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Wednesday, 10 January 2018 20:03

Proposed Changes in School Admission Rules: Skinners School, the failed proposal at Invicta Grammar and consequences in Medway

Medway academies update: 14 out of 17 Medway secondary schools giving priority to selected primary schools for admissions.

Skinners School update: The headteacher has sent out a letter explaining the rationale behind the school's proposals. This confirms the driving forces, I have referred to below: Pressure on West Kent grammar places for boys; and the financial advantages to improve facilities.  

Schools that operate their own admission rules are now publishing proposals for admission in September 2019 for Consultation, where they are making changes. Details for Kent primary and secondary schools that have posted their proposals here, and Medway here

This article looks at the far-reaching changes proposed for The Skinners School in Tunbridge Wells which will give priority to Kent boys, and the failed attempt by Invicta Grammar in Maidstone to give priority to schools run by the Valley Invicta Trust.

Skinners (2)               invicta

A previous article looked at proposed changes at The Rochester Grammar School, again giving priority to its own schools, but now called into question by the Invicta situation, as explained below, and which has exposed a much greater issue in Medway, details to follow shortly. 

Rochester Grammar

A future article will look at other proposals including a number of schools extending priority to children on Free School Meals or attracting Pupil Premium (a slightly more comprehensive group).......

The Skinners School
The Proposal
The school has operated a fairly simple scheme for a number of years, with a Planned Admission Number (PAN) slowly increasing to 155 in 2017. The categories were, quite simply: (1) Children in Local Authority Care who have passed the Kent Test (a variation of which is required as first priority); (2) Applicants Ranked According to Test Scores.

For 2018, with an initial PAN of 150, an additional priority was inserted at Priority 2: Up to 10 places to pupils registered in that academic year for Free School Meals, ranked according to their combined test scores. Applicants in this category will need to have filled out a Supplementary Information Form. Subsequently, the PAN was increased to 160 on a temporary basis, maintaining the number of high scorers to be offered places.

The proposal for 2019 keeps the PAN at 160, but entirely changes the basis on which priorities are ordered. The first broad priority now becomes: Up to 140 places offered to applicants living in the West Kent Area which is defined as the area within three miles of the school measured by straight line distance, plus 33 named Kent parishes. However, this is then sub-divided with the first two divisions being Children in Care, followed by up to 5 places for those on Free School Meals. Then come children scoring over 360 in the Kent Test, headed by (a) siblings; and (b) sons of staff members. The remainder of the over 360s are no longer to be selected by high scores, but by nearness of residence to the school.

If there are any of the 140 places to be allocated by this mechanism are left unfilled, they will be made up by boys passing but scoring under 360, again in the order of (1) siblings (2) sons of staff members, and (3) nearness of residence to the school.

The final 20 places (minus Children in Care irrespective of residence) are then allocated to children in the Outer Area, defined as on the mainland of the United Kingdom, on the same basis as for the West Kent Area, the first five places again going to FSMs. 

Implications

I have no doubt that these proposals have been encouraged by Kent County Council, keen to create extra local places for boys, possibly helped by additional funding for new premises. For 2017 admission, 44 out of county places were offered to high scorers, now to be reduced by up to 30 places, reallocated to West Kent Area boys (I don’t know how many out of county boys also meet the three mile inner criterion).

The school has moved right away from the concept of highest scores, and aligned the school along with Maidstone Grammar and Simon Langton Boys, who have similar arrangements also with a priority cut off of 360.

One question that will be asked by families living inside the outer limits of the West Kent Area, is whether all local over 360s will be offered places, or if there will be a geographical limit? Last year the cut off was an aggregate score of at least 371 for all successful applicants, up from previous years. I suspect this increase was because of the related decision by The Judd School to also prioritise most Kent applicants.My own sense is that all West Kent Area applicants scoring over 360 will be offered places, but don't hold me to it. I don’t believe that those families who will carry out complex calculations to estimate their chances will come to any more accurate conclusions on a subject with so many variables.

All this means the nature of Skinners will change with a number of boys being admitted with levels possibly as low as a Head Teacher Assessment pass; especially if the category of under 360 is reached which is possible. What is certain is that in a few years time, as with Judd, when these cohorts reach GCSE or whatever replaces it, the two schools will not be able to compete at the very highest level, as at present.

Congratulations to both schools on making decisions in the interests of the students, rather than chasing trophies for themselves.

