We have seen massive steps forward in education in our area over the last ten years. There are more opportunities now for young people to reach their full potential through education than ever before. The Folkestone School for Girls and the Harvey Grammar, continue to get excellent results, but we have also seen fantastic strides forward on all fronts from other local secondary schools like Brockhill Park, Folkestone Academy and the Marsh Academy.
For a number of years, Pent Valley school in Folkestone also showed positive signs with sustained improvement in the academic results of its students, and in 2013 received a ‘Good’ rating from the school inspectors OFSTED. However, there has been a dramatic decline over the last few years. In 2012, 48% of students from Pent Valley received 5 A* to C grades in their GCSE results. This year, that number had fallen to 15%. One of the consequences of the falling results has been parents choosing other local schools for their children. Currently there are just 43 students in year 7 at Pent Valley, compared with 122 in year 11. For the start of this school year, Pent Valley was the first choice for just 31 students, compared to 99 in 2012. A further consequence of the falling number of students attending Pent Valley is that the school is falling deeper into debt. Clearly, this is not sustainable, and radical steps are required.
Our first consideration has to be with the students, to make sure they are getting the support and education they deserve. In the last few years we saw a similar challenge with K College in Folkestone. This required government support to remove the legacy debts the college had built up, coupled with new leadership from East Kent College, as the new education provider.
Kent County Council has decided to follow a similar approach with Pent Valley and will be launching a consultation this week on closing the school by the summer of 2017, and opening a new school on the site by September 2017 or for the following school year. This is a radical step, and many people, myself included, will be shocked at this sudden announcement.
The most important consideration is that the existing students are looked after properly. The Council is proposing that in the event of closure, current Year 10 pupils would complete their courses at Pent Valley. Current Year 11 pupils would be supported to identify and apply for 6th Form places in other local schools and colleges, and Kent County Council in partnership with local schools would work with Pent Valley staff to ensure all current Year 12 pupils have a clear forward plan to successfully complete their courses.
Kent County Council will also ensure that all Pent Valley pupils in Years 7 to 9 receive the offer of a school place. The council has already discussed this with the Folkestone Academy and Brockhill Park schools. Parents would not have to accept the place offered, and would be at liberty to seek places at another school. All parents who expressed a first preference for Pent Valley for their child for September 2016 admission, will have the opportunity to change their preference.
This decision, if it goes ahead, will mean dramatic changes for education in Folkestone. We have to ensure that a new school is delivered to meet what will be a growing local demand for secondary school places in the future. The leisure facilities at the school that are currently enjoyed by the wider community also need to remain available. Please contact me if you would like more information about this.