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Sunday, 30 July 2017 12:19

Politicians' Children and Grammar Schools: Canterbury Gazette, 4 August 2017

I find the criticism of a Labour Member of Parliament living in the selective county of Kent, for sending her children to grammar school when she disagrees with academic selection, quite bizarre especially as no alternatives are offered by her critics (the link is just one of many online articles). 

What follows is not, I believe, a political view but one that is purely pragmatic. In Canterbury, where this issue has arisen, 30% of the state school population go to grammar schools at the age of 11, well over the county standard of 25%. So, even the technically comprehensive church schools will have a limited number of children assessed to be of grammar school ability at that age, even assuming that a school whose philosophy is underpinned by faith is an option.

Whatever parents’ view on the principle of selective education, they still have a parental responsibility to do their best for their children within the system that operates locally. It would surely be perverse not to send an able child, assessed to be of grammar school ability, to the school best suited for their abilities. Certainly, when I was a grammar school headteacher I had children in my care whose parents disagreed strongly with the selective system, including Labour politicians. This did not present a problem for them or for me, as we all agreed that given this was the system, even though they would have it abolished, mine was the most appropriate school for those children.

It is clear after two general elections in which the only discussion about grammar schools from any party was about the possibility of expanding numbers, that there is no general appetite for a break-up of the selective system where it exists, especially with the greatest divide in education receiving no mention whatever. For it has always been a mystery to me why the Left in politics never refers to the biggest fault line, that between state and private schools, with the country’s private sector demonstrably undermining social mobility without being challenged.  Many academically selective private schools, benefitting from historic and private funding sources along with impressive tax breaks and ‘old boy’ networks, offer future life prospects for those able to afford them, that areas without grammar schools cannot hope to emulate.

The Canterbury Labour M.P. is not the only local parent to be publicly pilloried for expressing opinions on this matter, oddly perhaps in a university City that should create a climate of encouraging tolerance and rational debate. However, she should surely not be criticised, nor her children brought into the public domain, for choosing the most appropriate state education option for her children.  Also, strangely, I doubt given the experience of a number of other Labour MPs that she would have been equally vilified for sending her children to the alternative local option, one of Canterbury’s three private schools! 

Last modified on Sunday, 11 March 2018 17:07

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 August 2017 13:42 posted by Martin Hydes

    re Politicians' children

    Regarding your comment about private schools and social mobility, I should like to draw to your attention case in support of private education.

    I was brought up in a flat above a shop in Gravesend High Street in the 1960s. My parents ran a small business. Neither of them had academic qualifications. My maternal grandfather was an economic migrant from Germany. He was interned on the Isle of Man in 1915 after his shop was ransacked by members of the local community.

    My parents had aspirations for me and I passed the entrance exam to King's Rochester (as it happens I also passed the 11+ which my father insisted on in case the business went under).

    I enjoyed my time at King's and went on to become a teacher in state schools.

    I think this is a better example of social mobility being worked at rather than taking the benefits of a grammar school education when ideologically opposed to the system (and thus depriving more committed/aspiring families of places - even those whose child has passed the Kent Test with a very good score).

    So, I disagree with you on that one...but usually am in agreement with the investigations you undertake! PETER: Hello Again Martin (at least I assume you are the historian I knew!). You are quite right to flag up your personal exception to the hypothesis and be rightly proud of it. There will of course always be many such exceptions and scholarships, and long may they last. However, to suggest that a Labour politician should buy their way out of the appropriate state school for their child still sounds perverse to me.

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  • Oversubscription in Medway Grammar Schools for Admission in September 2018

    Medway Non-Selective places to follow shortly.

    Kent Allocations to follow as soon as I receive data.

    157 new places have created in Medway grammar schools for entry in 2018 over and above original 2017 figure of 942, and 15% of the total. However, the 994 places allocated to children at the six grammars has fallen slightly from the 1003 of 2017, as explained below. Meanwhile the proportion and number of Medway children eligible for grammar school dipped sharply to 23.4% against a target of 25%, the gap totally explained by the failure of the Medway Review process. Just one school, Chatham Grammar Girls, has vacancies, with the number of offers for the school at this stage nearly halved whilst four other schools, headed by The Rochester Grammar School and Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, are heavily oversubscribed with first choices. I look at the situation for each grammar school individually, below.

