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Displaying items by tag: Kent on Sunday

This article was written for Kent on Sunday March 7th, but inadvertently not published here until later. My apologies

Kent and Medway secondary allocation figures have been published today, both Kent and Medway figures showing a worrying fall in the proportion of children being awarded any of the four schools (six in Medway) on their secondary school application form, with 641 Kent children and 155 Medway children not getting any school they have chosen. This is a rise of 237 children in Kent, the highest proportion in recent years, totalling 4% of the total being allocated places by KCC. In Medway, there has been an increase in Local Authority allocations in each of the past four years, taking the LA allocation figure to a record 5%. 

The four key factors are likely to be:.........

Published in Newspaper Articles

On the surface, Kent primary school infant class placements, which took place at the end of March look well with a healthy 95% of children in Kent being offered one of their three choices, similar to last year. However, looking beneath the surface, a much more worrying picture emerges because of increased numbers in some areas as the number of children being allocated a school they hadn’t chosen has risen from 564 to 818 in two years, a frightening rise of 45%.

Analysis of the figures shows a sharp contrast between most of West Kent and most of East Kent and between urban and rural areas. Maidstone town is the most difficult area, with over 100 children allocated to schools they did not apply for and NO places free in any school in the town. Other problem areas include Tunbridge Wells with just 16 places left free out of the 920 available, and 75 children having none of their choices. 15 of those 16 free places are in Pembury School (just outside the town), and only exist as its capacity was expanded by 30 at short notice last year, to cater for the difficulties. Sevenoaks has 94 children allocated, 7 places left free; urban Dartford, 71 children allocated and 7 places left free;  the Ramsgate area of Thanet, 65 children allocated, 8 places free, all in Bromstone Primary school in Broadstairs; Folkestone, 43 children allocated, 6 left free; and the area around Faversham with 37 children allocated.

Kent County Council, in a confidential analysis of issues produced in 2009, identified major problems for 2011 entry in Dartford, Gravesham, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells, some of these other issues being masked by rural parts of the districts having spare capacity. Sadly, little was done to alleviate the problems at a time when finances were easier. What is clear is that although Kent’s Primary Strategy of 2006 has a policy that there should be between 5-7% surplus capacity in an area, it has not planned to meet this policy. Where additional places have been added, too often these are last minute decisions and often in inappropriate schools. What we are seeing is an unwritten change of policy from trying to meet parental preferences, to a minimalist offering to children of a school somewhere, no matter how suitable.   

Riverhead Infant School in Sevenoaks has soared to the top of the oversubscription table, turning away 54 first choices with the neighbouring Sevenoaks Primary School turning away 44 children, in fourth place. In between come Madginford Park in Maidstone, and Priory Infants, Ramsgate. In fifth place comes St James CofE VA Infant School, in Tunbridge Wells, then: Slade Primary, Tonbridge; Sandgate Primary, Folkestone; West Hill Primary, Dartford; St John's Catholic Primaryl, Gravesend; Joyden's Wood Infants, Dartford; St Peter's Methodist, Canterbury; Holy Trinity & St John's CofE Primary, Margate; St John's CofE Primary, Tunbridge Wells; St Stephen's Infant, Canterbury; Ethelbert Road Primary, Faversham; and St Mildred's Infants, Broadstairs. All these schools turned away 30 or more first choices.

At the other end of the table, 14 schools, nearly all in East Kent, have over half their places left empty. Three of these have all admitted fewer than 50% of their capacity for each of the last three years. How on earth can they remain viable? However, the political controversy over closing such schools is always intense, even if this would release resources to provide extra provision in places of greatest need. Further information on all the key pressure points at www.kentadvice.co.uk.

Published in Newspaper Articles
Saturday, 11 June 2011 08:19

School exclusions: SEN children and academies

The following item served as the basis for an article in KOS on 11 June 2011, and also triggered the front page news story.

A Freedom of Information request I submitted has revealed a number of alarming features in the pattern of permanent exclusions (expulsions) in Kent schools.

The first two new style academies created in Kent top the list of permanent exclusions between September and Easter, headed by Westlands School in Sittingbourne with 11. Next is Canterbury High School with nine permanent exclusions.

Both these schools previously had outstanding Ofsted reports, so it is difficult to believe they have difficult disciplinary problems.

