The anti-grammar school campaign, Comprehensive Future has made clear today it is abandoning its attempt to launch a High Court Injunction to halt the proposed Sevenoaks Annex to Weald of Kent Grammar School, so building can now commence.
Cranbrook School, Kent’s only remaining 13-18 grammar school has been trying to come up with a proposal to change to 11-18 for at least three years, against fierce opposition from many parents of children attending local private schools, but has now put forward a compromise that will take seven further years to implement fully.
Highsted Grammar School has put forward a proposal for consultation to set an additional alternative Test for admission for girls, in line with grammar schools in Dover, Gravesham (girls) and Shepway.
Kent County Council has set up a Select Committee of Councillors to explore opportunities for wider access to grammar schools for disadvantaged pupils.
Barton Court Grammar School, having failed in its attempt to expand and move to Herne Bay, has now seen planning permission approved for a major expansion on its current site, which will allow an increased intake.
I also look at staying on rates for grammar school Sixth Forms which reveal a remarkable range of results, ranging from Dartford Grammar that has 73% more students in Year 12 than Year 11, to Folkestone School for Girls with 35% fewer.
The proposed Sevenoaks Annexe to Weald of Kent Grammar School has been four years in the making, with three previous models being vetoed by government as not fitting regulations. The proposal is the subject of a number of articles on this website, most recently here, which sets out the principal details. Government approval was given on 15th October, with a period of three months available to challenge the decision by Legal Injunction, which expires this week.
I am not a lawyer, but to my mind, the latest proposal appeared to overcome the legal obstacles identified in previous versions, and the decision by Comprehensive Future, the Campaign Group leading against the annex, not to challenge the decision after three months of examining the case appears to endorse this.
In a statement released today, Comprehensive Future, claims they have been unable to put their case together because of lack of information relating to the day to day running of the annex. In my view this is a red herring, for the structural nature of the scheme has been approved by government, which will have focused on issues such as governance and admissions policy. It is unrealistic for Weald of Kent to get down to planning the operational part of the scheme at this stage, when the buildings have not even been started, student numbers are not clear, staffing structures have yet to be planned or teachers appointed. Yes, there are a large number of issues to be sorted but this is an Outstanding School with Outstanding Leadership and Governance, and I have absolute confidence that a wholly practicable plan will be forthcoming from which the girls of the school will only benefit.
The conclusion of the Comprehensive Future letter is that “There now needs to be robust public discussion about whether Sevenoaks really is an annex of an existing school or whether the current plans are, as we believe, a concerted and blatantly political attempt to get round the law”.
Surely that is exactly what has been going on over the past year since this proposal was first aired, and the bottom line is that no substantive legal objections have been identified. Surely it is time to accept the decision, however unpalatable and move on, rather than continue in this unedifying sniping, smearing, and the production of spurious objections. In passing, triumphal attacks on the opposition made by supporters of the scheme, which have done so much damage to the proposal in the past, are equally unhelpful.
Cranbrook School is the last of the eleven 13-18 Kent Thameside grammar schools, created almost by accident in the late 1960s, the remainder having been returned to 11-18 over 20 years ago. Cranbrook alone has remained 13-18 because, with over three quarters of its intake coming from private schools, many of which school up to the age of 13, including more than half from the three local preparatory schools there is immense pressure to retain the status quo from these quarters. Indeed, the current headteacher, brought in to effect the change, has faced torrid personal attacks in an attempt to head off the change.
At the same time, Cranbrook School loses some of its brightest children, especially those from state primary schools, to 11-18 grammar schools in neighbouring towns each year, seeking to avoid non-selective for two years, many of whom never return at 13.
The proposal to change has been held up for at least three years by delaying tactics, but changes have now gone out for consultation for admission in September 2017. In an attempt to mollify all parties, the proposal is to admit 30 children at age 11, on top of the normal 13+ entry of 162. These to be selected by high scores in the Kent Test, in other words those most likely to be wooed away by the super-selectives in West Kent. For 2017 entry, there will also be 110 day pupils and 52 boarders at 13 plus, the boarding number at 13 plus to remain constant in future years. This is then adjusted year on year until by 2023, a long way into the future, the intake will be 90 in Year 7, and 72 in Year 9, of which 52 will be boarders. By contrast, all ten of the other Thameside school made the full transition in two years although perhaps, whilst there may be financial issues to overcome here, the process becomes more palatable for the relevant families.
Meanwhile, whilst Kent County Council is working to ensure wider social access to Kent grammar schools, Cranbrook will sail serenely on for years to come.
