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Sunday, 08 January 2017 19:07

Maidstone Girls and Invicta Grammar Schools: Sixth Form Admissions

Update: I have been asked by a number of Year 12 families about any advice I can offer to current students who fear for their chances in Year 13. See new heading towards foot of the article. 

You will find a feature length article in Kent on Sunday here, widening the debate. It includes a quotation by Julie Derrick, headteacher of Invicta Grammar School: "This is an 'interpretation' by a couple of students- it is not accurate". The host of testimonies at the foot of this table, and in the media, suggests she is out of touch with reality. 

Please visit comments at the foot of this page, from twenty young people or their parents, who come across as thoughtful, full of commonsense, concerned for other victims, and well educated by their school. All support the facts denied by Invicta Grammar. Please note that whilst some have chosen to write under a nom de plume, nearly all have identified themselves to me and appear to be genuine. This webpage has been unprecedented in its popularity with 9239 visitors on its first day of publication, indicating the importance of the issues raised,  having subsequently soared to a total of 18676 at the time of the latest update (Saturday). 

The pressure to achieve results has resulted in the two girls’ grammar schools in Maidstone both adopting apparently unlawful tactics to secure top A Level grade performance, at the expense of the future of some students. OFSTED considers both high performing schools are Outstanding, so there is no doubt about the excellent quality of education offered for those young people who stay the course.  

However, at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, the school suddenly introduced a new and unlawful provision for selecting external students for admission to the Sixth Form in September 2016, illegally picking those predicted to achieve highest GCSE Grades by a process not in the school’s admission rules.

At Invicta Grammar School, 22 students ‘voluntarily’ left the school half way through their A Level course, refused permission to carry on into Year 13, a total of 26 through the year, the highest number and the second highest proportion of any Kent grammar school. This was because their grades at AS level were insufficient to be confident of the high A Level performance of which the school is so proud, Given no alternative to stay on, this amounts to expulsion although there is no lawful provision for students to be removed mid-course by schools in this way.

Further details on the situation at both schools below, along with other grammar schools which have a high departure rate. There appears a particular problem in Medway, where four of the six grammar schools saw a loss of more than 10% of their cohort between Years 12 and 13 this year. 

Each year, I am contacted by a number of young people, mainly but not exclusively in grammar schools, who are not admitted to Sixth Forms although fully qualified according to the school admission criteria, or who are forced out at the end of Year 12 because the school only wants the highest performing students for the sake of their league table position.  However, these two cases are the most extreme I have come across.

Too many students, capable of fulfilling their potential by achieving A Level success, albeit sometimes at a lower level than schools wish to see, therefore see their career chances thwarted...

 
It is clear that Invicta Grammar School's position of throwing out Year 12 students who don't achieve high AS Grades to try and force up the school's league table place, is not universally popular.  The headteachers of both of Kent's top performing boys' schools, who might have much to benefit from such a practice, have both spoken out publicly against it. Edward Wesson, Head of The Skinners School made a withering comment on BBC SE tonight, available for most of Saturday. He refers to the many students who make significant improvement after the end of Year 12, and believes that schools should have faith in their own students. Robert Masters, Headteacher of The Judd School, in KentLive, was also critical of such policies. His approach had changed after he took in students who had been thrown out from elsewhere! He saw that a positive approach to students was the answer, "How do you not just support them at the end of year 12 – it is vital you support them through the year". 
Other Grammar Schools
The difference between Invicta and other grammar schools with a high drop out rate is there is considerable evidence that at Invicta, students were refused permission to continue into Year 13, which would be unlawful. I do not currently have any information about the reasons at other schools although I can guess for some. In each case some students may genuinely have found the course too difficult, others found schools with unrealistically high academic expectations, come to their own conclusion after AS Level results are published that it is not worth continuing, or simply found another career path that looks more attractive, but the figures are far too high at some schools for this to be the only reason.  Data for summer 2016 from recent census results show that just five grammar schools lost more than 10% of their students between Years 12 and 13. Highest was Wilmington Grammar School for Boys losing 17% of its total, or 21 students. Invicta was second highest at 15%, or 26 students; then come Norton Knatchbull at 13%, and Harvey Grammar and Folkestone School for Girls with 12% each, at 15 and 13 students respectively. For 2015, Wilmington Grammar Girls had the highest drop out rate with 34 students, or 24% of the total not following through.  However, the highest number departing was from Gravesend Grammar School, which saw 41 students, or 23% of the total cohort leaving after Year 12. The others are: The others are Wilmington Grammar Boys - also 24%, 31 students; Oakwood Park, 18%; 18 students; Invicta 16%, 26 students; Chatham & Clarendon 13%, 35 students; Highsted, also 13%, but just 12 students; Norton Knatchbull 11%, 16 students.
 