Other schools with high numbers of permanent exclusions over this period are: Chaucer Technology School, also in Canterbury (nine); Hartsdown Technology College (converting to an academy – eight) and the Marlowe Academy both in Thanet (seven); and Astor College for the Arts in Dover (seven).

The total over this period is rising alarmingly already being almost the same as for the whole of 2009-10.

In general, an excluded child does not just go away, they are moved to another school to be given a fresh chance but, as this will usually be one of the few with vacancies in the area, it just heaps the problems on a possibly struggling school. Of particular concern is the number of children  with statements of special education needs (SEN) who continue to be permanently excluded, in spite of government policy that “schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements, other than in the most exceptional circumstances”.

While I don’t yet have figures for this year, in 2009-10 out of a total of 168 secondary exclusions 22 were of statemented children, a further 68 being of other children with SEN, together over half of the total.

However, the most astonishing and alarming statistic in this whole survey is that nearly all of the 34 Kent primary school exclusions in the last school year were of children with Special Education Needs, with 13 statemented children and another 18 with SEN.

Published in News and Comments

EXCLUSIVE - Top Kent schools get millions in funding meant for deprived inner city pupils

More than £4.5 million a year of Government funding is being "unfairly" pumped into selected schools to spend as they wish through a project abolished five years ago.

And despite the grants being designed specifically to help schools in deprived urban areas, many of those in Kent receiving the no-strings-attached cash are in affluent areas or are grammar schools.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Peter Read of Kent Independent Education Advice revealed a total of £4.5 million was being handed over annually through the former Excellence in Cities scheme, which was abolished in 2006.

The project looked to raise standards in deprived and underachieving schools in cities and urban areas through ring-fenced grants.

Some high-achieving secondary schools were allocated money to help selected primaries.

Once abolished, Kent County Council was required by the Government to continue payments and this year the ring-fencing was removed, allowing schools to spend the money as they wished with no restrictions.

But where 53 Kent schools – 35 primary and 18 secondary – benefit from thousands of pounds of the funding each year, around 540 are missing out.

A KCC consultation found the majority of schools supported the removal of the "unfair" system where similar schools receive vastly different levels of funding.

Although some recipients are in deprived areas or deemed to be underachieving, selective schools such as Harvey Grammar in Folkestone, Highworth Grammar School for Girls in Ashford, and Folkestone Grammar School for Girls receive £138,472, £106,722 and £153,213 respectively.

Pent Valley Technology College is handed £202,210 each year, The North School in Ashford £245,060, and The Towers School in Ashford £237,085.

Primary schools under the scheme receive around £40,000, although others were handed more, such as Kennington CofE Junior School with £58,371 and Cliftonville Primary School which got £74,927.

Mr Read called it a "disgraceful waste of money".

KCC cabinet member for education, learning and skills, Cllr Sarah Hohler, explained the original Excellence in Cities scheme wasa specific, ring-fenced grant, assigned using Government eligibility criteria.

"After the scheme ended, KCC and other local authorities were required by government to continue passing on the same level of per pupil funding as the year before," she said.

"While opposed to this approach, we had no say and could not vary the funding.

"As soon as it was announced in 2010 that these grants were to be ‘mainstreamed’ in 2011 and the ring-fencing removed, KCC consulted schools on proposals to remove all these historical anomalies and instead fund schools on our fairer local formula without reference to historical payments.

"The local Schools Funding Forum previously had the power to do this but, in late 2010, the Secretary of State removed this power. KCC asked the Secretary of State for his approval to implement these fairer local arrangements, phased over the next three years, but approval was refused.

"School budgets 2011-12 have therefore been issued still including these historical levels of grant funding.

"The Government will give no assurances or indications of future arrangements beyond March 2012, since it is now consulting on a wide-ranging review of the national school funding system."

Cllr Hohler said KCC remained committed to removing the anomalies, providing the Government did not replace local funding formulae with a single national one.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the funding system was out of date and Government was considering a reform.

She added that distribution of school development grants was for KCC to determine in consideration with its Schools Forum.