Highsted Grammar School
My previous article on the Kent Test shows that Sittingbourne has the second lowest proportion of automatic passes in the county. Apart from Thanet, the other three lowest districts, Dover, Gravesham (girls only) and Shepway all run local tests as an alternative route of entry to grammar schools, widening social access, so it is unsurprising that Highsted, the Sittingbourne girls’ grammar school, is proposing to follow suit for admission from 2017 onwards. The test proposed closely follows that used by Mayfield Grammar in Gravesham and, although I find the marking outcomes confusing appears to have worked well on its first run through last year.
Wider Access to Grammar School
Kent County Council is well aware that opportunities for social mobility through grammar school entrance have diminished in recent years, and has set up a Council Select Committee to try and reverse this.
The Council’s position is that: “Kent County Council is committed to ensuring that all Kent children have equitable access to the best educational setting to meet their needs, including fair and equal access to grammar schools. To this end, this cross party Select Committee will explore social mobility in Grammar Schools. Children from all backgrounds must have the same opportunities as all other children and families to flourish and succeed within the education system. The Select Committee will examine whether disadvantaged children and their parents face barriers in accessing Grammar school education, what KCC and partners are already doing to tackle these barriers, and how the County Council with our partners can go further in encouraging more parents from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter their children into the Kent Test. We will also examine the role we play to ensure young people that have the potential for a grammar school education, irrespective of class or background, get the necessary support to access a school that matches their academic ability”. The contrast between Cranbrook and Highsted above suggests some of the challenges and opportunities to be faced!
Barton Court Grammar School
My previous article sets out the background of the school’s current position having failed in its attempt to relocate to the North Kent coast at Herne Bay.
There is no doubt that the current premises are restrictive, and so the school has now secured Planning Permission for an £11.5 million upgrade and expansion in numbers. However, the report makes no mention of where the finance is to come from, but surely the school would not have got to this stage without a good idea of the available funding sources.
Sixth Form Staying on Rates
There is enormous variation in grammar staying on rates to the sixth form, dependent on a whole range of factors, but massively critical in terms of school finances as the money available to Sixth Forms becomes far tighter. Whilst an important target for schools is to set sixth form admission levels high enough to ensure a strong performance at A Level, this is now countered by the need to attract sufficient students to ensure a good range of courses can be provided. Naturally, in all of this, the benefit to young people looking to forward their education should be at the centre of any thinking, and I have always argued that a healthy admission rate from non-selective schools into grammar schools is an essential justification of the selective system. Whilst I have data for the relative numbers in Year 11 and 12, they do come with several health warnings, as it is not clear where the the rate is high if this is because the school itself retains a good proportion of its own students, if those coming in are transferring from non-selective schools, or if they are trading up from other grammars either because of a better course offering, or simply a better reputation. Low progression rates could be from dissatisfaction with the school or its A Level offering, a more attractive option elsewhere, or simply insufficient pupils of appropriate ability to make the leap onto a tougher course.
Two of the top three 'staying on' rate schools clearly fall into the last category of increase, with Dartford Grammar out in front with a Year 11 of 150 boys and Year 12 with 259 students, with a total of 109 extra students or 75% above the Year 11 roll, swelling the figures. It is likely that a number of these are girls coming across the road from Dartford Girls Grammar, reducing its staying on rate to a low 86%, a pattern that applies to several of 'pairs' of single sex grammars with mixed Sixth Forms. In third place comes The Judd at 43%, both of these schools clearly picking up high fliers, mainly from grammar and private schools I suggest. Separating them in second place comes Simon Langton Boys Grammar in Canterbury with 173% of its Year 11 roll of 128 boys being taken on in the Sixth Form, taking the total to 222 Year 12 students. This is clearly at the expense of Barton Court which has seen a sharp fall to just 72% of its Year 11 figure electing to enter the Sixth Form, and Simon Langton Girls, 74%, at the foot of the table, although still higher than Folkestone School for Girls with only 65% of its Year 11 staying on into the Sixth Form - less than two thirds of its intake. FSG has annually one of the best A Level performances in the county, but is clearly losing too many children at the end of Year 11 who are either not up to A Level standard or who are cut out by a higher admission requirement.
Interestingly, in fourth and fifth places come the two Thanet grammars, Chatham and Clarendon with an increase of 21% in the Sixth Form over the Year 11 figure, and Dane Court 19%, both clearly mainly recruiting from the non-selective schools, as there is no grammar competition. All other grammars are bunched into 15% plus or minus the norm of 100%, although even small differences from the average expectation that Years 11 and 12 will have around the same roll can have a considerable effect on the school Sixth Form curriculum offering.
I would imagine at this critical time for grammar school finances that all school governing bodies are paying close attention to this statistic!