School and Skinners Kent Academy

There are 393 OOC children offered places in non-selective schools across the county, Knole Academy, Homewood School and Bennett Memorial Diocesan School all offering over 50 places to OOC children, with 252 travelling the other way 

The schools struggling to attract pupils are also broadly the same as last year, in most cases propped up by Local Authority Allocations of children who have not been offered more popular schools. 

I explore all these matters further, below, together with a survey of allocation patterns in each of Kent's Districts.

Update 9th April: I have included a section on Government advice for the appointment of new headteachers, below. 

This article considers the appointment of a new Headteacher for Fairview Community Primary School, a process that is lasting for just three and a half weeks, from posting the advertisement to concluding the interviews at a school whose status in September is unknown. The only way this is not madness is if Medway Council and the Governing Body already know who they are going to appoint. Why would anyone else apply?

In my previous article about Fairview a month ago, I reported on a letter from the Board, dated 24th February, that ‘Governors will now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’. 

This regular communication amounts to a brief letter from the Chairman of Governors, dated the last day of term, informing parents that a permanent headteacher is to be appointed, without mentioning any of these promised themes. The job advertisement fails to mention the rather important point that the school is planning to academise with the Westbrook Trust and so the successful candidate could be removed if their face doesn’t fit. This is either gross incompetence or alternatively, with interviews set for just three days after the closing date for applications, the whole thing is a disgraceful fix! This article finishes with four important questions to which parents need to know the answers. 

Daniel Smith, the controversial new 'tough-love' Headteacher of Pimlico Academy appointed in September and now engaged in a battle attracting national media coverage,  was previously employed at the notorious Ebbsfleet Academy in North Kent for four years from September 2013, ending as Associate Principal. This was also a tough-love school, under its Principal Alison Colwell, who made the school’s approach crystal clear when she left the school in 2019, publicly blaming white working-class parents for her difficulties.

By coincidence, I also wrote about Mr Smith back in 2013 when he was an Assistant Principal at The Quest Academy in Croydon, on the occasion when he sent an email to a parent at Swan Valley School (subsequently Ebbsfleet Academy). The parent was politely questioning Swan Valley about the principle of a very restrictive home school agreement insisted on by the school, the email  (excerpt reproduced below) unlawfully threatening her with the possibility of applying for a court-imposed parenting order under the Academy’s Code of Conduct if she would not sign it. The school was not even an academy at that time so could not have had such a Code of Conduct. 

Mr Smith subsequently took up a post at Swan Valley, which continued the policy of threatening legal action for ‘difficult’ parents as it developed its tough-love policies. The unfortunate consequences of these are outlined in various articles, typically here, which also demonstrate that the many claims about its success were false and that confrontational leadership does not work, as is also apparent in the current drama at Pimlico. If Mr Smith is forced out, as seems increasingly likely, it will not be the fault of the students, but of those who mistakenly appointed him. 

The pattern of grammar school allocations reveals chickens coming home to roost – but never mind the children. I have regularly written since last June about the unfairness of the Kent selection procedure that would be created by the coronavirus effects on schools unless changes were made, and so it has proved. My previous article on the Kent Test demonstrated a built-in bias towards children in West Kent and girls as a result, with further discrimination against children attracting Pupil Premium, suggesting that children from ‘ordinary families’ would also suffer.

Now, every West and North West Kent grammar is full, and all but one are oversubscribed with first choices, even though between them they have added on an extra  184 Year Seven places from last year. At the other end of the scale, there are 257 empty spaces in 13 East and Mid Kent schools, up from 123 in six schools in 2020.

The starkest example of the shift is at Maidstone Grammar which turned away 60 grammar qualified first choices last year, but has 14 vacancies for 2021 admission. At the far end of the county, Sir Roger Manwood’s which had 34 first choices rejected in 2020, now has 20 vacancies.

For children attracting pupil premium, 10% of the girls were found selective by the 2020 Kent selection procedure, and 7% of the boys, in total 8.2%, a fall of 17% from the 2019 figure.

There is an increase of 51 children from outside Kent to 466 in total, were offered places in Kent grammar schools, the main rises being at Gravesend, Maidstone, Maidstone Girls, Mayfield and Tunbridge Wells Boys, partly compensated by a sharp fall at Weald. 

I look below at the outcomes by area in more detail, including levels of oversubscription and vacancies. You will find full details of the Kent test process for 2021 entry here

Thursday, 18 March 2021 20:28

Halling Primary Crisis: Latest Developments

Update on even fresher and major developments below, most recently today, 2nd April: Job Description for EYFS Lead Teacher (they keep coming!)

A comment on my previous article about Halling Primary begins: 

Watching even more children leaving school today crying because even more staff are leaving (that the school haven’t told the parents about!) is genuinely heartbreaking.

