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Sunday, 31 December 2017 07:09

Rochester Grammar proposes changes to admission rules; effect on Holcombe Grammar

The Rochester Grammar School is proposing to make considerable  changes to its oversubscription criteria for entry in 2019, giving priority to girls who attend one of the Trust’s four local primary schools and those with siblings who attend one of the Trust’s three local secondary schools. 

These categories will now rank above the previous priority of high scorers irrespective of residence, and so will no doubt displace some of the high scoring out of county girls, 76  of whom were allocated places at the school last March, in a welcome change of direction supporting local children.

Rochester Grammar

This reflects the considerable change in attitude across most other oversubscribed Thames side grammar schools, with the two Wilmingtons', Gravesend Grammar and Rainham Mark Grammar all having tackled what they consider an excess of London children taking up places by different strategies.

It would also further undermine the Trust’s Holcombe Grammar proposal to change from a boys’ school to become co-educational for 2019.  This been under consideration for nearly a year by the Regional Schools Commissioner with no sign of a decision yet, hopefully to be turned down for the reasons I have set out in previous articles.

I am looking at proposed changes in admission criteria for other secondary schools across Kent and Medway, and will publish these in a separate article to follow. …

In previous years the Trust has followed the spirit of the mandatory School Admissions Code which does not allow sibling priority in schools where all places are allocated on the basis of highest scores achieved in the admission Test. Presumably the Trust now sees the criterion of attendance at one of its primary schools, as enabling it to ignore this rule for Rochester Grammar (RGS), so still allowing it to select most girls on high scores.

First priority (as for all schools) if the proposals are implemented after the current Consultation would be grammar qualified Looked After Girls (see criteria for details of all categories), followed by: girls with a sibling at a local Trust secondary school: then girls attending Trust primary schools: girls who are children of staff employed by the Trust; health reasons (very difficult to justify); and finally rank order according to scores in the Medway Test.

The previous musical ability priority which from memory used to admit up to 10 girls, but has shrunk to two by 2018 admission, is now to be removed.

Many grammar schools are responding to the government priority towards children on Free School Meals or Pupil Premium, but this appears to be a step too far for TSAT at present.

Trust Schools
There are four local Trust primaries which will be teaching up to Year 6 in 2019: All Faith’s Children’s Academy; Cedar Children’s Academy; Gordon Children’s Academy, Junior; and New Horizons Children’s Academy. All four serve areas with considerable social deprivation. The first three of these schools saw 10 girls pass the Medway Test this year (New Horizons not coming on stream until; 2019); all would have been eligible for RGS under the new rules.

The three secondary schools offering priority are RGS, Holcombe Grammar, and Victory Academy. The last named school has had a very difficult history since its opening in 2010 as Bishop of Rochester Academy, but  with a good OFSTED in October: “This is a rapidly improving school, due to strong leadership and effective support from the Thinking Schools Academy Trust”, along with strong GCSE results.

The Rochester Grammar School
RGS has projected a highly elitist image and reputation for many years, hence its strong attraction for London families looking for such an education for their daughters who are prepared for these children to undertake long daily journey times. These come from as far away as Greenwich (9 places allocated in March 2017).  The reputation contributes to its being one of the most popular grammar schools across Medway and Kent, turning away 87 grammar qualified first choices this year.
Text RTC Masthead

This is a super-selective school and I am too often contacted by families of RGS girls seeking advice where their children are having difficulty in coping with the academic and social pressures of the school; although all will have provided evidence of high performance in the Medway Test. The new proposals are going to require a sea change in the school ethos if the potential new intake is to be welcomed and enabled to succeed. For it will comprise girls who have not achieved the cut off score, including some who will have scraped a pass. Alternatively, they may of course be put off by what they find, as happens each year to some potential applicants who decide to go elsewhere.

I suspect, at least in the first few years of the new proposals, the majority of the new type of intake will come from siblings of pupils already in one of the Trust secondary schools especially RGS itself, who would not have qualified under the high scoring criterion. The cut off score will inevitably be forced higher by these changes, with fewer places (I guess some 20 less) available for high scorers.

Holcombe Grammar School
Chatham Boys 3
The school has again applied to change its status from a boys’ school to co-educational at the beginning of this year using what I consider to be seriously flawed arguments, having rightly been turned down in 2016. The fresh application appears to have gained some credence because of a bemusing decision by Medway Council to withdraw its objections, in spite of the chaos it would be likely to create in grammar school provision in Medway. This has been exacerbated by the surge in interest from London families, with the school eventually offering 160 places for boys, although on allocation back in March it offered just 128, 40 of whom were from out of county. 

The Rochester proposal further weakens the case for co-education at Holcombe, one of whose key arguments was that some girls from the Trust primary schools were disadvantaged by not being able to attend a Trust grammar, which is now a false argument, but also because RGS will admit even more local girls, with fewer left potentially for Holcombe..

The school appears to thrive on controversy, most recently unlawfully keeping out seven pupils it had offered places to, a decision wrongly supported by Medway Council, in view of its illegality. Headteacher Juliet Diaz retired at the end of last term.

Also last year the school came up with the unlikely arrangement to admit girls from the non-selective Victory Academy full-time in various age groups, whilst remaining legal (?) by retaining them on the Victory roll. Not surprisingly, the girls found themselves in a difficult social environment and all appear now to have returned to Victory with the scheme quietly dropped.

Meanwhile the Regional Schools Commissioner is still considering the proposed co-educational scheme nearly a year after submission. One can only conclude that he is examining the major flaws in the proposal such as those I have pointed have out. He can now add to these flaws with the RGS proposals providing even more places for local girls than in previous years, undermining the case for co-ed even more sharply. Not surprisingly, Holcombe is one of just two Medway secondary schools that have not yet submitted proposals for change to its admission rules where required!

Last modified on Friday, 19 January 2018 20:17

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