Supporting Families

Peter Read

The 2019 Medway Council Press Statement on secondary school allocation appears to cover up a large fall in the proportion of pupils offered a place at one of their preferred schools. This is accompanied by another fall in the proportion of children being offered their first or second choice.

All we are allowed to learn is that all 3300 Medway children who applied for secondary school places received offers, that 89% of them received a first or second choice, with over 90% receiving one of their preferences, and that 736 children from outside Medway were considered for places.

For 2018 entry, the equivalent statement recorded that over 95.5% (actually 95.6%) of Medway children received a preference, so this appears to be a sharp and worrying fall, with nearly one in ten Medway families being allocated to a school they did not choose.

Medway

Once again, the council continues its attempts to hide the facts from local residents (not serving you), but the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services is ‘very pleased that many have been allocated a place at one of their preferred schools’. Unfortunately, too many have not! He continues: ‘it a testament to the team’s hard work that the majority of families receive offers at one of their preferred schools (an ‘is’ would have been helpful from the Council’s education leader), both statements suggesting the great disappointment that these figures imply. This follows on from the scandal of the Medway Review I highlighted recently.

There is initial advice at the foot of this article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. There is also a link to the limited telephone advisory service I now offer.
You will find more detailed information on Kent grammar school allocation here, and for non-selective schools here
 
The initial data for applicants for Kent secondary schools shows that 79.1% of  those from Kent were  offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least nine years. 837 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.7% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least nine years, up on last year’s 765 and up by 75% over the 2016 proportion of 2.7%. The proportion of children being offered one of their top two preferences at 90.3% is down on 90.7% in 2018, and again lowest for nine years. 

17,959 Kent children applied for places in Kent secondary schools, 517 more than in 2018, with 79.1% of them being offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least nine years, a further 0.6% down on last year. 837 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.7% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least nine years, up on last year’s 765. I know that a number of additional school places have been created at pinch points across the county, but I anticipate hearing of some very difficult situations for some of the children with no school of their choice.

In spite of the inexorable increase in out of county applications to Kent schools, up 225 to 3,514, exactly the same number, 818, were offered places, as in 2018. As always this  will have been partially balanced by around 500 going to schools outside Kent.

You will find more information, including a look at some of the pressure points as they become apparent, below. These include North West Kent both selective and non-selective, and non-selective Swale, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells.  You will also find required scores for super-selective schools (all information on both situations welcomed) together with the tables of outcomes

There is initial advice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

There is also a link to the limited telephone advisory service I now offer. 

Thursday, 28 February 2019 06:43

Home Education: Skipping School

Last week, I was part of an invited audience  to a private showing and debate on the Channel Four programme, Skipping School, about Home Education issues. This featured Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England (CCE), who has now published a Report containing five important recommendations. The discussion highlighted some key concerns, although being dominated by the plight of children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who made up an estimated 22% of children on EHE (Elective Home Education). Unforgiveably, there are no central statistics on any EHE matter, but it is clear that a high proportion of such children have not chosen this route but have been forced down it by schools being unable or unwilling to make provision for their needs. 

Considerable concerns were expressed about the practice of off-rolling and exclusion, along with evidence of the practices in too many schools. 

There is not even a required register of children on EHE, let alone any monitoring of what if any education they are provided with, although its introduction has been and would be strongly resisted by the vocal and in some cases aggressive lobby of families who may have chosen EHE for philosophical reasons.

One particular revelation (to me at least) was the statement that the Regional Schools Commissioner may only intervene with academies that are causing concern if they are inadequate, primarily because of funding issues (although there have been a couple of counter examples recently). Otherwise, they need to be dealt with directly by the Department for Education. 

 Swale Academies Trust (SAT) has secured a second Ofsted Outstanding school, after Meopham was found Outstanding in January (published earlier this week). This makes KCC’s decision to block SAT from taking over the failed Holmesdale School for most of 2018 look even more shocking as the school blundered from bad to worse under its control during the year. 

