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Displaying items by tag: Kent on Sunday

A full list of the schools affected with their designations is here.

Headteachers at 28 Kent secondary schools, 8 Special Schools and 4 Referral Centres were devastated on Monday to learn that the plans to rebuild their schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme had been scrapped. The vast number of hours spent by heads and governors in negotiating with architects and officials are wasted. The many hours of planning by staff to develop new methods for teaching and learning using opportunities created by purpose designed premises will be consigned to the scrapheap. Some of the Special Schools are required to admit children with complex physical and learning needs, but will now find it impossible to cater for these unless alternative funding can be found. Also spare a thought for KCC officers who have worked tirelessly through the mass of red tape imposed on them, to try and ensure the best for our schools.

For the following schools in Thanet - Clarendon House Grammar, Chatham House Grammar, Foreland Special, Hartsdown Technology College, Hereson, Laleham Gap (Special), Northwood Centre, St Anthony's (Special), Stone Bay (Special) and Ursuline College; and in Gravesend - Gravesend Boys & Girls Grammars,  Meopham, and St George's CE ,along with Portal House (Special) in Dover, the shock was so much greater. For in these schools building plans have nearly all been finalised and construction due to begin in the near future. They will now have to compete for students with the gleaming new premises of those schools who have benefited from BSF. Hartsdown is not alone in Thanet in having very poor buildings and now little prospect of these being eased. 8 newer Academies already operational or in the planning stage whose replacement buildings have not begun (at an average cost of some 40% more than mainstream schools), are to have any plans reviewed in the summer. It would, however, be bizarre if many of these were upheld, as new Academies converting from mainstream schools join them on an equal basis in September with no prospect of new buildings.

This is a sorry end to a project that promised so much. However, it is important to realise what has been achieved. Paul Carter, KCC Leader has taken a personal interest in attracting maximum capital expenditure to Kent, which historically had low levels of investment in school buildings. His drive and vision means we now have new schools worth some half a billion pounds, either completed or in construction. These include all other secondary and Special Schools in Gravesham and Thanet through BSF (most of which are close to completion), 9 Academies, and 6 secondary schools built under separate PFI funding.  Parents in many parts of Kent will be aware of other major investments in new or replacement buildings for schools of all types. Whatever the future holds, these remain and nearly 20% of secondary schools will have been completely or substantially rebuilt; an impressive record of investment in the future of our children.

I saw a few of the complications of BSF as a Governor of Ifield Special School, the first Kent school to be completed with BSF funding. Because of the special nature of our project, involvement with bureaucracy was mainly limited to agreeing contracts for ICT equipment and services. Three governors spent innumerable hours grappling with details of complex documents and requirements to meet impossible deadlines (we are of course all unpaid volunteers). The headteacher and senior staff spent much greater time. However we did have the satisfaction of seeing our work come to completion. What about those governors who see their work junked? Sadly a few will walk away in disgust, never to return. What about children whose education has suffered, as heads and staff have had long periods of absence dealing with BSF issues? That cannot be restored. It would have been good to see Michael Gove acknowledge this labour and sacrifice.

Whether this dramatic purge was necessary in full is for others to pronounce on. I only know it must be wrong to put part of the proceeds towards the bribe to persuade mainstream schools to become academies themselves, with another portion going to start up free schools that will often be set up to suit self-interest groups who have little interest in the education of the majority.

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There was considerable discussion in the media last week about pressure on Primary School places. I have carried out considerable analysis of the Kent situation and clearly there are critical parts of the county, whilst in others with falling numbers there may well be calls for undersubscribed schools to close.

My analysis is based on Primary school allocations in March 2010, although of course there will have been some movement since, especially in parts of West Kent (see below) where some parents disappointed with their school allocation will have taken up places in private schools.  It is immediately apparent that the most critical area was Tunbridge Wells where KCC headed off some problems by creating an additional 55 places to add to the 765 available. Just four schools out of the 17 had vacant spaces and between them they absorbed the 76 children who were not offered any of the schools applied for, leaving just 3 vacant spaces in the whole district.