    Chatham Girls


    Just 12 children attending Medway state schools were successful at Review out of the 161 who applied. This amounts to a total of 0.37% of the cohort against a target of 2% being added to the original 23% who passed directly, with none from private or out of Medway schools. This means that the this highly stressful and flawed process of Review is now becoming almost meaningless, and 52 Medway children have been deprived of grammar school places at this stage, the empty spaces being filled by out of county children. 

    Rochester Grammar        SJWMS1

    Strangely, Medway Council is unlawfully blocking Medway children who did not apply for grammar school places initially, from making late applications or taking the Medway Test. This shows clear discrimination against its own children, as it allows out of county children to do so, with a large amount of late testing currently taking place. Surely Medway Councillors must sometime take responsibility for the operation of the education department for which they are accountable, with so many failures documented on this site.

    Written on Wednesday, 21 March 2018 04:21 Be the first to comment! Read 491 times
  • Brook Learning Trust Schools in Trouble: Ebbsfleet Academy; Hayesbrook School; High Weald Academy

     The Brook Learning Trust runs three schools, Ebbsfleet Academy, Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook and appears to be in serious trouble, both financially and in terms of the standing of all of its three schools. 

    Ebbsfleet 1       High Weald 1    Hayesbrook 2
    I monitor a number of factors that indicate how a school supports its students and how it stands in its locality. These include: pupil vacancy rates in year Seven; popularity of schools expressed through first preferences when making applications; percentage drop out rates from the school for all reasons; and proportion of pupils leaving for Elective Home Education; together with academic performance. These three schools are each amongst the worst in the county on four in the case of Hayesbrook or all five of the first five measures for the other two schools. I consider that they can therefore be regarded as generally, if not academically, failing. These common themes across the Trust’s schools suggest the problem starts with the ethos and standards set by the Trust.

    The situation at High Weald Academy is especially dire, as government is proposing a multi-million pound premises investment into this school which appears to have no future under the Trust.

    I look below at the factors affecting each school and the Trust as a whole. I now have data showing a further fall in first choice applications for each school for Year Seven admission in September 2018, which will surely see the Trust heading for insolvency and for each school immense financial difficulty in providing an acceptable level of education. 

    Written on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 06:21 2 comments Read 953 times
  • Medway Secondary School Allocations for September 2018: Initial Information and Advice

    Table for allocations below has been completed, with more recent information provided.

    You will find a parallel Kent article here

    The Medway Council Press Release for secondary transfer is the thinnest yet I have seen from the Council on this, or any other subject I can recall. It contains just four facts: 3259 Medway children applied for and were offered places in secondary schools; 91% have been offered a first or second preference school; over 95.5%  were offered one of their preferences; there were 630 applications for Medway school places from children outside Medway. That is it! UPDATE: I have now obtained the full data through an FOI request and inserted it below. I can see no reason why the Council has chosen to hide it.  

    However, there is also a bizarre footnote on a completely different matter, considered below. 

    The table below compares my extrapolation of these numbers with outcomes in previous years. There is also initial advice on what to do if you have not received the school of your choice 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. 

    Both of the quoted percentages in the Press Release were identical to those in 2017, both a significant fall on 2016, at 93.7% and 97.4% respectively.For 2017 offers, first and second preferences allocated were separated, so one can guess the proportion of first preferences has fallen this year as Medway Council typically tries to fudge its figures. No mention of, or regret about, the unfortunate 147 children with no school of their choice. 

    The cohort size has increased by just 85 children, with the 4.5% who have been given no school of their choice, at approximately 147, five up on 2017.

    Why is the Council so afraid of providing information to its residents?

    Written on Friday, 02 March 2018 12:25 1 comment Read 748 times
  • Kent Secondary School Allocations for September 2018: Initial Information and Advice

    You will find a parallel Medway article here.

    Several updates below, including grammar issues for boys in Longfield, Hartley, NAG, etc. Also look at my response to comment, below. Grammar places for boys in Whitstable, Herne Bay also looking an issue. 

    Kent secondary school allocations have been sent out today for those registered to receive by email and should arrive tomorrow by post for all (weather permitting).