Meopham School had suffered from poor leadership for as long as I can remember, culminating in 2012 when it was placed in Special Measures. An ‘Anywhere but Meopham’ cry was regularly made to me by parents seeking advice on how to avoid the school. SAT took it over the following year. It has rapidly improved ever since, with a ‘Good’ Ofsted Report just two years later, followed by a Short Inspection last year. Meopham has been delivering excellent GCSE results for its pupils for the past three years, being the second and third best performing non-selective school in the county at Progress 8 and in the top seven for Attainment 8 in each year. Rightly it has now seen last year’s Short Inspection converted to Outstanding. Not surprisingly, it has become heavily oversubscribed with 224 first choices for its 140 places for September. A new Chair of Governors was appointed last September, Diana Choulerton, an Education Consultant who until recently was one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. Swale Academies Trust doesn't take chances!

By contrast, after Holmesdale School was placed in Special Measures a year ago, the school and its pupils were disgracefully hung out to dry by Kent County Council. KCC refused to hand the management of the school over to SAT even though it had been selected as the Sponsoring School when Holmesdale was served with an Academy Order and left it devoid of proper support until grudgingly yielding it to SAT at the end of November.

As well as further details below, I also look at the performance of Swale Academies Trust in an attempt to see why KCC was so strongly opposed to them  being involved with Holmesdale School. 

Update (11/3) Oakwood Park Grammar has also had a recent Inspection and seen its Outstanding lost to Good probably because of disappointing GCSE results, although the Report acknowledges the great improvement for 2018, as reported below, in spite of its two Outstanding categories, compared with the MGS one. 

The Ofsted Report will have been influenced by the shocking GCSE results in 2018, with Progress 8 in the bottom half of all Kent schools, and at -0.12, level with New Line Learning Academy, struggling to attract students.

Maidstone Grammar School (MGS), one of Kent’s flagship selective schools, has lost its Outstanding Ofsted status following its recent Inspection with Report published yesterday. The Inspection was presumably triggered after 'legitimate concerns' (according to Ofsted below) had been expressed about the decline in its academic performance.

MGS3

The headlines of the Report, published in January, refer to disappointing GCSE results in 2017. However, they choose not  to mention that those for 2018 were  considerably worse. These saw the school delivering the fourth lowest Progress 8 score of any of the 38 Kent and Medway grammar schools, the government’s preferred measure of performance. It was eighth lowest for Attainment 8. The results come from a school that selected most of its pupils by setting a high pass score in the Kent Test, and yet still performed worse on both d than the other local grammar, Oakwood Park which recruits a significant number of pupils from appeal.  You will find an article on performance of  Kent grammar schools here including details of MGS relative performance, and background to Maidstone Grammar data here.

This Report also comes with a mystery, as explained below. 

Wednesday, 06 February 2019 23:34

Skipping School: Invisible Children

See Follow up Article here.

The Children’s Commissioner for England (CCE), Anne Longfield, has published a Report entitledSkipping School: Invisible Children’. Apart from its dreadful and misleading title, it provides an excellent summary of the issues surrounding Elective Home Education (EHE). The Report also looks forward to ways of reducing the numbers of those Home Educated, apart from families who freely choose to and are capable of providing a good alternative.

Sadly, a 'Dispatches' programme on Channel Four lost the plot and focused on describing in graphic terms families who were not coping with Home Education in their first weeks out of school. I made a contribution to the programme with which I was pleased and which drew on my most recent article about EHE, but I was not expecting the direction the programme took and so my piece stood isolated.

The problems with the Medway grammar school selection process just keep recurring, with the Medway Review procedure proving yet again to be not fit for purpose. You will find an analysis of outcomes below. 

The headline is once again the failure of the Review procedure, with  the Council announcing as always that up to 2% of the cohort of Medway children would be successful at Review, in addition to the 23% who passed the Medway Test directly. In the event, just four children from 159 hopeful Medway families that went to Review were successful for 2019 admission, just 0.12% of the cohort. What a farce, being short of the target by 63 children, but a very sad one for all those who falsely thought they were in with a chance. Not one of the 43 candidates from local private schools or outside of Medway was successful at Review.  

It is also an indictment of the work of Medway Primary schools according to the Review Panels which are made up of local secondary headteachers, who found work submitted by local primary schools to be so poor that almost no further children were found worthy of a grammar school place through the process from the 159 considered. 

