Dartford Grammar School
For 2014 entry, Dartford was the most oversubscribed grammar school in Kent and the school has increased its intake this year from 150 to 180, placing a cap (!) of 90 on numbers of local boys which should be sufficient to meet need. However, I don't see the increase changing the pressure very much, as the school will still inevitably comfortably fill with the highest scorers in the Kent Test from outside Dartford. This will once again lead to large numbers of oversubscription appeals, allowing no more flexibility on increasing numbers through appeal than in previous years. The school is not allowed to offer priority to siblings because the rules do not allow this for schools that select by highest scorers. The school makes clear at appeal that it has serious concerns about admitting students who have not reached the correct level in the selection tests, detailing those concerns.
Complaints were made to the Schools Adjudicator about some aspects of the changes to the admission rules, but these were largely rejected in a judgement last month.
Wilmington Grammar School for Boys
The situation at Wilmington is very different from 2014 entry, as the school has made a dramatic change in its oversubscription criteria away from what was predominantly priority for boys living nearest, which saw over half of its intake come from Bexley and Bromley and Greenwich. The new rules list the priorities as: (1) Local Authority Care; (2) siblings; (3) 15 places for high scorers; (4) boys living close to the school or residing in a series of named Kent parishes to the south and east of the school; any remaining places (5) to be allocated by distance. This is a massive swing from the previous criteria which had distance placed at number four, with no number five. However, I see no diminution of pressure on the school as a result as London families continue to seek grammar school places. A comment below suggests all successful appeals at Wilmington in 2014 were to ooc boys who had passed with high scores, none to non-selective boys.
Gravesend Grammar School
The school is seeing a similar pattern to the above starting to emerge, at present with a large number of lower preferences, mainly from London families placing it second or third to the Dartfords. Several boys who put the school fourth on their application form were offered places this year. Over the past two year, the school has allowed its numbers to drift upwards from 150 towards 180 by taking in additional boys living further away, and also on appeal. For 2015 entry, the intake has been formally increased to 174, which perversely further reduces the opportunity for local boys to win places on appeal, as the extra 24 places will inevitably be taken up by non-local boys, allowing little flexibility at appeal.
Dartford Grammar School for Girls
Dartford Girls' has also changed its admission arrangements for 2015 entry, again attracting complaints from the Schools Adjudicator, which were also largely rejected. It has restricted the intake from local girls across a wider area than the boys, to 100, taking highest scorers if there are too many qualified. This could mean that some girls living very close to the school will be denied a place, although they will be able to get a place at Wilmington. Dartford Girls was the third most oversubscribed grammar school in Kent for 2014 entry, again with immense pressure from London girls to secure a place. The new arrangements will make places available to up to 60 girls from outside Kent, against 17 offered places last year, but one can still expect a high oversubscription level. The school is not allowed to offer priority to siblings because the rules do not allow this for schools that select by highest scorers. Nearly all of its successful applicants last year placed it first choice, indicating the real popularity of the school. At appeal, the school makes clear that it is looking for the most able students, capable of coping with a demanding academic programme from the start.
Wilmington Grammar School for Girls
The school was undersubscribed in most years up to 2013, probably reflecting that parents of girls are sometimes reluctant to let their children travel too far to school. However, for 2014 entry the London effect arrived with a vengeance, and 20 first choices were turned away, with 89 of the 120 offers being made to girls from outside Kent. The school has responded in the same way as Wilmington Boys, above, setting new criteria giving priority to Kent children, but I am sure places will still be in heavy demand form girls outside the county, unable to gain places at Dartford Girls. A third of its places last year went to girls who placed the school second or lower on their admission form. The school was also overwhelmed with appeals last year with just 8 out of 89 successful. Again, many of these will have been girls who have already qualified for grammar school.
Mayfield Grammar School, Gravesend
The girls’ grammar school of Gravesend has not historically benefitted from the London effect and has had vacancies in previous years. It has introduced the Mayfield Test this year to try and select girls suitable for grammar school who have not been identified by the Kent Test – and there are of course plenty of these! Either Test qualifies girls for consideration for admission, according to the oversubscription criteria which does not discriminate between the two tests.
Last year there were vacancies, but it is still unlikely there will be oversubscription for local girls even with the additional test, because of the change of rules for Wilmington Girls.
One oddity: The criteria for success in the Mayfield Test are the most complex I have seen. To be found of grammar school ability, the girl has to take the Kent Test with the option to take the Mayfield Assessment Test in addition. The latter comprises: A computer based test which will assess verbal ability, numerical reasoning and non-verbal reasoning and which is nationally standardised; together with An English paper to assess Reading and Writing skills and which will be hand marked. (Not computer based or multiple choice ). For admission in 2015, candidates need to either pass the Kent Test, or achieve a weighted score on the Mayfield Test greater than 100.61 with an English score equal to or greater than 10 or else A weighted score from 95.15 to 100.60 inclusive with an English score equal to or greater than 15. The school's oversubscription criteria now provide for priority after local girls, to go to the highest aggregate scorers in the Kent Test.
Many candidates who would succeed at appeal in other parts of Kent are going to be unfortunate in North West Kent and be rejected at appeal, because there is only a finite number of places available and schools are increasingly chasing the highest achievers no matter where they live.
To make matters worse there is also enormous pressure on non-selective places in Dartford, with all three Leigh Academy Trust schools (including Longfield) amongst the most oversubscribed non-selectives in Kent. Apart from these, there is just one secondary school for girls and one other which is not popular, placing a particular pressure on places for boys! Parents in Gravesend and Northfleet are in a far better position, with all schools performing well, and less pressure on places.
Parents may therefore wish to explore further afield at other accessible grammar schools to the south and east of the district. Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone, with an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED, sometimes has vacancies, but has the capacity and willingness to expand if the demand is there; its Independent Appeal Panel usually upholding a good percentage of appeals.
Chatham Grammar School in Medway, has had a chequered past, but we are told informally that its most recent OFSTED will produce a ‘Good’ assessment showing the school has put its troubles behind it. Admission is via either the Medway Test or the Kent Test, with the added twist that one can appeal for a place off an unsuccessful Kent Test result. The school will certainly have vacancies as there are insufficient grammar qualified children in Medway to fill the places available and again, the Independent Panel usually upholds a good percentage of appeals.
Borden Grammar School in Sittingbourne also has vacancies.
In this article, I have neither explored schools across the boundary into the London Boroughs, nor private schools. However, both of these groups of schools benefit from admitting able Kent children squeezed out of grammar schools because of the pressure on places.