Extra classes ease strain in rush to secure secondary school place

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Pressure on oversubscribed grammars in west Kent has been eased by the expansion of two popular schools, pushing up the number of Year 6 pupils offered a place at their preferred school on National Offer Day.

While there has been a mixture of heartache and happiness across the county since Friday as parents found out which secondary school their child would be starting in September, fears over selective placements in an area usually hampered with disappointment, were all but non-existent.

Last year, some 90 pupils in west Kent, who had passed the Kent Test, were left without a grammar place as parents battled to get their child into oversubscribed schools.

The Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells rejected 138 first choice applicants, according to figures from the Kent Independent Education Advice consultancy. Tonbridge Grammar, The Judd, Dartford Grammar, Dartford Girls, Weald of Kent, Tunbridge Wells Girls and Tunbridge Wells Boys also turned away large numbers.

The pressure was made worse by parents in neighbouring East Sussex and in the London boroughs – which do not have selective schooling – applying for a grammar place.

But following a request from Kent County Council, The Judd and Skinners’ will each add an extra Year 7 class for September. Other oversubscribed schools are doing the same thing.

Peter Read, the former head teacher who runs the Kent Independent Education Advice consultancy, said that the problems seen last year had “all but gone away”.

Some 12,754 children in Kent – 84 per cent of applicants – were given their first choice.

Parents were invited to pick four schools, in order of preference, last November.

Mr Read told KoS today: “This is great news for the majority of Kent parents.

“This has been helped by the additional places that have taken the sting out of the grammar school issue in west Kent.”

He said there would still be disappointment for some parents, where 2,390 missed out on their first choice, instead facing the start of term in September at their second, third or even fourth preference.

But Mr Read estimated that over half of these would be offered a higher choice of school through appeal or the churning process.

Mr Read explained: “Churning happens as places are freed up by appeals elsewhere and children being offered places off waiting lists. Each move creates a space at another school and so the process trickles down over the summer.”

While figures showed a rise in the number of children getting their first choice on last year, for some 357 it will be none of their choices. Instead KCC, the local education authority, chose them a school.

KCC said this was usually when parents had only given one preference which was not allocated, forcing the council to choose them a placement.

Figures showed 1,760 out-of-county children applied for a place in a Kent school, with 589 successful. Of that figure, 111 were from Medway.

Cabinet member for education at KCC, Mike Whiting, said the 2013 secondary admissions round has been the most successful in recent years: “Changes to government policy, which give schools new freedoms to expand and admit above admission numbers, have created the flexibility to provide greater choice. We have been able to increase school capacity and give more children their preferred schools.

“This is not just about meeting parental demand, but is also about laying the foundations for where we want to be in future years.”

He admitted, however, there was a small proportion not offered a place at their preferred schools: “They will be disappointed, and I would like to reassure them that there will be movement through reallocation and appeals that will enable more children to secure one of their preferred schools.”

Medway Council’s figures showed 97 per cent of primary school pupils were offered one of their preferences. Parents were invited to select up to six schools at the end of last year.

Of the 2,820 children offered places, 2,425 were given their first choice, 197 their second and 56 their third. The remaining 142 were given a lower preference school.

Medway Council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, Les Wicks, said: “I am pleased such a high number have been allocated a place at their first choice secondary school.”

Kent:

-Parents have until March 21 to accept or refuse their offer and waiting list forms by March 19.

-Parents must also lodge any appeals for their named schools by April 16.

-KCC will reallocate places from schools waiting lists sending out a second round of offers on April 17.

-From April 18, schools will maintain their own waiting lists and parents can contact schools direct after this date to ask to be placed on the waiting list.

Medway:

-Places must be accepted/refused and requests to go on a waiting list and appeals must be submitted by April 15.

-The council re-allocates any places that have become available to those who have asked to go on the waiting lists for each school on the week commencing April 22.

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