In Medway, four of the six grammar schools saw a fall of over 10% in 2016 between Years 12 and 13, suggesting a significant problem, but also perhaps not irrelevant to their good A Level performance. Both the super-selectives Rainham Mark Grammar School and The Rochester Grammar Schools saw a fall of 13%, so one in every eight of those students starting the A Level course at these schools did not finish it. 
 
Five schools: Borden; Cranbrook; Tunbridge Wells Boys; Maidstone Grammar; and Sir Roger Manwood's all maintained numbers with no net loss in 2016, but this could disguise a turnover both in and out. Interestingly, nearly all Kent grammar schools have seen the proportion staying on between Years 12 and 13 increase over the last two years, some considerably, possibly as a result of the financial cuts affecting Sixth Forms, so schools are working that much harder to keep students on board. Invicta is one of the exceptions. 
 
Sadly, with three of the four Further Education Colleges now having abandoned A Level courses as being too expensive, leaving just West Kent College,  there are few alternatives to study at the same level.  
 
Maidstone Grammar School for Girls
The published Sixth Form Admission criteria give priority for external applicants to the Sixth Form to academically qualified girls or boys who are (a) “looked after children” (b) siblings, (c) health reasons (d) by distance after all qualified internal students are offered. It is unfortunate that there are five different versions of the definition of being qualified published in different places, but in the event conditional places were offered for September 2016 entry on an entirely different basis. This completely ignored these published requirements and replaced them by choosing those students with highest forecast GCSE grades no matter where they lived.  Such a change, contrary to the school’s own published admission rules, is unlawful and will have seen many eligible applicants denied places.

According to an FOI Request, there were 329 external applicants to the Sixth Form with 168 conditional offers made, all other applicants being placed on a waiting list. Straight conditional offers were made to the highest performing students who all had a projected Average Point Score of 47 GCSE points, based on a reference from the previous school. This is very different from and effectively higher than the published academic requirement based on variants of six GCSEs at Grade C or above, with at least four of these at Grade B or above,

After GCSE results were published in August all those with direct provisional offers who achieved the official published academic requirement were presumably awarded places.  The school states that it anticipated around 50 external places being made available to bring the total entering the Sixth Form up to 200 each year. Even if as few as half of those with conditional offers reach that standard the school will have had to admit a total of around 234 Sixth Formers if all Year 11s had stayed on. In the event, there was no increase whatever between Years 11 and 12, the cohort falling one to 174, so it remains a mystery where all these students offered places went, unless there was an enormous number leaving MGSG after Year 11. In similar fashion for 2015, there was a net increase of just two students from Year 11 to Year 12, taking the intake to 180, so again there will have had to be a very high number of internal leavers to keep the figure down. 

The school has issued a letter to parents which states that every student qualified by achieving the published GCSE grades was offered a place, which is unsurprising given  the low number of students who have followed their applications through. However, it is completely irrelevant given the illegal nature of the original conditional offers.  

Interestingly, there is still no copy of the legally required Admissions Policy on the school website. There is a version of arrangements for 11 plus and in year entry, and a page on Sixth Form Entry Requirements and Application Procedure with no mention of the illegal filter introduced for 2016 entry. You can however, refer to the proposed policy and arrangements for 2018,  which introduces a priority for 30 Governors Places for the highest performing candidates at 11 plus, irrespective of residence. This at a school that had 34 vacancies on allocation last year, so presumably is an attempt to boost its popularity. For external applicants to the Sixth Form the proposed arrangements are ambiguous. However, on a likely reading, there will also be 30 Governors Places for high scoring GCSE candidates, but no indication how these will be measured. I am afraid this new proposal is as confusing as the arrangements and documentation have been this year.   