Sadly, it gets even worse for those families. The School Admission Code of Practice rules that children who are unsuccessful at a Review process cannot have an appeal upheld unless there has been unfairness in the process (rarely proven). There are a few exceptions as explained below, but for the majority of the 155 families unsuccessful at Review, there is now no chance of winning an Appeal.

The two areas of bias in the Medway Test remain: older pupils do much better than those born towards the end of the school year; and girls do better than boys.

Note: you will find GCSE performance here for Kent and Medway.  

This article looks at A Level performance for Kent and Medway schools in the summer of 2018. It is difficult to make comparative judgements at this level as schools vary so much in the pattern of their intake into Year 12 that the Achievement tables in particular are of limited value. However, Progress from GCSE to A Level can be revealing, with good non-selective schools tending to better than many grammar schools for their students, so may be a useful contribution to decisions on where to follow one's studies. 

The highest performer is Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School followed by, in order: Valley Park; St George’s CofE, Gravesend; Longfield Academy; Bennett Memorial; Herne Bay; Oakwood Park Grammar; Holcombe Grammar; and Weald of Kent Grammar. QEGS is one of nine schools whose students who have made 'Above Average' progress over the two years in the Sixth Form. 

Dane Court Grammar has the lowest grammar school performance and is the only selective school in the ten graded 'Well Below Average' for progress. 

There are four alternative  measures for determining attainment. Highest across the board in all four measures is The Judd School. Then come Tunbridge Wells Girls, Skinners and Rochester Grammar; with Norton Knatchbull by some way at the bottom of the grammar schools list. Four schools top the non-selective list, unsurprisingly Bennett Memorial and St Gregory’s, along with two Gravesend schools: St George’s CofE; and St John’s Catholic. These four are amongst the six church schools in the top ten non-selective schools.  

Monday, 21 January 2019 05:51

Brexit Guidance for Kent Schools

Update: It has been pleasing to receive thanks from several Medway schools for this information. I think they are trying to tell me something!

You will find here KCC's Advice to Schools on possible initial effects for them in the event of a No Deal Brexit arriving on March 29th.

As one new to this aspect of the Brexit debate, I found the three diagrams at the foot of the table especially illuminating. These deal with the proposals to funnel, park, and stack lorries through Kent in the event of a No Deal Brexit. 

Saturday, 19 January 2019 17:51

Turner Schools: What were they trying to hide?

 For another point of view try  Shepway Vox. The two articles have much in common but there are important differences. 

Update: As a result of my complaint to the Information Commissioner, Turner Schools has been forced to put a process of Internal Review of Complaints in place. See below.

I now know why Turner Schools tried to block my FOI asking for School Census details for their four schools, following my successful complaint to the Information Commissioner. The relevant data is as follows: 

 Turner Schools intakes: decline from 2017 to 2018
 
PAN
Year 7 
Sept 2018
%
Vacancies 
Year 7
Sept 2017
Decline
2017/18
Folkestone Academy 270 198 27% 267 26%
Turner Free School
120
120
100%
N/A
n/A
Martello Primary 30 22 27% 28 21%
Morehall Primary School 60 14 77% 29 52%

 Note: PAN is Published Admission Number

 The information now extracted which you will find in full here, identifies a number of worrying features for the Trust.  
All three established schools have seen a sharp fall in intake, with Morehall Primary having the largest proportion of empty spaces in the county in Year R. Overall, there are just 68 vacancies across Folkestone’s 14 primary schools, with Martello and Morehall accounting for 79% of them.
 
At secondary level, the opening of Turner Free School has caused a sharp fall in intake at Folkestone Academy, in spite of illogical assurances by the Trust it would not be affected. The recent decision by the Trust to increase the intake of Turner Free School by another 60 places to 180 for 2019 admission will have an even deeper effect on numbers. Meanwhile, Year 12 numbers have fallen by an astonishing 45% in two years.  Overall, the school roll fell by an astonishing 268 students or 12% of its total in the past year, which will have a massive impact on school finances.
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