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Thursday, 31 August 2017 21:23

Shame on Holcombe Grammar School and Medway Council

Update - Read below first: Numbers taking up Victory option have fallen on fist day of term, as have those taking up places at Holcombe. Surely, the mature solution is to admit this has been an almighty blunder and place the residue of the seven currently at Victory, back in Holcombe. All sorted. 

Holcombe Grammar School, previously Chatham Boys' Grammar, aided and abetted by Medway Council, have carried out one of the most shameful actions I can recall being imposed by a school. Seven boys who have passed the Medway Test, and have been placed on the roll of Holcombe Grammar, are to spend their first secondary school year at low flying non-selective Victory Academy, both schools being part of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust. The boys have been told they are to form part of a newly created Grammar stream, the remainder being made up of boys and girls from the academy none of whom will have been assessed as of Grammar ability by the Medway process. 

This device has the effect of denying the children an appeal against the decision, which they would surely win given the circumstances as explained below. Instead on Monday morning the seven boys, on the roll of Holcombe Grammar, will be walking up the same road as other pupils in the school, but in Victory Academy uniform to join a class taught by teachers some of whom, according to Medway Council, have no experience in teaching Grammar ability children but who will be trained on the job. As explained below faulty procedures administered by Medway Council and the school have contributed to allowing this travesty to occur. 

On a wider scale, if this process were judged to be legal, it would have wide reaching consequences. It would allow any Multi Academy Trust in the country the astonishing freedom to transfer children offered places at one school, to be placed in another school in the Trust to be educated. Congratulations again Medway Council on setting an appalling precedent (if indeed it is legal)

 Events So Far
Several of the seven boys had applied to Holcombe Grammar School but for whatever reason did not take the Medway Test in September 2016. As a result, Medway Council arranged for them to take the place in March. Others applied late after moving into the area. By this time, Holcombe Grammar School had already offered 128 places, eight above its Planned Admission Number of 120 boys, including 40 boys from outside Medway. 
 
When some of the boys turned up to take the test in March, they were told that Medway Council had failed to make proper arrangements, and it could not go ahead for them. Others made later applications. The Test was rearranged for June 20th when all 7 boys passed and were offered places at Holcombe Grammar on 17th July by Medway Council, but:
 

"Please note your child will be on roll of Holcombe Grammar School but the school have informed us that they will be based at The Victory Academy site. Please correspond direct with the school that you accept this arrangement and if you have any further enquiries"

 
In the meantime, other places were offered, according to parents reporting back after their own appeals in June, up to a total figure of 148, although falling back to 136. These will be mainly boys from London who qualified through passing the Kent Test (acceptable for admission to the Chatham grammars), who had failed to get in to their preferred Kent grammars in Dartford and Gravesend, probably after earlier appeals to those schools and then made late applications to Holcombe, some even without visiting the school or knowing where it is.
 
However, four days after the boys had been told they were allocated places, on 21st July the parents received a bizarre communication from Holcombe stating that they had received a communication from the Local Authority asking if they had places for the boys! However because the school was full, they had made arrangements for the boys to attend the non-selective Victory Academy in the Grammar stream as members of Holcombe Grammar. They would wear Victory Academy uniform. In later correspondence it was stated that where Victory staff teaching the boys did not have Grammar ability teaching experience they would receive appropriate training.
 
It has also emerged that the idea of the Grammar Stream is so new that staff at Victory did not know it was coming until the end of the week before term started
 
 
It it has also been made clear by both Medway Council and the school that this device removes the right of appeal against this decision, on the grounds that the boys have already been offered places at Holcombe. 
 
After appeals the the total number of offers at Holcombe Grammar was 165, equating to five classes of 33. However, an unknown number of these are London children who had no initial interest in the school, may well have taken up other offers and simply not turn up at Holcombe on Monday from previous experience of such situations.  
 
