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Tuesday, 08 November 2016 00:39

Holcombe Grammar School: A strange second try for Chatham Grammar to go co-ed

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The Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT), which sponsors Holcombe Grammar School (previously Chatham Grammar School for Boys) is again consulting on making the school co-educational from September 2018.

To my great astonishment, and I am sure of many others, this proposal is taking place less than six months after the Department for Education turned down the previous highly controversial application for the school to become co-educational. It is perplexing to say the least, why this proposal is being wheeled out again so soon after the previous rejection as, on the surface, nothing has changed.

You will find the Letter informing Parents here, much thinner than the previous version, as it clearly struggles to find a rationale for the peculiarly and obliquely phrased proposal that:

There is a change of gender composition and consequential changes to admission arrangements from September 2018.

(Translation – the school wants to change from being just for boys to become co-educational for September 2018 admission)  


However, there is a much fuller sixteen page document here, for those who wish to persevere.

It would be boring to re-iterate all the arguments against this proposal, which you will find in previous articles on this website, most recently here. These were also made by nearly all the other secondary schools in Medway outside TSAT, accompanied by a strong challenge from Medway Council which you will find here, together with  concerns expressed by local politicians However, it is worth looking at the new case put forward to parents for the change of gender composition.

1) At the moment, parents of children deemed selective who live in this part of Medway can only ‘choose’ a single sex grammar school as there is currently no co-educational option. That is unfair. A ridiculous argument. There is currently one co-educational grammar school in Medway, Rainham Mark Grammar, which gives equal access to children across Medway recruiting the highest scorers, so the assertion is untrue. With the other boys’ grammar school in Medway, Sir Joseph Williamson’s in Rochester heavily oversubscribed, with pupils living nearest it having priority, such a change would deprive many local boys of any opportunity to go to a single sex grammar school.

2) We have the capacity to provide enough places for every boy and girl who wants one. Currently the school is full in Year 7. In order to keep a gender balance the school would therefore need to double its size in order to provide enough places. Are the premises really half empty? Not mentioned is the increasing pressure from London families for grammar school places which is growing rapidly and annually. For entry this year, 13% of offers in March went to out of county children, a figure that will have increased further through late applications and appeals. I have no doubt that this trend will continue and accelerate with no ceiling, so to promise to admit every grammar qualified (an important omission in the proposal) child who apllies is foolish. Further, the full Consultation Document falsely claims the following admission figures, stating:

"Firstly, the School has been consistently under-subscribed for several years and the numbers of applications have been consistently lower than Medway forecasts".

Entry Point
Sept 2014 106 81 118
Sept 2015 106 86 106
Sept 2016 108 84 est 120+

The school 'actual' figures for applications omits any reference to late applicants and boys admitted on appeal. I have demonstrated the dishonesty of this argument by including an additional column called 'Census Reality' showing the true number of boys admitted, the 2016 estimated figure taking account of the number of successful appeals this year. The word 'applications' is itself very misleading, and should have been replaced by 'offers', which refers to grammar qualified boys who were offered places on 1st March, including boys who placed the school first to fifth on their preference lists. Altogether there were 325 grammar qualified applications or preferences for Holcombe Grammar School. Why does a successful Academy Trust need to produce misleading data and arguments in this way, to bolster its arguments: answer, the arguments do not hold up to challenge. 

3) There is substantial research which shows that students who are educated in a co-educational school achieve well academically. Now they are really struggling. Whilst this is self-evidently true for students in many co-educational schools, it appears to be suggesting that boys in single sex grammar schools do not achieve well academically. This thought (one can hardly call it an argument) appears to be based on a quite bizarre quotation from 2008, used in the full Consultation Document as evidence of something:

Baumeister (2008): “Many boys and girls do fine with co-ed schools. But some do better in same-sex schools. Society can benefit from choice and diversity. Let's offer both co-ed and same-sex schools".
This proves nothing, so why remove the opportunity to attend a single sex boys school from all children in the Eastern half of Medway, and most of the Hoo Peninsula. Roy F. Baumeister(born May 16, 1953) is an American social psychologist who is known for his work on the self,social rejection, belongingness, sexuality and sex differences. 

4) There is substantial research which shows that students who attend a co-educational school go on to experience happier and better balanced lives.This claim appears based on a paper from researchers quoted in the full Consultation document. The paper  concludes in the section on Social outcomes in Later Life that: "Single-sex schooling appeared to have no impact on the likelihood of marriage or childbearing, or on the quality of partnerships as reported by the cohort members. Neither did it appear to affect the division of labour within the home, nor attitudes to women’s work outside the home. However, men who had attended single-sex schools were more likely to be divorced by age 42". This hardly lives up to the claim quoted. 

5) An increasing number of schools nationally are seeing the advantages of the Thinking school strategies we employ here and are implementing them. This includes a number of Medway primary schools. By opening our doors to girls we provide female students at those primary schools with another Thinking School secondary option (Please note that the two best grammar schools for GCSE 2016, according to DfE performance tables October 2016, were the two ‘Thinking Schools’, namely the Rochester Grammar School and Holcombe.) Any school can apply to become a “thinking school” but there are just 30 schools in England who have chosen and been accredited  to become Thinking Schools, of whom 16 are secondary schools, and 6 are Kent or Medway grammars. Just two of the secondary schools were initially credited in 2016, and four in 2015. Is this really an increasing number, especially as I am aware of at least one school that has withdrawn from the scheme?

