Supporting Families
  • banner3
  • banner11
  • banner9
  • banner13
  • banner8
  • banner2
  • banner4
  • banner7
  • banner6
  • banner10

Peter Read

Wednesday, 05 August 2020 10:35

The Kent Test 2020: Throwing down the gauntlet

I had an extended interview on Radio Kent last week about the unfairness created towards ‘children of ordinary families’ in the Kent Test for this extraordinary year. At the conclusion, Julia George who was interviewing asked me to ‘throw down the gauntlet’ with KCC over my deep concerns, repeated several times over recent months. I did this by simply challenging the Council to respond to the recently published Government Guidance to Admission Authorities, Kent County Council being one of the largest in the country. KCC’s response to the BBC over the challenge wrongly dismisses the guidance because it ‘will cover individual schools and consortia which test far fewer children’. More importantly, it completely ignores the main part of the guidance and my concern, which focused on the unfairness created for lower-income families in Kent, as explained below.

At about the same time, Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education at KCC replied to a letter from Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, which echoed my concerns. This response covers somewhat different territory, but again completely ignores any strategy for promoting fairness for disadvantaged families as laid down by the government advice. Moreover, he dismissed my idea for creating flexibility in these increasingly uncertain times and of supporting ordinary families, or any alternative, having set up a false description of it to dismantle!

Oasis Academy Trust is trying once again to reverse the inexorable decline in the fortunes of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS) by bringing in a new Executive Principal over the head of Tina Lee, the current Principal.

Oasis Sheppey

Ian Simpson, currently Principal of Oasis Academy Lister Park in Bradford, makes the eighth leader since the school became an academy in 2009. Most of his predecessors have been moved on after failing to turn the school round. Both of the previous two post holders were appointed from within the school only after the Trust failed to attract anyone from outside, despite extensive advertising. Both have been a disappointment. It is not clear if the role of Executive Head is permanent or just a short term firefighting job.

All this is taking place in the context of a forecast crisis in the provision of non-selective places in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which will come to a head in 2021, if it has not already arrived. 

Hot on the heels of Kent County Council's confirmed arrangements for the Kent Test, as reported in my previous article, the government has now released its formal advice on assessment processes for selective school admissions. This is quoted extensively below in blue and italics. It greatly expands the frameworks set out by KCC and Medway Councils, urging admission authorities to look closely at minimising disadvantage for protected groups, socially and economically disadvantaged children and children who are unable to attend the test centre, as I had hoped KCC itself would. The current KCC proposal heavily discriminates against lower-income families who can't afford private education or extensive private tutoring.  It remains my conviction that, if KCC were to adopt a model such as the one I have proposed before, it would go a considerable way towards meeting the requirement to minimise this acknowledged disadvantage in the current circumstances which has not yet been addressed. However, there is still the flexibility to do so. Medway Council has a more structured procedure for assessing children, but no apparent will to change it as this document advises, so I have little hope that greater fairness will emerge there.  

Several pieces of government advice, considered further below, relate to the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers which is likely to be magnified by their absence from school during the coronavirus outbreak’. In particular, ‘we therefore strongly advise that tests for grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into late October or to November if local admission co-ordination processes allow’. Along with the other recommendations below which now need addressing, this is considerably more radical than the KCC and Medway decisions which place the revised test dates in the first half of October and offer no further mitigation of disadvantage. 

The immense logistical problems faced by KCC and, to a lesser extent by Medway Council, in providing facilities to test some 5,000 out of county candidates are also explored further below.

Richard Long, KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, has now decided on the timing and arrangements for the Kent Test this year. A letter to schools sets out as expected that the Kent Test will be delayed by around one month as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on schools and pupils. The test will now take place on 15 October for pupils who attend a Kent school and 17 October for all other students. Kent parents will also be offered two additional preferences on their child’s Secondary school application this year, an increase from four to six, to account for the later release of Kent Test results.