    17,442 Kent children applied for places in schools, 745 more than in 2017, with 79.6% of them being offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least five years, but just 0.8% down on last year. 765 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.4% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least five years, and well up on last year’s 633. I know that a number of additional school places have been created at pinch points across the county, notably Tunbridge Wells, but I am already hearing of some very difficult situations for some of the children with no school of their choice.

    In spite of another large increase in out of county applications to Kent schools, up 545 to 3,289, just 818 were offered places, only eight more than in 2017. 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, together with the tables of outcomes below. You will also find required scores for super-selective schools as these are confirmed (all information welcomed), and 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 advice service I now offer. 

    Written on Thursday, 01 March 2018 12:03 12 comments Read 2825 times
  • Knole Academy and the Scandal of Exorbitant Headteacher Pay in Kent and Medway

    Update: Shortly after I published this article, the national BBC led with the same issue on its website, although amazingly there has been no local media interest at all. Is it that this is not of interest as it is what people expect? 

    The headteacher of The Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, a moderately performing single school academy, was paid £210,000 in 2016-17 making her the highest paid academy head or Chief Executive in Kent and Medway. This is an increase of 35% over the past three years after what can only be described as an irresponsible series of decisions by Governors, bringing the whole process into disrepute, and undermining the credibility of the very real financial crisis in schools, as explained below. By contrast the Principal of Homewood School, the largest secondary school in the county, had a salary of just £110,000 last year, one of majority of secondary heads around or below £100,000.


    After Knole the next two highest paid heads are the Principals of Leigh Academy and Wilmington Academy, both part of the Leigh Academy Trust, who each received £200,000 in remuneration, including their roles as Directors of the Trust. They were followed by the CEOs of two of Kent’s largest Academy Trusts, both responsible for more than a dozen primary and secondary schools: Swale AT and Leigh AT at £190,000 and £180,000 respectively.

    Grammar School Academy Headteachers are generally paid from around £85,000 to £110,000 annually, with Dartford Grammar School, the largest and most oversubscribed grammar school in the county on the latter sum. Highest paid Grammar School Head is at Rainham Mark Grammar, Medway. with £155,000 (£90,000 for HT salary, £65,000 for Academy Trust CEO), followed by Barton Court, Canterbury, at £125,000 (also a Trust CEO).

    At primary level the previous highest earner, the Head of Meopham Community Academy, has now retired from his £150,000 salary post, his replacement being employed at less than half of that rate. The highest paid heads of schools or multi academy trusts I have found this time round are the same two single standing academies as previously: The Academy of Woodlands in Gillingham, £105,000 in 2015-16, and St Stephen’s Academy, a Junior school in Canterbury on, the same figure for 2016-17.

    I look more closely at the Knole situation, and that of other high paying academies below. 

    Written on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:29 5 comments Read 1513 times
  • Medway Council fails its most vulnerable children

    Medway Council has once again failed its children, this time the most vulnerable, as confirmed by a scathing Ofsted Report on its ‘services’ to children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, published this week. The report concludes ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’. I think that is putting it politely. There are strengths identified; it just happens that all these appear to be down to the health service and not education.

    Concerns centre about chaotic management of the ‘Service’, resulting in failure to take necessary action. This can be seen from the following quotes: ’Medway’s education and service leaders do not share one vision and strategy for SEN and/or disabilitiesNo arrangements are in place to ensure effective joint oversight and clear lines of accountabilityLittle progress has been made in addressing several of the pressing priorities for improvement identified as far back as 2012Leaders’ understanding of what has and has not improved in the meantime is limited. I could have chosen many others.


    'The collaborative work between professionals and children and their families to plan services and meet individual needs, known as co-production, is weak at both a strategic and individual level' This criticism is underpinned by the heavy criticism of the implementation of Education and Health Care Plans for children with the greatest needs, which are at the heart of Departmental work, and ‘A considerable number of parents shared concerns with inspectors that the needs of their children are not being identified and met sufficiently well’.

    There is of course reference to Medway's record exclusion rates: ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally, as it is for all pupils. Lack of specialist provision has brought serious consequences for pupils with severe SEN or disabilities travelling out of Medway daily on long and very expensive journeys.  

    Written on Saturday, 10 February 2018 22:33 4 comments Read 458 times