 Meanwhile, the Chair of Trustees considers that ‘The atmosphere within the school is now one of great enthusiasm and determination'. A front-page article in the Medway Messenger on Thursday has stoked the fires featuring the same Chair claiming ‘staff not up to the challenge’. The Trust has called a meeting of Halling parents for next week, although this is primarily to introduce the new staff - should be interesting. At the meeting, the Trust will also discuss the adversarial and threatening Social Media Policy.

Ex-members of staff have now lodged formal complaints about the shocking public attack on them, which appears to be an attempt to cover up the resignation of over three-quarters of the teaching staff mid-year. Those departing next month include the highly respected Deputy Headteacher and Head of Early Years, both leaving 'for personal reasons' with no job to go to at present, together with support staff. Several of the Teaching Assistants have chosen to leave in the next few days before the end of term. 

All this is far away from the school’s highly publicised values of

Compassion • Integrity • Thankfulness • Respect • Resilience

Monday, 15 March 2021 19:34

Halling Primary Update

See my initial article here, which has attracted over 7,000 visitors in less than a fortnight. 

The situation at Halling Primary School continues to deteriorate, with the Cliffe Woods Trust failing to turn the growing dissatisfaction around. Three recent documents: Kentonline Article; Letter from the Chair of Cliffe Woods Trustees; and a Formal Complaint from a group of Early Years parents, each present different and in some cases contradictory scenarios, with the Trust continuing to deny that the genuine problems exist.

Kentonline reports that ‘several staff have departed’, the reality being that there has been a turnover in the last year of over three quarters of the teachers, four Teaching Assistants having resigned, along with other employees, some with no other post to go to. This includes seven teachers and TAs leaving at Easter, including the Deputy Head and head of Early Years. The previous long-serving and highly respected Chair of Governors resigned last summer with immediate effect after irreconcilable differences with the new headteacher. The letter of complaint, which has also been sent to Kelly Tolhurst, MP,  focuses on the sudden departure this term of the head of Early Years – ‘the reason why we chose to put our children there in the first place’.

The Chair of Trustees considers that the staff exodus is because ‘not all have felt themselves either willing or able, even with support, to rise to the challenge of improving standards’,  publicly blaming the exodus on poor staff, hardly likely to extinguish the flames.

Saturday, 13 March 2021 04:58

Academies and Free School News: Part Two

This article follows on from my previous Academy and Free School News February 2021 Part One, and looks at other developments of new Academies and Trusts, together with various items of Academy news. As well as those mentioned in my previous article, Leigh Academy Rainham is opening in September, other new schools on stream including: Alkerden All Through School, Ebbsfleet, planned for 2023; Barton Manor School, Canterbury, opening in September 2022: Chilmington Green Secondary, Ashford, planned for 2022 but delayed; Maritime Academy, Strood, opening in 2022; Park Cresent Academy, Margate, planned for 2023; new Special School on Sheppey planned for 2022.

LAR Projection

The Potential in Everyone Academy Trust and The Village Academy comprising ten schools between them are merging, although a bid by Brockhill Park Performing Arts College & The Abbey School (Faversham), to merge was turned down.

Other items looked at are about Infant and Junior School Trusts, the Brooke Learning Trust, The Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, Fairview Community Primary School and Halling Primary School.

With too much news arriving and too little time, I have decided to publish this item now before items become out of date, with a third instalment to come. 

Updated 12th March 2021

Whilst I do not normally cover private school matters, the closure of St Joseph's, a local school I have known for 35 years, is of special interest to me and so I have chosen to feature it here!

St Joseph's 2

A letter sent to parents yesterday explains that ‘ The school requires long term investment to secure its future.   We have explored many possible alternatives but unfortunately with no success’. Last year, the TES considered that up to 30% of private schools were at risk of closure because of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and St Joseph's may be still be paying the price of a controversial headteacher who almost brought the school to its knees in 2016.  

 I recently wrote an article reporting that the Regional  Schools Commissioner (RSC) had exceptionally turned down a proposal for Fairview Community Primary School to become an academy, partly because ‘the Governing Body was at odds with the school community’. Two months after the decision, governors got round to letting parents know in a letter on 24th February.

This two page letter comprises a page and a half of self-justification before a brief mention of the decision was made: ‘In December we proceeded with an application for an Academy Order, this was declined as our Local Authority, Medway and the RSC raised concerns after receiving a number of correspondences.

Fairview Community

Governors will now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’.  What they will not do apparently, is carry out further consultation or reconsider whether their decision was in the best interests of the school.

Saturday, 06 March 2021 19:07

Back to School

May I send my very best wishes to everyone involved with next week’s national return to school, which will start on Monday for some children, but is staggered through the week for others.

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