Note: This article has been revised because of updated data.
The BBC has published an analysis of grammar school pupil numbers, that seeks to show the proportion of pupils in grammar schools rising whilst overall secondary numbers in areas with grammar schools have fallen, linking this to ‘parental power’.
This may be true nationally, but a closer analysis of Kent figures shows a different picture, with the number of Year 7 children admitted to all Kent mainstream schools rising by 12.0% between 2012 and 2017, and the number of Year 7 grammar admissions up by 11.7%. Over the same period the proportion of children of compulsory school age in Kent grammar schools has increased by 1.4% to 31.7%. The number of grammar school places officially provided increased by 6.3%, although many schools took in above their Planned Admission Number as a deliberate policy or after admission appeals.
Whilst there were 31.7% of Year 7 children in Kent schools attending grammars in October 2017 (school census), against a target of 25% and up slightly from 30.3% in 2012, this increase over the target has little to do with the operation of the Kent selection process, that delivered 25.4% of the cohort for entry in September 2017, as explained in my analysis of Kent Test results.
There are four specific reasons for this increase as explained below, and I am sure there are rational local circumstances behind many of the other expansions featured in the BBC article.
Please note that I use the time span 2012 to 2017, rather than the one provided by the BBC, as this coincides with the start of the period of rising numbers in Kent secondary schools.
| Kent Grammar School Numbers 2012-2017
Total Year 7 Roll in Kent
|Grammar school Places
Grammar school Numbers
Number of Year 7s
in grammar school
Proportion of Year 7s
in grammar school
Rising pupil numbers
The first Kent grammar school to increase its Planned Admission Number this century was Queen Elizabeth’s in Faversham (and possibly the first nationally) which added 20 places in September 2012, in response to rising pupil numbers in the area and a severe shortage of grammar school places that had existed for some years, because KCC had tried but failed to set up a new Coastal Grammar at Herne Bay in the 1980s to meet demand.
Localised population increase has also partially contributed to the pressure on West Kent schools, both grammar and non-selective, as recorded here in many articles. These date back as far as 2010 when I was warning about the shortage of primary school places especially in Tunbridge Wells, that are now working through the secondary sector. I am regularly contacted by families looking to move into the area explicitly to seek grammar school places. A recent article looks at continuing problems in TW.
However, with grammar school places increasing in parallel with rising numbers across 22 of Kent's 32 grammar schools this is not a factor contributing to the slightly greater proportion of grammar pupils, as the Kent Test process continues to deliver the target figure of 25% of the population.
Out of County Pressures
These focus on North West and West Kent grammar schools, with insatiable demand from SE London. The two Wilmington Grammars, Judd in Tonbridge, and now Skinners in Tunbridge Wells (proposal for 2019 entry) are giving priority to Kent children for most of their places, so that the expansions of Judd and Skinners, here, will properly benefit Kent boys, to match the new Weald of Kent girls’ annexe in Sevenoaks - fully justified by the rise in numbers in the District. Even so, for 2017 entry, a net 300 out of county children (taking into account Kent children offer places at out of county grammars!) were offered places in Kent grammar schools (two thirds in NW Kent) which will have swollen the grammar percentage by less than 2%, as some will not have taken up these places. This is fractionally diminished by a net 13 offers to out of county children for Kent non-selective schools.
These mainly select pupils for the four Dover and Shepway grammar schools, two areas with high levels of social deprivation and low aspiration. These Tests can be taken as an addition to the Kent Test, with children allowed to qualify by either route. These added on a further 346 pupils in 2017, adding on another 2%. Two other girls’ grammar schools, Mayfield in Gravesham and Highsted in Sittingbourne offer Local Tests adding in up to 43 extra places between them by this route in 2017.
Grammar School Appeals
Admission appeals are heard by Independent Panels, technically independent of schools. However, three schools see consistently high figures for successful appeals, led by Invicta Grammar which this year saw 58 out of 65 appeals upheld, almost all of whom would have been found non-selective by the Kent Test, although the school was already technically full beforehand. The school operates an attrition policy with a net 31 pupils leaving the school at the end of Year 11 this summer, and 26 in 2016 at the end of Year 12, and so can afford to offer so many places on appeal in the hope of keeping the best for the Sixth Form. The other two are Maidstone Grammar Girls and Simon Langton Grammar Girls, both severely undersubscribed and also losing large numbers at the end of Year 11. Altogether the five schools with the most successful appeals contribute 275 pupils out of the total 629 successful grammar appeals, adding up to 3.8% to the sum, although not all successful appellants will take up their places.
It is my belief that the BBC is wrong in suggesting expansion of grammar school numbers is down primarily to parent power. Certainly, in Kent, by far the greatest proportion of the increase in places is brought about by rising rolls, contrary to the claim in the article, the remainder being down mainly to grammar schools that appear to be struggling with numbers.
Kent County Council operates a system that successfully delivers the target 25% of children selected for grammar school. With the largest number of additional children coming from parental appeals, it is clear that a few grammars look to increase numbers by this mechanism by encouraging panels to stretch the criterion of ‘grammar school ability’ to the full. Sadly, too often some of these children will bail out or be forced out at the end of Year 11. I can find no evidence to support the claim that numbers of children joining grammar schools leave during years 7-11.
The Local Tests in Dover and Shepway which also add a considerable number of children to the grammar school total, were certainly not brought about by the claimed parental power, but are offered by the schools to boost numbers, arguably to support social mobility in an area of social deprivation.