Published in Newspaper Articles
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Thursday, 27 May 2010 10:27

SEN Unit Review May 2010

In 2004 Kent County Council decided to carry out a Review of Special Education Units contained within mainstream schools that support children with Autism, Speech, language & communication difficulties, Specific learning difficulties, Hearing impairment, Visual impairment, or Physical disability.  In 2009 they told families that Units would be phased out and there would be no new admissions in the Pilot areas of Gravesham, Dartford, Swanley, Ashford and Shepway for September 2010.  Many parents gave up seeking places in Units as a result. This month KCC quietly reversed its policy and if parents know there are now places in Units they can apply for them – although at this late stage some have given up and settled for less satisfactory arrangements.

However, in reply to several questions I put to KCC, they have today said they don’t know of any parents who have been told there are no places this September.  This is simply not true.  Some SEN Units have been telling parents for months of the KCC policy that there were to be no admissions to Units this year.  KCC on its own website makes clear that this was the situation until the reversal of policy was quietly announced on an inner page last week.  I have today spoken with parents who are angry that they have been misled by KCC and are now having to reapply for places in Units. Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, has been campaigning for months to secure places in Units for children of constituents who had been turned down, but was told in writing in February by Peter Gilroy, KCC Chief Executive, and again in April by the Kent SEN Manager that there would be no places in Pilot area Units for September.

At a meeting of parents at the York Road, Dartford, Unit in February,  parents were told by a senior officer of  KCC that there were to be no places in Units for September.  The Unit at the Langafel School in Longfield has been giving the same message to parents.

I could go on with further examples, but KCC has told me today that there has been NO change of policy, which as you can see from the above is simply untrue.  I have to say that the way this information was written appears designed to mislead me. Indeed, the letter to headteachers last week informing them of the new policy some time after parents knew, is so muddled and confusing that neither I nor two headteachers I consulted were clear as to what it was saying. Sadly, this confusion is typical of most communications on this subject in recent months.

 How has this chaos come about?  In 2006 KCC decided that the concept of Units was “dated” and looked for a more inclusive provision within mainstream schools. In 2008 (just four years from the start of the Review!), KCC decided to phase out all Units, in two phases, the first (the Pilot) to begin in 2009. No new admissions would be allowed from September 2010, so that the Units would wither away. Instead those children who would previously have been admitted to Units would now go to mainstream school classes, increasing still further the wide range of skills already required by teachers as they came to terms with these conditions.  Lead schools would be set up for each disability providing outreach support, duplicating some of the provision currently being developed by Special Schools for this very purpose.

Consequences are that children have been turned away from Units although some who have persevered in spite of obstacles put up by KCC have broken through the net, staff at Units have been demoralised and are looking for other posts because of lack of a secure future, recruitment is down and Units will inevitably have been damaged which may make them easier to close in the future.

 What do I think of the whole situation? Frankly I think it is an utter disgrace, putting unreasonable pressure on vulnerable families and damaging Units which have enjoyed an excellent reputation over many years. And for what? It has taken six years, considerable expenditure of money, time and energy to discover that what is in place is best, and the main victims of this chaos are of course Kent children with Special Educational Needs whose needs are best met in Units; surely those who deserve the best possible care from the Authority.

Published in Newspaper Articles
Monday, 08 February 2010 18:21

SEN Unit Review: KOS February 2010

There are major changes ahead in Special Education Needs (SEN) provision in Kent as KCC begins to phase out its SEN Units. These are attached to mainstream schools across the County and offer education to children with particular learning and medical conditions, whilst giving them the opportunity to benefit from education with mainstream children through integration into some lessons.

Instead ‘lead schools’ are being designated in each specialism, across the county that will offer support to such children as they are now admitted to all mainstream schools and classes in their area.  This full inclusion of such children has been government policy for many years, but has now been challenged, as it is apparent that it leads to a dilution of specialist teachers, additional strain on teachers in mainstream classes as they come to terms with  an even wider range of challenges in their classrooms and an uncertain future for the quality of education to be provided for the children themselves.

Currently there are primary and secondary school units catering for conditions such as autism, speech, language and communication, specific learning difficulties including dyslexia, hearing and visual impairment, and physical difficulties. All children currently in Units will retain their places.

Pilot areas for the new schemes have been set up in Gravesham, Dartford, Shepway, Ashford and Swanley and a decision will be made to extend the scheme across the remainder of Kent this Autumn on the basis of the evaluation of this pilot, although the first children in the Pilot will only be affected in September.  It is therefore difficult to see on what real experience of how such children fare in mainstream will be available.