Add in the increase in numbers at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, and the pressing shortage of places for Kent grammar school boys in West Kent, brought about by the current non-arrival of a boys annex in Sevenoaks, will certainly be eased.

 The Invicta Grammar School
Invicta, with its unofficial motto of never apologise never explain, has had to quietly withdraw proposals to give priority to girls attending primary schools in the Valley Invicta Academy Trust for admission in September 2019. The proposal is at the time of writing still on the KCC website, but if unavailable, you will find it here. It has been quietly replaced by the previous version on the school website, without comment.

The proposal made two main additions to the more conventional 2018 arrangements giving priority as follows:

d) Children who attend a Valley Invicta Primary School, a child who has attended a Valley Invicta Primary School who has passed the PESE test.

e) (Section in italics): Children of staff who work at the school, or Valley Invicta Academies Trust, full time with at least two years’ continuous employment or where the school Trust considers a member of staff has been recruited for a position for which there is a demonstrable skill shortage.

It is reported in the Kent Messenger that the proposal has now been dropped as KCC considered it ‘unreasonable, unfair and unlawful’, following a petition from parents. The KCC view is likely to have been based on a decision by the Schools Adjudicator  following complaints about The Aspirations Academy Trust for one of its schools, Rivers Academy, Hounslow, dated 11 November 2016. This set an important precedent, which ought to have been known by Invicta and indeed The Rochester Grammar School, see below and previous article (which now needs to be revised!).

This is a complex decision, covering a whole range of issues, but the relevant conclusion was:

For the reasons set out in detail above, I uphold the objection to the oversubscription criterion in the 2016 arrangements that names two feeder primary schools which, while clear, transparent and made on reasonable grounds as required by paragraph 1.15, are not fair as required by paragraph 14 of the Code because it is unfair to children who have attended two other local primary schools and are not reasonable as required by paragraph 1.8 as they are not reasonable in their impact on these children. I also determine, for the same reasons, that the oversubscription criterion in the 2017 arrangements naming two feeder primary schools does not conform with paragraphs 14 and 1.8 of the Code.

Or more simply, it is unfair and unlawful to discriminate in favour of pupils from Trust Primary Schools in oversubscription criteria. 

Whilst not expressing a view on the children of staff from other Trust schools, the same interpretation would clearly apply.

The Trust has clearly accepted the advice from KCC, more importantly implicitly acknowledging it is not appropriate for Valley Park School either, one of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent, where the consequences would have been much more serious. 

The Rochester Grammar School and other Medway Schools
My previous article confirmed the welcome news that The Rochester Grammar School was stepping back a little from its super-selective status by ‘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’, together withChildren of staff employed by the Trust ‘.

This clearly and more comprehensively breaches the Code, as interpreted by the Schools Adjudicator, above, and I have written to the school and Medway Council pointing this out, although missing the short Consultation Period. The school now has until 28th February to finalise its policy, after which complaints can be made to the Schools Adjudicator who has the final say. In the case of Invicta Grammar, it was parents who raised the issue before the consultation was completed, for Rivers Academy it was other local primary schools, who feared their popularity would be damaged who logged formal complaints.

I cannot see these proposals remaining unchanged, although it would be a great pity if RGS cannot come up with proposals that give some element of priority to local children, perhaps on the lines of the Tonbridge and Judd Grammar criteria that award places on high scores, but with 80/87% to local children and 20/13% to out of area, or even following the Skinners model above. There are plenty of other good models around that maintain the principle of chasing the high flyers to secure the best results.  

Whilst looking at this case, I became aware of a number of other Medway schools, both selective and non-selective that also appear to be proposing to act unlawfully, to be followed up in an article currently in preparation. 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:41

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 15 January 2018 12:31 posted by Sarah

    Please explain what you mean by this? Skinners are taking out places such as Goudhurst. Is this due to Cranbrook, as Maidstone schools are much further away if they should be considered by residents there? Why penalise Goudhurst, about 8 miles from TW! PETER: Sorry for the misprint, which I have corrected and removed reference from your comment to avoid confusion. Your local grammar, Cranbrook School, also selecting on higher scores, is extending to 60 day places for Year 7 for 2018 entry, easing any pressure there. TWGSB is also expanding. Although the number of Kent pupils to be admitted to Skinners is increasing, there will be more West Kent children offered places, but you are right, some Kent children, drawn from as far away as Gravesham will lose out, as there are losers in any reorganisation. There are similar difficult pockets in various parts of the county. I am sorry you are in one of these.

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