The Appalling Nature of this Decision.
There is so much wrong and shameful about this decision it is difficult to summarise it, but:
1) If Medway Council had not messed up on the March Test, some of those boys would probably have been found selective in March, and so offered places in the subsequent decision by the school to expand to five forms, which effectively gave priority to London children.
2) The refusal to allow an appeal given the failures by the Local Authority and the school, effectively attempts to remove any means of challenge to this decision. In fact, given the nature of those failures the chances of success at appeal, with a properly independent panel, would be high.
3) In a meeting with one set of parents, it was explained that the mixed top set would transfer as a whole to the currently single sex Holcombe Grammar in September 2018. It was apparent that neither school nor Local Authority had taken account of the proposal by Holcombe to become co-educational would not take place until 2019, if approved (now a very lengthy nine months in gestation, rightly suggesting it is not a clear cut decision), and so any transfer would be unlawful. The previous experiment of arranging high flying Victory girls to be taught at Holcombe Grammar whilst remaining on the Victory roll, has proved a failure and the girls have chosen to return to Victory. The Q&A document refers to seamless transfer, but this whole set up starts to look like an attempt to boost Victory academic prestige, whilst diluting that of Holcombe. The seamless transfer of children from Victory who have not qualified for grammar school by an objective testing process does not appear in Holcombe Grammar School Admission Criteria and discriminatory against children applying from other schools, and so is unlawful on both counts. 
4) The legal consequence of establishing that children could be on the roll of one school, but educated wholly in another of the same Multi-Academy Trust is wide ranging. A Test case in Kent a few years ago, where a child won an appeal to one school, to be offered a place at another in the same Trust, saw the Trust back down after a challenge by Kent County Council. Government and the Regional Schools Commissioner need to express a view on the legality of this, before it becomes established practice elsewhere. Both have already been approached about this case.
 
For goodness sake, both Medway Council and Holcombe Grammar School should acknowledge this is a ridiculous solution to the problem created when Holcombe decided to expand so rapidly to take in a London overspill at the expense of local children. Even though it may create short term logistical difficulties, back down for the sake of local children.  
 
In passing; in an email section sent to me in error just a week ago, it was suggested that the school should contact their solicitors about the case. Surely, this should have been done much earlier, given the controversial nature of the decision.
 
And finally,
From the letter of 21st July: "We do hope you see this as a viable alternative way for your son to still access grammar school provision over time". In other words, not even Holcombe Grammar thinks that the current offer is a grammar school provision! 

 

 
Last modified on Tuesday, 05 September 2017 00:55

4 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 14 September 2017 11:51 posted by Elias

    Any news on how this charade is going? PETER: Numbers are down to five. One of the Victory teachers reports that on the first day of term, staff were told that no-one knew how long the seven would be there. No one in authority has yet commented on whether the practice is illegal. I suspect because they are hoping it will go away. This continues to be a large stain on Holcombe's reputation that they are prepared to use children as pawns in this way.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 05 September 2017 20:34 posted by Happily ex-staff member Chatham Grammar

    Let us recall: this is the Thinking Schools Academy Trust that got rid of its CEO last year for bullying staff. From what I hear this idea was dreamed up at the last moment and forced through although advised it was foolish. The lunatic co-education idea to reduce opportunities for a boys grammar in Medway to one massively oversubscribed school, considerable parental unrest over unreasonable uniform changes, etc., etc. Chatham Grammar used to be a very humane school. The humanity has gone

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 05 September 2017 20:28 posted by Lucy

    This is an interesting take on how to boost student numbers! PETER: You may think so; I wish I could be confident there was any masterplan, rather than on the hoof decision making.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 05 September 2017 13:03 posted by Phil

    Whilst I understand the concerns raised here and the precedents they could set, I am disappointed with the reporting and tone used both in the media and in your blog as it does cast an extremely elitist view over grammar provision compared to the non selective offerings. I am sure those from Victory Academy do not appreciate how this has been portrayed either. PETER: I can find only one brief negative reference about Victory, the least popular school in Medway with 30% vacancies, over twice as many as anywhere else, and the second lowest attainment GCSEs, so definitely not high flying! I can find no clue about the elitism you refer to; in fact I hardly paint Holcombe as a model of good practice. Medway has a selective system - fact. Several of these children have very high test scores, so are best placed in a grammar school environment, not used as part of a tawdry device to deny them their legal right of appeal, and place them in a humiliating situation.

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