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Displaying items by tag: Sixth Form - Kent Independent Education Advice

UPDATE: Whilst this article draws on a number of previous articles on the issue, the most recent contains an important clarification by government of the law, leaving no room whatever for ambiguity, not available when the following was written.

You will find the original article in the Kent on Sunday Education Supplement here.  

Back in January I wrote an article for Kent on Sunday, about the illegal actions of Invicta Grammar School in permanently excluding up to 22 Year Twelve students for not achieving high grades in their AS Exams last summer. The parallel article on my website has attracted a record 24,722 hits to date, and a flood of comments from students affected. The school dismissed my concerns out of hand, the headteacher commenting: “This is an ‘interpretation' by a couple of students- it is not accurate".  

In the last few weeks, a parallel case has arisen at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington where 16 girls were thrown out as covered in KOS last week. Several parents took legal action and the Department for Education, which refused to offer a view earlier in the year, issued the following statement: ‘Our regulations make clear that schools are not allowed to remove pupils from a sixth form because of academic attainment once they are enrolled. Excluding pupils temporarily or permanently for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful’. As a result, the school relented and all the students were reinstated, if they wished to return.

Whilst this is no consolation for last year’s students from Invicta and some other local schools, many of whom saw their career plans ruined, it is a green light for the many students in similar positions this summer to challenge any exclusion. As one parent wrote to me this week: ‘What happened to our daughter has had a massive impact on her; she is still limping along. To be honest her confidence was so damaged we don't know if she will ever believe in herself in the same way again’. What an indictment of the practice, but certainly not alone, as career dreams are shattered.

Whilst a few students leave grammar schools at the end of Year 12 of their own accord, for a variety of reasons, eleven Kent grammars lost more than ten students last summer, the list headed up by Invicta (26), most of the rest being coastal grammars and in North West Kent. There were another twelve schools with more than ten the previous year, Invicta again with 26 students lost. In Medway, I don’t yet have the 2016 figures, but in 2015, the two super-selective schools, Rochester Grammar (24) and Rainham Mark Grammar (22), headed the lists. Of course, this is not a problem unique to grammar schools and many non-selective schools aspiring to be high fliers, carry out the same illegal cull. The difference is that I can pinpoint grammar school fall-out via school censuses, as all (usually) pupils will be on two year A Level courses. However, with many students at non-selective schools on one-year courses it is impossible to draw conclusions. I will not have a statistical view of the summer 2017 picture in Kent and Medway, until the Autumn schools census becomes available at the end of the year.

It is important to stress that this regulation only applies to state schools and academies. Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges are subject to a different set of rules that allows removal, and private schools are subject only to their own decisions.

The Association of School and College Leaders, the professional association for heads and deputies, has published advice on this matter for their members, which again makes clear that expulsion from Year 12 for non-disciplinary reasons is not allowed, so there can be no excuse for ignorance of such actions.  It does go on to say that students can be ‘encouraged’ to look at other institutions, but the school cannot force the issue.

The difference between 2016 and 2017 is the media interest that has been stirred up by the St Olave’s case. I appear to have been at the centre of it, being recognised as the first to point up the issue back in January, and gave interviews to three national newspapers, live interviews to national and local radio and, most exciting of all a live interview with the BBC Television News Channel from a field in rural France on my way home from holiday!

As a result of all this exposure, the government regulations are now far more widely known and I have reports of students in different parts of the country successfully challenging school decisions. However, I suspect that this year, many other of what I estimate to be thousands of students illegally excluded across the country, will slip through the net with careers blighted.

Other schools will soon follow the example of Invicta Grammar School which had for 2016 entry posted unlawful academic requirements for progress into Year 13 on its website.  These have now been removed, an implicit recognition that the school belatedly acknowledges the legal situation, and I have had no enquiries about Year 13 Admission this summer.

So why do it? Schools that have typically placed the unlawful entry requirement on progress to Year 13, are obsessed with A Level League positions, and willing to sacrifice students to that aim. A letter to new parents from the headteacher of Invicta Grammar school this week states: ‘I am particularly pleased to find that we are once again, the top performing grammar school in Maidstone at GCSE Level and A Level. Our A Level results were particularly impressive in that we were considerably higher than the other local grammar schools. This is a fantastic achievement and one which I am sure our students will be very proud of’. No mention there of the 15% of Invicta pupils who left voluntarily or were forced out between the end of Year 11 and the end of Year 12, the highest net loss of any Kent grammar school, in order to achieve this boast, who presumably don’t share that pride.

There will be many other students in both Kent and Medway that have been equally sacrificed at the end of Year Twelve for the school to achieve high examination results at A Level. My advice is certainly to return to the school armed with the Government regulations and challenge them. You may wish to consult my website www.kentadvice.co.uk where there is fuller advice for students in this situation. In the end, if the school refuses to budge, it can take time to achieve success, by which time it may be too late to rejoin having missed time at the school. I think this may well become a goldmine for the education legal profession, as schools are taken to task for ruining young people’s careers.