Next up was Sevenoaks where again KCC intervened to put in an additional 45 places. This time there were just 6 out of 27 schools with vacancies initially, but after 61 Local Authority allocations, there were still 38 spaces left in these schools.

Gravesham is an area I know well and eighteen months ago I warned KCC there were problems brewing. This year they began to come to a head and in Northfleet there was not a single school with a vacancy, with some children being sent to the new Manor School in Swanscombe expanded to take them.  In urban Gravesend itself, the situation is not much better, with just three schools having vacancies, one of which received 27 children whose parents had not applied for it. On the other hand, there are plenty of spaces going begging in the rural areas of Gravesham.

Other hot spots include: parts of Dartford, Tonbridge and surprisingly parts of Thanet. On the other hand, Dover had a quarter of its places left empty, with five schools being under half full. A total of 25 Kent primary schools were under half full, with three schools taking in 20% or less of their capacity. If government is looking to squeeze the budget, KCC will shortly have to make some very difficult decisions with these schools, perhaps to provide funds for the areas under pressure. The most popular primary school in Kent was St John's CofE Primary - Tunbridge Wells, followed by Callis Grange Infants in Broadstairs.

I have focused on numbers in this article, but we should never forget it is the future lives and education of four year old children being moved around to make the spaces fit.

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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 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.

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Many parents contact me about education complaints to the Local Government Office (LGO), or Ombudsman as it is usually called.  Whilst I offer a professional service, most people submit their own complaints and the LGO will follow these through.

However, there are two major changes in the work of the LGO which are not widely known, but may affect many families from this September.

Historically the LGO deals with complaints about school admissions and appeals, permanent exclusions (expulsions) and some aspects of Special Education Needs. Since Easter in Medway (a pilot area) the LGO has been able to consider complaints about schools affecting individual children. Sadly, although Kent was also to be a pilot from September, government has recently scrapped this proposal.

The second change is that because the LGO is unable to consider complaints about academies, the number of schools in Kent and Medway they cover is falling rapidly with a third of Kent secondary schools soon to be out of Local Government control, a proportion that will rise further when all schools become eligible to apply.

For admissions, appeals and permanent exclusions a complaint will not be upheld just because you disagree with the decision;  there has to be maladministration (not following the rules) to the extent there may have been a wrong decision.  In such cases, you have to follow the laid down processes first so, for admission issues you must first go to an Independent Appeal Panel. For Permanent Exclusions you need to go first to a Governors Appeal then an Independent Appeal Panel.  You are not entitled to see the official notes of these meetings before you complain, which is one of the difficulties as evidence often lies buried within them; however the Ombudsman will pick up any issues on your behalf.  For complaints about schools relating to your child you first need to follow the school complaints procedure through to the end, an often difficult and tortuous process as many schools will resist.

Ombudsman cases often take two months or more to resolve, my longest being eight months!   For admission and exclusion appeals, the likeliest outcome if you win your complaint is a fresh appeal in front of a different panel where you can be turned down again.  It is difficult to comment on Special Needs cases, as they differ widely, but the norm is to ensure proper support is provided for the child if this has been neglected.

At present there are few LGO complaints about schools, but  I have my concerns about how effective such complaints will be because of time scales – settling a complaint about bullying two months after following through a complaints procedure does not appear effective.  I would be very interested to learn of good outcomes for families.

However, many complaints to the Ombudsman do bring positive results where there are sufficient grounds and your first port of call should be to the official website -

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Monday, 04 October 2010 13:02

Academies, Old and New, KOS, September 2010

As Kent diversifies into an increasingly splintered education provision, it is perhaps time to revisit the world of academies. It appears there are now four types. First up were the luxury model “old style” academies. These have either been completely rebuilt or had plans approved to secure a rebuild on a very generous budget of the order of £30 million each. Secondly, what promise to be the lean “old style” academies, whose rebuilds will be subject to the economies of the Autumn Spending Review. The original concept for these schools was that they were failing their children or were sited in socially deprived areas, and most fit part of that concept.