The main advantages of the scheme are identified by KCC as: providing more potential to access local provision for children and young people with SEN; enabling them to benefit from learning with their local peer group and providing more flexibility to use resources to meet changing needs of children and young people in the locality.

 

Concerns include: the breaking up of  centres of expertise and excellence in these specialisations; the dilution of such skills across schools in the locality; the pressures on teachers in mainstream schools now having to come to terms with a wider range of learning conditions in one classroom and  consequent effect on the learning of other children in that class.

 

Meanwhile KOS reported last week that many children coming up to secondary school transfer have found their proposed Statements of SEN have been delayed. The Statement spells out educational provision and the school in which it is to be offered, and any delay would cause enormous problems for parents if they wish to challenge the decision.  Such parents will be doubly dismayed if they now find that any hopes of a place in the Unit to cater for their child’s needs have been dashed,

Published in Newspaper Articles
Wednesday, 13 January 2010 18:14

Academies: KOS Jan 2010

Kent and Medway secondary schools have suffered from a historically low level of investment into school buildings. However, in recent years there has been a transformation of many premises to produce school buildings of which we can be proud, a tribute to the investment policies of Kent and Medway councils.

 

With programmes such as Private Finance Investment (6 schools) and Building Schools for the Future (10 schools underway), the pace of redevelopment is increasing in line with the target of replacing all Kent secondary schools in the next 12 years. These two initiatives rely heavily on private finance, which needs to make a profit, and so they face uncertain financial futures in terms of running costs. What happens at the end of the borrowing term? What about the current difficult financial climate?

 

However, as each new school flourishes, alongside it there is too often a school that is not so fortunate, often which has worked hard to achieve high standards, that then suffers by comparison. An unfair world, where many children benefit while others are at good schools that go into decline.

 

Academies are in a different programme and are the flavour of the day, bringing much-needed funds from government to build plush new premises, often on fresh sites. They also need to attract sponsors who often put up a small proportion of the total costs, and are independent of the local authority, controlled by the sponsors. Church and university sponsors no longer need to invest funds.

 

Increasingly local authorities are also minority sponsors. Between them, University of Kent at Canterbury, Christchurch University Canterbury, and the University of Creative Arts are minority sponsors of most local academies.

 

City academies were originally designed to replace failing schools in socially deprived urban areas, but the concept is changing fast and now even some prestigious independent schools, fallen on hard times are becoming academies in other parts of the country. Already the 17 open and planned Academies make up one in seven of all Kent and Medway schools. Academies do not need to follow the national curriculum, and all students at new Academies start off with free uniforms. So far there is no convincing evidence that they raise standards, although many often do well, some by attracting more able pupils. Others (not in Kent) have been spectacular failures.

 

I consider that Kent has generally used the concept well, attracting investment into the county and maintaining a level of influence that is lacking in some academies elsewhere. However, local authorities are required to have less than 20 per cent of the voting power on the board of governance of an academy.  Parents are not represented on all governing bodies but can have an influence through parent councils.

 

Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) statistics for permanent exclusions 2007/8 show the rate of permanent exclusion is twice as high for academies as in council-maintained schools. This confirms that one reason for academy ‘success’ may be their capacity to move ‘problem children’ out into other neighbouring schools - which suffer as a consequence.

 

I am starting to receive reports underlining one of the main drawbacks of city academies – lack of accountability. Parents unhappy with provision are finding it impossible to get satisfaction and the local authority does not have responsibility for the internal running of Academies. The Local Government Ombudsman has no role, as they do not come under the aegis of local authorities. The correct route is via the DFCS. As yet I have no experience of these, but have followed other education complaints through to the government and have found this to be generally a frustrating, drawn out and negative experience.

 

Parents who send their children to academies need to understand the risks, although for most it may well be the best option available and a very positive experience.

Published in Newspaper Articles
Tagged under

Kent County Council figures show an increase in the number of children being offered their first choice secondary school on 1st March, up to 80%.  However, this means that over 3000 children did not get their chosen school, in many cases producing family heartbreak.