I don’t anticipate the situation will be anywhere near as serious in the future, as the media furore this summer means that the law is now widely known, not least by schools who will want to avoid legal actions by families.

Some misconceptions were highlighted in comments made in radio interviews. These included that it was important schools should be able to weed out underperforming pupils, who would otherwise waste their time in the school. This completely misses the point. Whilst high fliers may be aiming for the most competitive universities, the lower pass grades provide admission to many other higher education institutions as well as (and increasingly importantly with the high cost of a degree) apprenticeships and training courses that require A Level passes and lead on to good careers. It is crucial to remember that schools exist for the benefit of their pupils and not vice versa.

Secondly, was this part of a wet philosophy that argues all should win prizes? No, for any A Level has to be earned, the distinction between grades qualifies students for a different choice of range of work or study, and for many a Grade E pass is a real achievement and it behoves no one to denigrate it. This is in spite of the media hysteria driven by school ambitions that focuses on A and B Grades only, a real put down for those who have worked hard and achieved their potential at a lower level. And yes, some students fail.

On Radio London, Vanessa Feltz produced one of the most telling points, identifying the down side of this exposure, when schools can’t expel the lower grade students in the future.  Expect those that are most obsessed with grades to put up the academic requirement to enter the sixth form in the first place, which is perfectly legal, but can only happen after a consultation, so the first consequential changes will be for entry to Sixth Form in 2019, as 2018 entry is already settled.

Sadly, alternative routes to A Level are vanishing rapidly under the financial pressures on Sixth Form provision. The number of less popular courses in grammar schools is being reduced; three of the four Further Education Colleges have abandoned A Level, the fourth being in the far West in Tunbridge Wells, and a number of non-selective schools are closing their Sixth forms. The latter include St Edmund’s Catholic in Dover and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook that only announced this to shocked students last week. The question has to be asked: is it deliberate policy to make life even more difficult for post sixteen students, or is this just different ideas and economies coinciding accidentally?

Published in Newspaper Articles

UPDATE 3, 2nd September: A Government Ministerial statement has said the action by St Olave's is unlawful. The school has withdrawn its decision to  expel the boys, and offered them places back in Year 13 to resume their studies. You will find the update here.   

UPDATE 2, 30th August: This scandal is unravelling fast. The Guardian followed up with a second story today, with more to come, and I am commenting on Radio Five in an item at 5.20 this evening. Question, will St Olave's and other schools operating this Unlawful action, or seek to drag it out?

UPDATE 29th August: At last this story has been picked up by the National media with an article in The Guardian reporting on the scandal of the unlawful expulsion of about 16 students from St Olave's Grammar School in Bromley for failing to get high enough grades at the end of Year 12. Several of these families had already asked my advice, which you will find below, but it is now confirmed by lawyers engaged by the families. It remains a hard road, as schools can introduce delaying tactics into the new term, so that families are forced to make alternative arrangements. However, if case law is established as I have encouraged in my initial article, this unlawful practice can be stamped out. Certainly, at Invicta Grammar, as a direct result of my campaign, Invicta has removed any reference to conditional admission to Year 13, and I have heard from no victims this year. Presumably this all leaves the school open to legal action from students unlawfully expelled last year.


Back in January, the Kent Messenger headlined an article with ‘Maidstone: Headteachers of Invicta Grammar and MGGS rubbish unlawful admissions claims(comments at the foot of the article).

This was in response to my website article: ‘Maidstone Girls and Invicta Grammar Schools: Sixth Form Admissions’ exposing the unlawful practices at both schools . The article attracted an unprecedented 23,717 visitors to date along with enquiries from across the country and localunlawful  and national media. With GCSE and AS results time coming up shortly, this second article is written to help advise families who find themselves in similar situations.

invicta        MGGS

With regard to the Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, the Local Government Ombudsman will be publishing a decision in September, which is currently embargoed, but I am able to offer advice below to families placed in a similar situation.

The Headteacher of Invicta Grammar School  made the ridiculous claim that all 22 girls who left Year 12 from the school last summer did so of their own accord, having failed to achieve the school’s high expectations at AS Levels. This has been powerfully refuted by over twenty testimonies from girls who were forced out in this and previous years, mostly published as comments to be found at the foot of my previous article. Although this practice is not uncommon in other schools, although rarely on this scale, no one has challenged my claim that such permanent exclusions are illegal, including the Department of Education. I explore the rules that confirm this, below. 

So, hardly rubbish in either case; instead very serious issues for the students concerned, for whom neither school appears to have had any pastoral care or responsibility.

Published in News and Comments

Further Update: You will find further advice prepared in August for anyone who finds themselves in this position here; and another in August 2017, confirming the illegality here

 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...

Published in News and Comments