Invicta Grammar School (see comments at foot of article)
The school’s explanation for the 22 departures, according to an FOI Request from me is that leaving the school was merely a recommendation in every case and, following discussion it was mutually agreed that none of the students would continue into Year 13. However, this is against a background that there is a stated requirement for Year 12 A Level students studying AS courses to attain a grade C/above in those subjects being examined, including General Studies, for transition into Year 13, with no path available for students not reaching this standard. I certainly am in possession of a letter that states: "Should she be unsuccessful in achieving the C Grades or above in all three A Level subjects, we will unfortunately not be able to offer a place in Year 13". She wasn't; they wouldn't. Whatever the rights and wrongs, clearly in direct contradiction to the claim in the FOI, repeated  publicly in the media by Mrs Derrick several times that all left voluntarily, none were forced out!! 

In reply to to the FOI, the term ‘entry requirements’ relating to continuation of the course into Year 13 is used over and over again, although the school claims none were refused permission to continue. According to the school, if any of those students who failed to meet the entry requirements had wished to stay into Year 13, “this would have been considered further with the parents and students until a resolution was agreed. The School does not stipulate to students that they are 'not allowed' to remain in the School for Year 13, however the School encourages the students and parents to understand that it may be in the best interests of the students if they proceed with a different pathway or move to an alternative school or college.”  It is difficult to see what resolution could have been agreed that did not involve leaving! Apparently 20 of the 22 who left were counselled and provided with advice about alternative placements (two not responding to invitations) “and many students and parents accept the position and understand that the School could be setting them up to fail if they continue with their studies into Year 13. Please note that the place for the student remains open in case a suitable alternative provision could not be found”. What about those not included in ‘the many’? This is in direct contradiction to the many testimonies at the foot of this article by ex-students who were forced out of the school. The reason the school cannot concede some if not all these cases, is because they clearly agree with my assessment of the rules and are not prepared to publicly flout the rules.  

It is also not not the experience of those families I have talked with where students were simply told they could not come back with no counselling, apart from a number who were told to approach Valley Park School (also in the Valley Invicta Trust) about applying there. In a number of cases, a fortnight after visiting the school the students were told this was not possible. Refusal to allow students to complete their sixth form studies would of course be unlawful, so the school is not in a position to admit this, although the evidence to the contrary appears overwhelming.

As a result the school has steadfastly maintained in response to media enquiries, and so is on public record, that no students have been forced to leave the school against their will. Sadly, they are clearly refusing to tell the truth, having dug themselves into a hole. What an example!

Quote from Parent of a current Year 12 Girl at Invicta
"They are ruthless. I have a daughter in Year 12 at Invicta terrified of getting her mock results next week. There is terrible pressure on the children there". 

The school asserts in the FOI that “The School sends progress letters to parents during the school year if there are concerns about grades and achieving the entry requirements for Year 13. The School invites parents to attend meetings during the school year to discuss concerns about progress and the areas for improvement”. For some of the girls not allowed to progress to Year 13, no concerns whatever were raised about progress in Year 12, so this was irrelevant.

Student: "On the day I received my results I called my parents and told them I had a meeting at the school and they said 'You didn't get the grades, try Valley'. That was it

Parent:  "We tried everywhere offering A levels and after **** started at college, Invicta called and said did she find a school? That's not offering support, if we had not found the course at college ourselves I'd have nothing to go to and they didn't care."

Legally all young people are required to participate in some form of education or training until they reach the age of 18, and KCC have had to chase up some of these young people, as required by the legislation, as the school had no idea and apparently no interest in where they had gone.

This is all in a school culture known to be hard on both students and staff in the drive to achieve top grades. In 2015, there was also a fall of 26 students between Years 12 and 13, this time 16% of the total, the fifth highest leaving rate in a Kent grammar school, so this is clearly a pattern of which potential students need to be aware. Further, although I don’t know the number of external girls joining the Sixth Form, for 2016 the overall number of students in Year 12 fell by 14 from the 181 of the previous Year 11, suggesting a high number again leaving at this stage, but without replacements. In fact a net 40 students left Invicta from this cohort at the end of Year 11 and 12 together, the highest figure for any Kent grammar school, nearly a quarter of those who set out in Invicta at the age of 11.  