Schools in both Kent and Medway show wide fluctuations in popularity, with Academies making much of the news.  Eighteen schools each turned away more than fifty children who put them in first place, whilst at the other end of the scale six schools were over half empty before KCC added to their numbers with children who had been given none of their choices.

For the third year running, Leigh Technology Academy (Dartford) was top of the oversubscription lists, with 218 disappointed first choice applicants. Second was Skinners School (but see below), third  Valley Park, Maidstone, centre of a major row over fullness last year, with 112 turned away, an even larger number than 2009. Other schools oversubscribed by more than 50 first choice applicants are (in order):  Homewood (Tenterden); North School (Ashford); Judd School; Thomas Aveling (Rochester); Fulston Manor  then Westlands (both Sittingbourne); Bennett Memorial (TW); Folkestone Academy; Tonbridge Grammar School, Brockhill Park (Hythe);  Sandwich Technology College; Mascalls (Paddock Wood); Charles Dickens (Broadstairs); Gillingham Academy, Weald of Kent Grammar and Hayesbrook (Tonbridge).

Whilst these  figures are normally the best guide to popularity, the Skinners School figure is considerably inflated as many of their first choices were actually crowded out by children who did not score enough to get into The Judd School but then secured places at Skinners, as their second choice. These are the vagaries of the super selection debate.

Four of the half empty schools: Christchurch (Ashford); New Line Learning (Maidstone); Skinners Kent Academy (TW); and Wildernesse (Sevenoaks) are hoping for a better future as they are either new Academies or about to become Academies. The school with the greatest fall in first choices is Wilmington Enterprise College (currently in Special Measures), also due to become an Academy, so the programme is clearly fulfilling its intention of targeting problem schools. Indeed, the new Longfield Academy has obviously turned the corner as far as parents are concerned and has the greatest increase in first choices (67) of any Kent or Medway school.

The pressure of out of county children taking up places in Kent grammar schools is once again greatest in the North West of the county , with 241 children taking up places in the four Dartford Grammar Schools (36 of these coming from as far away as Lewisham) as opposed to just 53 in the three West Kent super selectives.  My view on the cause of the pressure in West Kent grammars is starting to swing towards the intense coaching culture being the prime source of the problem.

Many of these figures will have changed this week as parents had to decide whether to accept places offered and there will be happiness for some, offered places off the waiting lists. As many as 700 further children may gain places through the appeal procedure, although this stressful process goes on until July for some.

One last statistic: 151 Kent children are bound for Medway schools with 116 coming the other way. School planners are required by government to reduce the number of empty places in schools and spend much time making decisions based on local population figures, when choices often cross boundaries.  The more I see figures such as the above, the more I become convinced that parents en masse have a wisdom about which are the best non-selective schools and their collective voice should be listened to.  I am not so sure this applies to grammar schools, where some parents chase the top scoring schools without stopping to look at the underlying factors.

Published in Newspaper Articles
Tuesday, 07 September 2010 19:03

Secondary School Admissions: KOS Sept 2010

Last week, some 9,000 Kent children took the Kent eleven plus, results due on 18th October. Parents then have less than two weeks until 31 October (a week shorter than last year!) to list four secondary schools in preference order on the Secondary Common Application Form (SCAF), so early planning is important. Already some secondary schools have held Open Days, and parents should visit all possible schools and ask about the chances of a successful application.

It is impossible to give specific advice on choosing schools in a short article, as the situation varies enormously from town to town and often year by year. My website at www.kentadvice.co.uk provides more information and I plan to expand this shortly.

If your child passes the Kent test, you can name just grammar schools on your SCAF.  If you don’t qualify for any of these, you may be offered the nearest grammar school with a vacancy but last year some parents were offered non selective places as there were no other local grammar school places vacant. If your child has passed the eleven plus and you name grammar schools and a non selective school, for example a church comprehensive school, you will be offered the highest school on your list for which you are eligible, whether or not it is a grammar school. If your child has taken the eleven plus and not passed, you must include any grammar on the SCAF  you wish to appeal to, but I recommend you include at least one non-selective school. Appeals will not be heard until the summer of Year Six. If your child has not taken the eleven plus, you can only apply for non selective schools.  Some schools last year still claimed falsely that parents needed to put the school first on the SCAF to secure a place.

