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Saturday, 14 October 2017 12:38

Unlawful Grammar School Admissions: Holcombe (Medway); Maidstone Girls; and Invicta

The DfE has now ruled, as I forecast in my article entitled ‘Shame on Holcombe Grammar School and Medway Council’, that actions such as those of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) in placing pupils registered with Holcombe Grammar School at another school for their education are unlawful.  This illegality has been supported by Medway Council in yet another failure by them.

As a result, the pupils are now being placed back at Holcombe, but not until Term Two, although they have known of the decision for over a week already and could surely have been moved much earlier if the pupils’ interests were any sort of priority.

Chatham Boys 3

 

This is the third such case relating to school admissions locally in less than a year, where the DFE, and in one case the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), has ruled the schools’ practices unlawful; but sadly the arrogance of these institutions has seen no semblance of apology from any. It is clear that the extent of accountability only covers ensuring that wrongdoing no longer happens to other children, and damages confidence in the large majority of reputable schools.

This article focuses primarily on events at Holcombe/Invicta Academy, but also looks at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls’ response to the LGO finding of their unlawful actions, and consequences of the Invicta/St Olave’s scandal. 

Holcombe Grammar School
In summary, as explained in more detail in my article, the Holcombe Grammar applications of six boys who passed the Medway Test in June were accepted by the school, but the pupils were then placed at non-selective Victory Academy in a hastily convened grammar stream with no initial promise of change, where they were taught entirely by Victory staff. Whilst this soon changed to a promise to move the boys across at the end of the year, there was clear evidence that the school was intractable despite representations to TSAT and Medway Council who both claimed the actions were lawful.

However, an email from the DfE sent earlier this week fully explains the U-Turn in that it states explicitlyPupils must be educated at the school that they are registered at for at least some of the time’It is reasonable to assume that instructions have been sent by either the Regional Schools Commissioner responsible for local academies, or the Education Funding Agency with national oversight to force the change of heart.

According to the school, it has now been able to accommodate the boys because there is finally room for them, in a tone which suggests the families should feel grateful. No mention of the reason, nor apology for the unlawful actions, nor apology for the appalling treatment of the boys who are sent to the wrong school in the Victory Academy uniform, taught by staff who are ‘being trained in how to teach grammar school ability children’, on a different curriculum, but offered as a sop that they can turn out for Holcombe Sports teams, although distinguished by being dressed in Victory Academy uniform.

Accountability rests with the top echelons of TSAT, to whom the nominal headteacher of Holcombe has to refer for quite routine decisions about her school.

Maidstone Grammar School for Girls
The headteacher is reported in a newspaper article covering the Ombudsman’s decision that the school’s Sixth Form Admissions process over a number of years had been unlawful, as ignoring the illegality and focusing on the seriously flawed Appeal Hearing conducted by KCC. She had previously strenuously denied any fault, and in another recent newspaper article, the school is still attempting to justify the illegal actions. Once again, no apology to potential students who will have been put off continuing with their applications by artificially high Sixth Form admission requirements in a drive to raise A Level performance, ironically students much needed to make up a shortfall in numbers. The comment: ‘However, we no longer include the average points score in our admissions criteria’, underlines the continued refusal to acknowledge fault, as the average points score, on which the illegality hinges, has never been part of the admissions criteria, nor ever mentioned in school publicity. It even goes on to try and justify its actions: ‘Maidstone Grammar says it has found using the APS is the best predictor of whether applicants will meet the entry criteria following their GCSE results’. This may well be but if it is so important that the school was prepared to break the law to apply the filter, why did it never made the policy public, when it could easily have incorporated in the published Admissions Policy, then and now, but has made no attempt to do so?

Instead, in a quite bizarre move, this undersubscribed school with 42 vacancies on allocation in March, second highest figure for grammar schools in Kent, has introduced new oversubscription criteria for September 2018 entry, to try and boost its image, although the school’s reputation surely needs to improve if it is ever to apply them. After the required first priority of Looked After Children now comes a new criterion, ‘Governor places: The top 30 students on rank order of the TOTAL aggregate score on the 11+ assessment tests’, which obviously requires more than 180 families to be competing for places in order for this to take effect. Secondly, comes the common criterion of 'siblings', with a very odd definition of sibling: ‘a brother or sister attending either Maidstone Grammar School for Girls or Maidstone Grammar School when the child starts’. However, there is no formal connection with Maidstone Grammar School, the link is not reciprocated by MGS, there appears no advantage to the school, even if it is ever applied. So why put it in?

Even after I initially identified the illegality in the Autumn of 2016, the school has made no effort to put in place appropriate criteria for external applicants to the Sixth Form. The rules read simply: ‘Offers will be made on the basis of predicted performance at GCSE’ with the levels defined in the Published Admission Criteria. However, with no clear definition of what level these are set at (which is where the school went wrong previously), no potential student should legally be turned away at provisional offer time next Spring.  Sadly, in all this I can see no pattern of logical thinking, for which responsibility lies with the school leadership and governors. As a Foundation, stand alone non-academy, the school has no excuse of responsibilities being blurred.

This is also a grey area for a number of other schools, but they have not at present been in the spotlight like MGGS, with its illegally imposed artificially high requirements exposed.

Invicta Grammar School its wider follow through
I have published a series of articles this year on the illegality of permanently excluding students at the end of Year 12 because they do not meet the school’s academic requirement to be on course for the highest grades. These began in January and ended in September with a letter from the DfE making the illegality explicit. The only comment coming from the Valley Invicta Trust has been by the headteacher, stating, about the 26 students who left at the end of Year 12: "This is an 'interpretation' by a couple of students- it is not accurate". The host of testimonies at the foot of my first article and in the media, from students who had been forced out suggests she was out of touch with reality, in a state of denial, or else was trying to simply cover up the scandal. Again, no apology for anything or to the students whose careers were wrecked in some cases, but in acknowledgement the school has quietly removed the Year 13 academic entry requirement from its website. The current number of 25,424 hits on my article, much heavier than anything else in the past two years, reflects the wide interest it has generated.

National coverage of the scandal followed after it was picked up by parents at another grammar school with a national profile, St Olave’s in Bromley, who had seen my Invicta articles.

Whilst there will inevitably be a few schools that continue to try and impose the illegal exclusions, it is clear that others are developing new tactics to try and strip out those who are not heading for the top grades. Two main methods.

Firstly, by raising the admission level for entry to the Sixth Form, to reduce the number of students likely to achieve lower grades.  Sadly, the number of alternatives is also reducing in Kent, with only West Kent College at Tonbridge offering an FE route, and a number of non-selective schools cutting back on A Level provision for financial reasons. I find this reduction in opportunity appalling with schools sacrificing student careers in the chase for high grades. I plan to look at this in more detail later.

Secondly, as an alternative to expulsion, some schools are now introducing ‘contracts’ for lower performing pupils at the beginning of Year 13, with an implied imperative that if they don’t sign they should leave. One that I have seen requires the student to accept that if they are not heading for at least a ‘C’ Grade then they won’t be entered for the A Level exam, but can enter as a private candidate which, if not unlawful, is certainly immoral.

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 October 2017 23:48

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