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Monday, 21 December 2015 04:42

Chatham Grammar School for Boys: Further Controversy in Proposal to admit Girls

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You will find a more recent article here

Last month I reported on the controversial proposal by Chatham Grammar School for Boys to become co-educational. This article looks at an even more controversial aspect whereby, with the school to be capable of expansion up to 180 children, a committee of governors would be able to fill any vacancies after school allocation each March with children they choose, using their own interpretation of ‘grammar school ability’.

To enable this to take place, the proposed new school Admission Policy states: “From National Offer Day, any available spaces will be allocated to those children who have provided sufficient evidence to the Admissions Committee of being of grammar school standard”.

Another factor emerging is the low proportion of boys being assessed suitable for grammar school in recent years, being 19% of the total number from Medway primary schools in 2015 (target is 25% of girls and boys), which may itself have precipitated the proposal if the school is desperate to make up numbers.   

At a Parental Consultation meeting on the proposal it was implied that Medway Council supported the proposal. It would be useful to know if this is true, as I cannot see why any secondary schools other than those in the Thinking Schools Academy Trust would support this proposal......

 
As the comment below confirms, when the takeover by TSAT was agreed two years ago parents received an assurance that the school would not change in character. Clearly, this should not have been given.
 
Assessment of Grammar School Ability
The proposed new school Admission Policy states: “From National Offer Day, any available spaces will be allocated to those children who have provided sufficient evidence to the Admissions Committee of being of grammar school standard”. In other words, the school is to be filled come what may after the beginning of March, with decisions on which boys and girls are to be admitted being made by a Committee of Governors who make their own assessment of grammar school ability.

I actually find it very difficult to believe that a large Academy Trust with all the resources it has at its disposal, including presumably legal advice, can allow such a dubious proposal to be put forward, and personally I doubt this criterion will ever see the light of day as the Schools Adjudicator will surely throw it out if challenged (and it will be), but it is a clear statement of the ambition of the Thinking Schools Trust, at the expense of the other schools, both selective and non-selective, in Medway.

In this proposal, the School Admissions Committee whose membership is undefined but, as a committee of governors, will include unqualified, untrained members working to fill available spaces using undefined criteria for grammar school ability. The Admission Code states: “Tests for all forms of selection must be clear, objective, and give an accurate reflection of the child’s ability or aptitude, irrespective of sex, race, or disability. It is for the admission authority to decide the content of the test, providing that the test is a true test of aptitude or ability”. Apart from removal of need for a Test itself I can see no way that the process can be clear and objective, and with its primary aim to fill spaces – 120,150 or 180 to be chosen according to school choice, any standard of admission becomes arbitrary and behind closed doors, inevitably leading to allegations of favouritism. 

The Statutory Code of Admission for schools states that Grammar Schools “do not have to fill all of their places if applicants have not reached the required standard”, but there is no provision in the Code for a second tranche of children to be admitted in this way after March 1st. Surely, that is what the School Appeals process is designed for, setting out a formal process to ensure that children admitted to the school late, are independently assessed as of grammar school ability, a process that appears to have worked well for the school for many years. What the appeal rights of  a child are, who has been through this second alternative process, remain unclear.

Co-Education
Arguments put forward by the Trust at Parental Meetings include the lack of a co-educational grammar school in the area. There is of course one at Rainham Mark Grammar, just 3.2 miles away, which underlines the poverty of the case. In any case, as I have argued before, given the disparity of place provision between boys and girls with currently 62 vacant spaces for girls in Year 7 of Medway’s three grammar schools for girls, compared with an actual shortfall of 14 for the two boys’ schools (met by Sir Joseph Williams admitting over its Planned Admission Number), there would be a need to increase the number of boys’ places if the Medway Test were fair by gender. Indeed, if the issue of gender provision were genuine, the problem could actually be resolved by Rochester Grammar School going co-educational, creating more spaces for boys and reducing the number of girl’s vacancies! Somehow I don’t see this happening to the flagship school.

It was made clear in one of the meetings for parents that no boy would be deprived of a place if the school changed its character, as it could be expanded up to 180 students. Currently a small number of girls from the Victory Academy already attend the school full-time, and it could be that with a change of designation other girls would join older year groups, although here, only the school’s own test would be acceptable as the entry criterion.

There are several references in the reports on consultation meetings of Medway Council’s apparent approval of the proposal: “in Medway the Council can see the benefit of a co-educational school to absorb both boys and girls” and “Medway LEA were happy for the school to increase its published admission number to accommodate all those that applied for a place”. Although the Council has no formal role in the decision making procedure, it is surely important to know the their formal stance on this important matter.  

Other Schools
It was made clear at the parental meetings there was to be no consideration for the implications on other schools, with both Chatham Grammar School for Girls and Fort Pitt Grammar (girls) likely to suffer severely as a consequence. I cannot see the Medway non-selective schools being happy either at this proposed expansion of the grammar school sector at their expense as Chatham Grammar, or Holcombe Grammar as it is likely to be renamed, cherry-picks further children after the formal admission procedure is completed, according to its own rules.

Is there also a sub-plot here to boost the reputation and attraction of Victory Academy, which only manages to fill half its places each year. If the new school were to fill, it would also give priority to members of the two Medway Primary TSAT schools, New Horizons and Gordon, which are both struggling to fill places whilst all other local schools are full, but with a potential capacity of 180 before the alternative route is applied to fill places, I can hardly see oversubscription being an issue.

 Medway Test
Although the unfair bias against boys in the Medway Test has been allowed to exist for many years, as recorded in previous articles, Medway Council’s figures for 2016 admission – 23.9% of Medway primary school girls and 19.5% of boys being found of grammar school ability, by Test or Review - underline the problem. This figure is determined from Medway Council’s own school by school breakdown of Medway Test results.

Whilst the proposed new procedure for admitting children after March 1st could right the balance, all the evidence shows that selection by scrutiny of work and records if this is the process chosen (as happens in the Medway Review and Kent Headteacher Assessment) also favours girls, so this would do little to address the imbalance!

NOTE: There appears to be a serious discrepancy between the Medway Test figures and those published at the time of release of Medway Test results which I shall explain further in my full analysis of the Medway grammar school selection process, to be published shortly.  

Read 2123 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 February 2016 22:23

2 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 25 December 2015 10:17 posted by a parent.

    My wife and I went to a parents evening just after CGSB went into measures. This was chaired by the newly appointed executive head Ms. Shepherd of TSAT. During an open session a parent commented that she didn't want CGSB to change in character nor to become an RGS clone. This led to further concerns about change of character from across the floor. Ms. Shepherd said that the schools character would not change and it would remain as it was. I for one was reassured by this answer. But I'm not sure now.

  • Comment Link Monday, 21 December 2015 19:27 posted by Melanie

    TSAT has hardly made a success of its other schools taken over in Medway. Gordon has got through two heads and is still unpopular with parents. New horizons has never recovered from the disastrous Open Sessions before the school was opened as TSAT set out their ideas and is half empty. The bungled try to take over Twydall, alienated governors an dparents and the idea was eventually dropped after TSAT tried ot bully the school.

    Now they want to close our Chatham Girls and damage Fort Pitt Girls Grammar. How does any of this help the childrne of Medway.

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