After closing date each school draws up a list of eligible applicants according to their oversubscription rules. They are not told where you listed them on the SCAF or which other schools you applied to, so list schools exactly as you prefer them - there is no way of improving your chances at a school by tactics of choice.  The only exception to this is, if  going to appeal, you will find the appeal panel is told and may be influenced by the school you have been allocated. There is no advantage in putting just one school on your list.

 

I strongly recommend you apply on-line so you reliably receive results the day before they are delivered by post. Last year over 79% of Kent parents went online.

On National Offer Day 1st March 2011, your child will be allocated the highest preference school for which they qualify.  So some children could get their fourth choice ahead of others who listed it first if their claim is stronger. If you don’t qualify for any school on your list, KCC offers a place at the nearest appropriate school with vacancies.

 

This is a time when rumours swirl about the playground gates, many of them old wives tales. If in doubt check it out and my best wishes to every family going through what is undoubtedly an extremely stressful process. Remember, over 80% of all families were offered their first choice school in March last year, a figure which will have been much higher after the appeals process was concluded.

Peter J Read

Independent Education Advice

Published in Newspaper Articles
Wednesday, 19 May 2010 19:01

SEN Units: KOS May 2010

In 2004 Kent County Council decided to carry out a Review of Special Education Units contained within mainstream schools that support children with Autism, Speech, language & communication difficulties, Specific learning difficulties, Hearing impairment, Visual impairment, or Physical disability.  In 2009 they told families that Units would be phased out and there would be no new admissions in the Pilot areas of Gravesham, Dartford, Swanley, Ashford and Shepway for September 2010.  Many parents gave up seeking places in Units as a result. This month KCC quietly reversed its policy and if parents know there are now places in Units they can apply for them – although at this late stage some have given up and settled for less satisfactory arrangements.

However, in reply to several questions I put to KCC, they have today said they don’t know of any parents who have been told there are no places this September.  This is simply not true.  Some SEN Units have been telling parents for months of the KCC policy that there were to be no admissions to Units this year.  KCC on its own website makes clear that this was the situation until the reversal of policy was quietly announced on an inner page last week.  I have today spoken with parents who are angry that they have been misled by KCC and are now having to reapply for places in Units. Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, has been campaigning for months to secure places in Units for children of constituents who had been turned down, but was told in writing in February by Peter Gilroy, KCC Chief Executive, and again in April by the Kent SEN Manager that there would be no places in Pilot area Units for September.

At a meeting of  parents at the York Road, Dartford, Unit in February,  parents were told by  a senior officer of  KCC that there were to be no places in Units for September.  The Unit at the Langafel School in Longfield has been giving the same message to parents.

I could go on with further examples, but KCC have told me today that there has been NO change of policy, which as you can see from the above is simply untrue.  I have to say that the way this information was written appears designed to mislead me. Indeed, the letter to headteachers last week informing them of the new policy some time after parents knew, is so muddled and confusing that neither I nor two headteachers I consulted were clear as to what it was saying. Sadly, this confusion is typical of most communications on this subject in recent months.

 How has this chaos come about?  In 2006 KCC decided that the concept of Units was “dated” and looked for a more inclusive provision within mainstream schools. In 2008 (just four years from the start of the Review!), KCC decided to phase out all Units, in two phases, the first (the Pilot) to begin in 2009. No new admissions would be allowed from September 2010, so that the Units would wither away. Instead those children who would previously have been admitted to Units  would now go to mainstream school classes, increasing still further the wide range of skills already required by teachers as they came to terms with these conditions.  Lead schools would be set up for each disability providing outreach support, duplicating some of the provision currently being developed by Special Schools for this very purpose.

Consequences are that children have been turned away from Units although some who have persevered in spite of obstacles put up by KCC have broken through the net, staff at Units have been demoralised and are looking for other posts because of lack of a secure future, recruitment is down and Units will inevitably have been damaged which may make them easier to close in the future.

 What do I think of the whole situation? Frankly I think it is an utter disgrace, putting unreasonable pressure on vulnerable families and damaging Units which have enjoyed an excellent reputation over many years. And for what? It has taken six years, considerable expenditure of money, time and energy to discover that what is in place is best, and the main victims of this chaos are of course Kent children with Special Educational Needs whose needs are best met in Units; surely those who deserve the best possible care from the Authority.

 

 

Published in Newspaper Articles
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