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Sunday, 20 October 2013 00:00

Barton Court Grammar School to move to Herne Bay?

Back in July, I reported the proposal for an East Kent satellite grammar school sponsored by Barton Court Grammar school and based in Herne Bay.

The plan appears to have changed in principle and, rather than a satellite, the proposal is now for Barton Court to shift its base entirely to Herne Bay, replicating the plan put forward in the 1980s to address the shortage of grammar school places on the North Kent Coast. However, this is not just a change of site, the proposal is for Barton Court Grammar to expand to six forms of entry, with the support of the developer of the site on the old Herne Bay Golf Club land, one benefit of a grammar school being the likely enhancement of status for his housing development. The capital cost of the project would be part funded from sale of the current city centre site, part from the developer, although there would probably be a shortfall that may be the main issue. Canterbury City Council is highly supportive of the move, as it would remove a major source of the heavy traffic problems in the City, so it would fall to the school persuading KCC, Canterbury Council and or government to make up any funding gap.

Much of the background rationale for the move is explained in my previous article, although the proposal to move the whole school lock, stock and barrel is far more radical and raises fresh issues and benefits........

The main downside is the position of many of the school’s current students who come from Canterbury itself and villages to the south. Having started at a Canterbury grammar school, they would now face an unexpected trek north to Herne Bay, recreating the traffic problem to a certain extent, but in reverse and only for a limited number of years. I imagine there will be fierce resistance from these, especially in the villages, and am already receiving enquiries from families to the south of Canterbury, who are looking at making grammar school applications in the next fortnight and are already discounting Barton Court as one of their options.

One consequence of this is that I can see Barton Court losing out on applications in the current round and until the matter is resolved.  The uncertainty will clearly damage the school’s intake until then, although it was oversubscribed for 2013 entry for the first time for some years. It would now appear to be a fleeting popularity unless an increased interest from Herne Bay and Whitstable balances it out, as families from this area look to the longer term.  

The other key issue has been created by Simon Langton Boys Grammar School giving priority to high scorers. If Barton Court decamps to the North Kent coast, boys who pass the Kent Test with scores below a score of 385, living in the rural areas around Canterbury, may have no grammar school to go to, if they don’t live in what is now a shrinking circle around SLGSB. If Simon Langton took all boys who passed the Kent Test subject to distance criteria, and Barton Court moved to Herne Bay, there would be a much better distribution of places around the whole area. But they don't and can’t and won't be forced to change. I can see KCC objecting to the move because of this problem, although this is not the fault of Barton Court and, as my previous article shows, KCC has previously supported the move!  We shall sadly see more such examples of schools looking after their own interests against those of the local community as the idea of a county wide standard of selection breaks down even further.

Kent County Council is revising its school place Commissioning Plan, in general a very positive document, which shows no overall shortage of school places in Canterbury District. Unfortunately it does not break this down to look explicitly at grammar school places. I am confident that a  wider look at grammar places across Faversham district, along the North Kent Coast and into Canterbury would pinpoint the shortage that this plan is designed to meet. 

The big bonus for parents of children aspiring to grammar schools would be the addition of a further two forms of entry in an area of East Kent with a shortage of places, which will only increase with major housing projects in development. Back in July, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Faversham supported the idea of a satellite, which would ease the pressure of places on itself, the most oversubscribed grammar school in Kent, apart from the super selectives in the West of Kent which also recruit from out county. I would be surprised if the change of plan to a relocated enlarged Barton Court Grammar will affect QEGS's support.  

In summary, I think the proposal is entirely logical, but is clearly controversial for the above reasons and, whilst solving problems for many families, would create its own during the germination process. 

Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2014 23:15

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