These three schools are the only three secondary schools in Gravesham to have benefited from the Building Schools for the Future project, with completely new buildings at a cost of some £20 million apiece, the other two proving increasingly popular. On the other hand, whilst St John's was significantly oversubscribed in its first year of new buildings, this temporary popularity has fallen away and it already had 11% vacancies on allocation in March. The school is also battling on two other fronts, as a considerable part of its intake has historically come from the Longfield/New Ash Green areas of Dartford and Sevenoaks. A major factor here was the unpopularity of the comprehensive school that served that area with the result that parents wanted their children to go elsewhere, St John's being a popular choice. The school has now been replaced with the new Longfield Academy, situated in plush new premises and excellently led, with the result that it has turned around completely and is the second most oversubscribed non selective school in the county. The second factor is the removal of free transport for faith (and grammar) schools in Kent for children living more than three miles from the school. This has hit most church schools across the county and St John's is no exception.
Mr Stanley asserts that the fact Gravesend Grammar has admitted an additional form of entry for 2012 demonstrates its lowering standards; however, the additional form created comprised boys who had already passed the eleven plus, mainly living towards the Longfield/New Ash Green area. No lowering of standards there. I can confirm from personal knowledge that very few boys who had not passed the 11+ were successful at appeal at the school.
He alleges that local primary schools coach for the 11+, having top sets dedicated to preparing children for the test. Apart from the fact that this is against KCC rules, who invite anyone who has evidence of such practices to report them (has Mr Stanley done so?), only one of the three tests measures a curriculum subject - mathematics - and all schools work hard on this for the KS2 results, on which the headteachers' jobs may depend. Far more important than grammar school places. I live locally and have never heard of any primary school coaching for the eleven plus in mathematics or in either of the two non-curriculum reasoning tests. Parents have told me of just one school that has a top class targeted at preparing children in the top set for grammar school, but this is St John's own primary school - so it can't be true!
The video also launches into an attack on super-selective schools. However it features Tonbridge Grammar School, a school for girls, which only admits 35 girls from outside the West Kent area. With 22 of these coming from outside Kent, the likelihood of any being snatched from St John's (and rejecting Mayfield Grammar School (formerly Gravesend Grammar School for Girls) in doing so) is approximately nil.
In a highly personal attack he gazes across at the new sports hall and pavilion at Gravesend Grammar, in an attempt to demonstrate the supposed elitism of the school. This complex, built over the past 15 years, was mainly funded by the sale of part of the school site (non playing fields), insurance from an arson attack on on the old pavilion and supported by grant funding from sporting charities. Designed to complement the BSF project, it hardly compensates for losing it.
The most worrying part of his video is the labelling the children of his own school as failures. Yes, some 30% of his children may have taken the 11+ and failed on this one occasion, but it is his job to pick them up and work with them to build their self esteem alongside the other 70% who did not take the test. He appears to say that non-selective schools in Kent are not able to do this, and indeed some are not, but this ignores the many success stories. Roman Catholic comprehensives such as St Simon Stock (Maidstone) and St Gregory's (Tunbridge Wells) do very well as do the many OFSTED Good and Outstanding non-selective schools across the county.
I must declare a personal interest in this story, as I was headteacher of Gravesend Grammar School before I retired. The two years I spent preparing for new buildings in 1992, at a cost of 2 and a a quarter million pounds (a great deal of money in those days) only to see them dashed as KCC forgot to sign the borrowing agreement with government, is etched upon my memory. The irony of my successor suffering the same fate is not lost upon me. Like me, he has had to manage the issue and draw in students by the quality of education on offer, and not by the superb facilities on show next door.