The most interesting part of his letter reads: ‘while the delay in testing will provide an opportunity for children to settle back into a more normal school environment, we appreciate that children will have missed around four months of schooling. Fortunately, the Kent Test process is already designed to ensure that a child’s wider circumstances can be considered before their assessment is finalised.  We will be providing guidance for schools in light of the differing educational opportunities that children will have received over the last few months, and more generally on implementing the approved plans’. This flexibility leaves open alternative approaches to minimising the gross unfairness I have written about previously, which would discriminate against ‘ordinary’ families and those attracting Pupil Premium who have none of the advantages of children attending private schools or whose parents have arranged extensive private tuition for the six months leading up to the Test.

The question remains as to whether Kent County Council has the desire and the commitment to be as fair as possible to all Kent children looking to a grammar school place.

Kent County Council has announced details of the new Special School to be opened on the Isle of Sheppey in 2022, catering for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties, including Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and social communication difficulties. It will be run by the SABDEN Multi Academy Trust from East Sussex and will be built on Council owned land at the former Darnley Road Middle School site. It has been part of KCC planning for some years, meeting a real need in the area and will complement the new Aspire Special School, catering for primary aged children with ASD or speech, language and communication needs, which is opening in Sittingbourne in September. 

KCc applied for the new school under the government’s Wave 2 (Special School and Alternative Provision) back in October 2018, and this was approved in March 2019, as confirmed here, subject to a sponsor being agreed. It is included in Sunday’s government announcement of 35 new special schools, the sponsorship news being held back to follow the announcement. This originally stated that there would be three new schools in the South East, providing over 300 places for children with SEMH and ASD, although the statement was altered shortly afterwards to read 'four schools in the South East' rather than three.

The new school is classified as a Free School, and so needed a sponsor, KCC having selected the SABDEN Multi-Academy Trust. This appears a very good move, as SABDEN brings extensive relevant expertise and high standards to the task (see below). 21 of Kent's current 22 special schools are KCC controlled and so were not eligible to act as sponsors. The only special school amongst Kent’s many Academy Trusts is the Ofsted Outstanding all age Milestone Academy, part of the large Leigh Academy Trust, which will also run the new Snowfields Academy, a new special school in Maidstone, opening in September. However, the Trust was presumably not considered suitable for whatever reason. 

Two years ago, Comprehensive Future published as a fact that: When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  This claim was picked up by the media including the BBC. Unfortunately, this is twice completely false, as I demonstrated in an article last month after the organisation publicly attacked me for querying the data, repeating it in the process. False firstly, because the organisation had quoted completely the wrong data column from their own database, and secondly because the whole database is self-evidently rubbish. As I wrote then, a prime example of the ICT mantra Garbage in, garbage out.  

I have now been informed by CF’s Chairman, Nuala Burgess, that CF is not prepared to discuss the matter further, the bogus claims remain on their website and that of the BBC and so this must cast doubt on any other claims made by CF on data they have harvested to forward their aims.

Update: KCC has confirmed the new special school on the Isle of Sheppey is one of the 35, planned for completion in 2022. Further article here

The day after I published my recent article on EHCPs the government has announced that it is setting up 35 new special free schools (the Free School is the current model for delivering any new state school). Three of these will be in the South East of England, specialising in Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH), so one may be in Kent or Medway.

The plan is for each of them to be up and running by September 2022 onwards, the caveat acknowledging that most new schools opened in recent years are one or more years overdue.

Any new Kent school will join the two new Kent Free Special Schools opening in September. These are the Aspire School in Sittingbourne, for primary aged children with ASD, and Snowfields Academy, Bearsted, Maidstone, for secondary ASD children. Update: the 35 schools include the now confirmed new secondary Free Special School planned to open on the Isle of Sheppey in 2022, catering for secondary pupils with SEMH and ASD.

Revised 13th July
The campaigning organisation Comprehensive Future (CF) has published a lengthy article whose main purpose appears to be to attack me. For the second time, this uses false data they have published relating to grammar schools and Pupil Premium children. The problem dates back to a previous CF article about grammar schools two years ago, which wrongly stated, ‘When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  Unfortunately, in order to obtain these figures, the authors of both CF articles used figures from a database that has no basis in reality and then have compounded the fiction by using data taken from the wrong column of the database, to make these false claims about grammar school performance, damaging to the image of these schools. The whole fulfils the well-known IT mantra of ‘Garbage in, Garbage out’, twice over.
 