The headteacher of Invicta Grammar School is  quoted in the Kent & East Sussex Courier: This is an "interpretation" by a couple of students. It is not accurate. All our students are supported to follow the correct academic path to enable their own personal success. We advise students for what isbest forthem".  The sixteen students who have commented on this website article below, along with others who have contacted me offline describe a very different culture that sees those not heading for top grades forced out; presumably this is the school knowing what is best for them and helping them on the correct academic path!! The school's own response to my FOI, whilst explicitly claiming that all 22 students who left this year after publication of AS results chose to go voluntarily, offers plenty of evidence to the contrary. Does the headteacher really not know what is going on in her own school? 

I have been told that in 2015 a disproportionate number of boys joined Invicta Sixth Form from Maidstone Grammar School. A number were included in the 22 who 'left' but have happily been re-accepted back into the more humane MGS. I am guessing that few will join Invicta this year. 

What should current Year 12 students do if they fear for progress into Year 13?
Given the present controversy it is difficult to forecast the school's stance on students who don't achieve the set grades. However, they have consistently claimed that no student was not allowed to remain in the school, and that all who left chose to do. See responses too FOI Request below.
Invicta Grammar School's Responses to Freedom of Information Request
1. How many students in Year 12 of lnvicta Grammar School in 2015-16 were not allowed to remain in the school for 2016-17 by reason of not achieving the required grades in examinations.
The School can confirm that 22 students left the School at the end of Year 12 in 2015-2016.These students did not meet the entry requirements to continue into Year 13 in line with  the School's Admission Policy, and therefore it was recommended to these students that they considered a change of pathway and/or apply to alternative schools or colleges. The School provides ongoing support and guidance in relation to securing places at alternative schools and colleges. The circumstances were discussed with both the parents and the students and it was mutually agreed that the students would not continue into Year  13 at theSchool.

If any of these students had wished to remain at the School for Year 13, this would have been consideredfurtherwiththeparentsandstudentsuntilaresolutionwasagreed.TheSchooldoes not stipulate to students that they are 'not allowed' to remain in the School for Year 13, however theSchoolencouragesthestudentsandparentstounderstandthatitmaybeinthebestinterests ofthestudentsiftheyproceedwithadifferentpathwayormovetoanalternativeschoolorcollege. The School is  open and transparent  with students and  parents throughout  the school yearin relation to the School's expectations and requirements, and many students and parents accept the position and understand that the School could be setting them up to fail if they continue with their studies into Year 13. Please note that the place for the student remains open in case a suitable alternative provision could not befound.

2. How many students in Year 12 of lnvicta Grammar School in 2015-16 were not allowed to remain in the school for 2016-17 for other reasons.
Other than as stated in the response to question 1, the School can confirm that there were no Year 12 students that were not allowed to remain in the School for the academic year of 2016-2017 for other reasons.
 
3. How many students in Year 12 of lnvicta Grammar School in 2015-16 chose to leave the school at the end of the school year.
As stated in the response to question 1, the School can confirm that 22 students chose to leave the School at the end of Year  12 in 2015-2016.

 Now compare this to the many testimonies below, which utterly contradict the responses. All I can advise is you take these responses into any meeting called by the school, which confirm that no one is forced to leave, although the school can advise that it MAY be in the students' best interests to leave. What remains unclear is whether the school has the legal right to expel such students. Their refusal to admit they have forced students out suggests they think it is against the regulations. I am told that not even the DfE will give an answer.  

********************* 

One fascinating and unique aspect of the whole story is the large number of those posting comments who are not afraid to be identified. 

Like the one parent who has challenged me, I am surprised that no one has yet seen fit to take this or any other school to court over the deprivation of opportunity, but there appears to be general acceptance that schools can do their own thing. Hopefully this article and its widespread circulation on social media  will bring forth a challenge so that any doubt can be laid to rest. 

Last year Invicta Grammar carried out an internal investigation into alleged illegal teacher assistance towards students taking the 2016 AS media studies examination. The school found itself innocent. One of the students I have been in communication with alleges that her Media Studies grade was helped by being shown a video and advised on it, that was subsequently shown and featured in the examination. Others were required to sign a declaration that no malpractice occurred, although they appear to have known otherwise. Perhaps there was not sufficient determination within the school to expose an internal issue that helped raise grades, which sadly would be consistent with the above pattern. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 February 2017 07:29

31 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 January 2017 10:57 posted by Becky

    I was chucked out of the Invicta pressure cooker the previous year having had a flawless Year 12, no warnings, but dipped in the ASs. No support, no meetings. Am now at College taking BTEC, so could be considered lucky. However, I still feel a failure.

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