It is unfortunate that the Holcombe Grammar School's Prospectus and Admissions website page is so out of date that it is in fact illegal as it does not contain the approved oversubscription criteria for 2017 Admission, and the Prospectus is for 2014/15 Admission. However, the 'Holcombe Admission Consultation 2017 (subject to co-ed proposal being approved)' which of course has now been discarded indicates the direction of travel, with admission priority being given to children attending TSAT Primary schools or with siblings at TSAT secondary schools. This cartel approach is also being adopted by the other two major Medway academy chains as I have explained previously, and will have a major REDUCTION in opportunity for Medway children applying to grammar school. Oddly, The Rochester Grammar School sees no reason to be involved. Presumably this proposal is also aimed at improving the popularity of three TSAT primary schools, Cedar Children's Academy, New Horizons Children's Academy, and The Gordon Children's Academy, all of whom struggle to attract pupils amidst the intense pressure on places across urban Medway. The fourth, All Faith's Children's Academy, continues to be oversubscribed. 

No mention in the GCSE results claim that Rochester Grammar ought to be the top school in Medway at GCSE by virtue of its super selection by performance at 11 plus. The success of Holcombe in terms performance is underlined by its coming second out of the six grammar schools in terms of the government's new preferred Measure, Progress 8, although by comparison it would come exactly midway in the table of Kent grammar schools (Rochester would be third). Holcombe came 4th out of six in the second measure, Attainment 8. Having said all this, I have spent much of the morning when writing an update with a well-informed Holcombe parent. He has extolled the virtues of the Thinking School concept when compared with another grammar school his elder child attends. 

Final thoughts on Balance, which appears to have prompted this further sally. 
At the risk of repeating the substance of my previous articles, there is no mention of the instability such a decision would have on the Medway selective school offering. If this proposal were accepted, there would be three single sex girls' grammar schools and just one heavily oversubscribed boys’ grammar. Now that truly is an imbalance of opportunity and grossly unfair to boys.

There is a much better way to improve the balance of provision in Medway that appears not to have been considered by TSAT. If The Rochester Grammar School were to become co-educational, there would be two boys’ grammars and two girls’ grammars giving equality of opportunity, set off by two co-educational grammar schools one at each end of Medway offering opportunities for all. Can I propose this for consideration by TSAT as a much better solution to a problem that appears to worry them, but no one else.

Or is this the Real Agenda?
There were many who thought last time round that the real agenda was to strengthen Chatham Boys Grammar School by seeing off Chatham Girls (shortly to become a University of Kent sponsored school), which would be severely damaged if ever the proposal were to see the light of day. Given the weakness of the case this time round, proving weaker than the January 2016 application as previous arguments proved unviable, the conspiracy theorists may well be right. 
From the Consultation Document: Q. What will the impact be on local girls’ schools? Selective schools: We initially made contact with Chatham Grammar School for Girls in December 2014 to discuss possible proposals for closer collaboration between the two schools. The Chair of Governors of Chatham Grammar School for Girls, Dr C Johnson, confirmed in April 2015 that after consideration “The clear outcome for our governing body was an emphasis on retaining the current status of Chatham grammar School for Girls as a single-sex grammar school.” Chatham Grammar School for Girls appears to have since made its own positive decision regarding its future and future admissions even though the Trust has continued to be open to possible collaboration with them. In other words, if we can't bully you into submission we will destroy you. What is happening to any concept of education provision for the good of the local community?
Otherwise, surely there are much more important issues to focus on for the Trust, such as performance at the Victory Academy, the Cedar Children's Academy, and the Gordon Children's Academy which has had a torrid time under TSAT control in recent years. 


Read 5691 times Last modified on Wednesday, 21 December 2016 00:16


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 20 September 2017 16:25 posted by M Wilson

    This article is nonsense and obviously very biased towards single sex schools. You are asking "why deprive us of the chance of sending our kids to a single sex school" when the question you should be asking is "why do we need to separate the children based on gender?" Also you mention Rainham Mark, this is over 30 minutes away from our house so if you think it's fair to have to make a 30 minute drive just so that my child isn't forced to go to a single sex school then you really are missing the point entirely. My boy has Aspergers and is very clever yet very sensitive and enjoys the company of girls. Your article is incredibly biased and inductive.PETER: I am sorry but you are wrong. I have not put forward any suggestion in favour of single sex schools. What I am arguing is that the proposal for a balance of three girls' schools to one for boys is wrong and reduces choice sharply. I did of course put forward an alternative that would keep the balance if it is so important and that is to make The Rochester Grammar School co-educational, providing two each of boys' giirls' and co-ed.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 November 2016 23:57 posted by CGSG Parent

    It is outrageous. They are trying to close us down. what is education coming to?

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 November 2016 16:54 posted by Cherie

    Can you advise us please. Our son is at the school and he is doing well. It is a very good and caring school. But none of this makes any sense. What is the point of it? Why are they trying again to change something good in this way. PETER: I only wish I knew, but good to hear your son is doing well

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