Then there are the “new style” academies, a very different animal although subject to the same regulations. Currently there is no indication how they will raise funds for major capital projects, so I do not anticipate major rebuilds (but current policy certainly has capacity to surprise). As distinct from the first two groups, the third group are judged “outstanding” by OFSTED, having been offered an exceedingly generous financial package to convert (although there is no evidence that they need such funds!). From October onwards any primary or secondary school can apply to become a fourth model academy, Special Schools being allowed in 2011.

Academies are independent of KCC in most respects although they obey the same Admissions Code. They own their premises and set their own terms and conditions for teachers (Heads of old style academies generally attract salaries of some £30,000 more than for other schools). For group three this will allow highly successful schools to lure teachers away from other schools whose needs are greater.

KCC now has 16 old style academies, and 17 outstanding schools on their way, making nearly a third of the secondary schools in the county.  The Authority appears to be moving to a policy of encouraging all secondary schools to go down this route, arguing that any additional resources from government should benefit all Kent secondary schools. Primary schools have far less infrastructure to support independence and so there are concerns here, although two standalone primaries are going through the process.

You will find a list of all existing and proposed academies on my website

For me, the major concerns are the two tier financial structure being created and a lack of accountability. The threat to a failing school was that it would be closed and turned into an academy. What happens to a failing academy (they do exist and numbers will inevitably increase)? It is worthy of note that the Ombudsman has no role in academies. Any complaints go to the black hole that is the Department of Education.  Against this, there is no doubt that academies are raising the status of schools, and some are notable successes. It is no coincidence that the most oversubscribed school in Kent and most successful on a number of counts is an academy which is now spreading its wings and oversees the working of two others that have seen greatly improved exam results this year. See my website to learn out which it is!!

In conclusion, the jury is still out and the next few years look very “exciting” in terms of school organisation.

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Saturday, 10 July 2010 12:50

SEN Unit Review, KOS, July 2010

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that, contrary to Kent County Council claims, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of children offered places this year in Special Educational Need (SEN) Units attached to mainstream schools.

Although KCC claims there has been no change of policy, the number of fresh admissions to Primary SEN Units has dropped by 75%, falling from 73 to 18 in the past year. It is possible the latter figure will rise slightly over the coming year, as parents realise they may have been misled by some KCC officials telling them that Units are closing, but the fall is still stark.

Kent’s Head of Education wrote to the Kent Branch National Autistic Society in February that the Authority planned to increase the number of Unit placements provided for children with autism in the coming year.  However, the reality is that the number of new placements in Primary Autistic Units has declined even faster, from 20 children to 3, refuting her assertion.

There are some 950 spaces available in 63 Units supporting children with: Autism; Hearing or Visual Impairment; Physical Disability; Speech & Language problems or Specific Learning Difficulties, and if this year’s admission level continues these will rapidly become unsustainable and will have to close to children.  There is also a decline in numbers for secondary aged Units, although this is not currently so steep as many children follow through from the Primary phase.

KCC is currently undertaking an evaluation of the current changes, although this is being carried out by the very officers responsible for the situation. The difficulty in obtaining the figures suggests official unease over the information, not surprisingly given repeated assertions that Units are still accepting children on the same basis as previous years. I have proposed that this data (which you will find in more detail on my website should form part of that evaluation, but have not yet had a response.

The new approach sees more children placed in mainstream classes with support from staff in Lead Schools who should have expertise in their specialism, although this clearly places additional pressure on class teachers already dealing with a wide range of SEN.  KCC considers no child has been given an inappropriate placement through this change of direction, although this will not be tested until September when the children arrive in their new schools.  Already OFSTED reports that some Kent schools have 50% of children with SEN, and I believe the new Academy programme will exacerbate this pressure on the schools that are left behind, to the detriment of all children in these classes.

On a positive note, it  is pleasing to see  the number of children offered statements of SEN across Kent has been stable over the past three years,  as distinct from a fall in many other Local Authorities.  My concern remains what will happen in the classroom to those children.

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