CF has informed me that their published article is the continuation of what I was told was a confidential email correspondence, about a single phrase in a minor paragraph of an article I wrote earlier this year which they have chosen to open up in this way. That article was also about grammar schools and Pupil Premium, although mainly factual rather than theirs which is polemical. The phrase that CF objected to was: ‘demonstrating the falsehood of a previous claim by them’. The new article alleges that I ‘accuse CF of falsifying data. We refute these allegations and object most strongly to the implication that anyone who is a part of Comprehensive Future would alter or fabricate figures supplied in response to an FOI request’, which of course I didn’t, but this misuse of statistics does beg too many questions,  explored below. 

News Update: I have been contacted by a number of Thanet families whose children were found selective but not offered grammar school places because they live too far away and the grammar schools are full. They were placed on waiting lists, but have been shocked to be moved further down the list. This is because, at the recent admission appeals, several non-selective children were found to be of grammar school ability. The rules require that they are also added to the waiting list and if they live closer go ahead of those already on it! I have previously looked at the dire situation in Thanet here,  with several of these families being offered one of the county's least popular schools. Sadly I have nothing positive to suggest.  

I am starting to receive some feedback on school admission appeals for Kent families, decided on the basis of written submissions only,  although most are happening very late in the year and many have not yet happened. This method is likely to have been the norm for both KCC Panels and other organisations running appeals where there are multiple appeals for a school. It is in my view the only practical way forward for grammar school and probably other multiple appeals as I identified here back in April. However, it is a variation breaking with the hopelessly impractical model outlined by the government, which I described as 'a chink of light in the regulations'.  The use of written submissions only was put forward as one of three possible options, the other two being telephone and video conferencing.    

Most appellants appear content with this process whatever the outcome, it being far less stressful than the 'normal' appeals of previous yearsespecially in the view of families who have past experience of these. Others are looking to challenge the outcome on grounds that it was very different from the model laid down by the government, as explained here.  However, as I concluded in that article, the model is not obligatory, so such a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

I have not yet heard of the experience of local families encountering telephone or video conferencing for multiple appeals, although KCC appears to be using the former for some individual appeals and I look below at one such in-year hearing. I will update this article as and if I receive further reports of different experiences.  

Update: You will find an article exploring the government's announcement of 35 new Free Specia Schools to be set up here

Further Update: KCC and government have announced the opening of a new secondary special school on the Isle of Sheppey for September 2022. 

This article looks back at provision for children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for the year 2018-19 across Kent, success rates for those appealing against decisions, along with other related matters. The data shows a sharp rise of 80% in EHCPs awarded in under three years, with a corresponding increase in budget putting enormous pressure on KCC education finances.

The data below shows that for nearly half of families requesting a statutory assessment of SEN this is not followed through for some reason, often lack of support from the school which may be for good reason. However, for most who get that far, the overwhelming majority were awarded an EHCP, so it is worthwhile persevering. I imagine that the difficulties of securing an EHCP over the past six months have been immense.  Those unsuccessful in securing an EHCP or one that is adequate for the purpose have the right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, although large numbers starting down this route did not follow through, often where KCC decided their cases were not worth defending and concede the EHCP, as suggested by the data.

The article also looks at placements of children with EHCPs, with 40% of primary and 30% of secondary pupils remaining in mainstream schools, along with the number of children being with EHCPs being de-registered from school for Elective Home Education, together with a brief look at the powerful performance of Medway Special SchoolsI also look back at a damning Inspection of Kent’s ineffectiveness in implementing the disability and special educational needs reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 which took place in the middle of this period; consider the current situation and the financial pressures imposed by the increase in EHCPs; and the number of families taking up places in private schools, funded by KCC often after Tribunal. These include one which charges more than twice as much as Eton College. 

Page 1 of 83