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Monday, 22 January 2018 03:23

The Unique Medway Secondary School Admission Lottery

Further update: Holcombe proposal to change to co-ed turned down

Update: Potential issues on the Hoo Peninsula expanded below, along with a different look at the numbers.  

This is my third article looking at school admission oversubscription rules that appear to be unlawful and open to challenge. The two previous articles focused on Invicta Grammar in Maidstone & The Rochester Grammar in Medway, and Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, also in Rochester.

There is a unique situation rapidly developing in Medway, in spite of challenges by the Council in previous years with nearly all secondary academies appearing to rush like Gaderine swine this year to give admission priority to schools in their Academy Trusts and limit options for families. In Kent, where the Local Authority also keeps a close eye on such matters, there is no evidence of anything similar after Invicta Grammar School withdrew their proposal. 

In Medway, amongst the issues, it is proposed that pupils at over a quarter of all non-catholic primary and junior schools (excluding infant schools) and 38% of all primary and junior academies will be given priority for admission to specific grammar schools (some of these schemes are already in place). Pupils at half of all primary and junior academies will be given priority for admission to one or more linked schools, which poses an additional challenge for families choosing primary schools. Already fourteen of Medway's 17 secondary schools either have admission policies that give preference to children from named schools or are proposing to introduce them. 

Medway Council's policy of encouraging all its schools to become academies has obviously played its part in this undesirable outcome, and is bound to see numbers of the tied primary schools increase as more change status. Currently, 42 of Medway's 65 primary and junior schools are academies. 

I look below at the situation as it affects each of Medway's secondary schools and linked primary academies.………

A different development building on government and KCC policy, is that over half of all Kent grammar schools now offer some priority in admissions to pupils on Pupil Premium or Free School Meals. In Medway just Rainham Mark Grammar appears to be considering the same priority and no non-selective school in either Authority has proposed such a preference. I shall look at this further in a later article. 

A number of the proposals are currently non-controversial as the secondary schools have vacancies for local children, as explained below but, with secondary numbers rising more will come into effect causing considerable unfairness on a greater scale.  

The stated rationale behind several of these situations is continuity of teaching and learning style, but the major consequence is to leave parents in confusion. Should they make choices for their children entering primary schools at the age of four/five, on the basis of a linked secondary school when its popularity and circumstances seven years hence are unforseeable? My very rough rule of thumb is that it takes one year for poor leadership to damage a school's reputation, and up to five years of good leadership to restore it. The reality is that secondary school choice is now becoming much more of a lottery than it should be in Medway, as Academy Trusts look to their own interests rather than that of the children they exist to provide for. 

All schools give priority to Children in Care, and most give priority to children with health reasons that need attendance at a particular secondary school, and most to siblings of children already in the school in question.

There is already considerable uncertainty caused by the Holcombe Grammar proposal to become co-educational, still under consideration by the Regional Schools Commissioner, which would create waves for boys on the Hoo Peninsula as explained below. 

Note: There are several references below to Fair Banding Tests in the individual school comments, explained at foot of article.  

The Issue
The government School Admissions Code, which has the force of law, states that proposed admission rules are to be policed by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. In a key judgement the latter states that all oversubscription criteria must be judged ‘on whether the overall effect of the arrangements is reasonable (paragraph 1.8 of the Code) and fair (paragraph 14)’.

Two complaints to the Adjudicator about Medway grammar schools in 2016 differentiate clearly between under and oversubscribed schools, and can be regarded as guidance on what to expect from a complaint this year, although there are of course other factors taken into consideration and each case is considered on an individual basis. The two cases are outlined below, along with the proposals or current status of all Medway secondary schools. You will also find a table of all showing the primary schools belonging to all Medway Trusts with secondary members at the foot of this article. The name links are to the proposals for 2019 admission.

The Williamson Trust is trying for a second time to give priority to boys attending Trust primary schools for admission to SJWMS, having been previously turned down in 2016. You will find reference to this in my previous article.

The 2016 proposal of the school setting out new criteria for admission was rejected on a number of grounds, the key one giving priority to boys attending Trust primary schools being summarised by: ‘I then considered this criterion against the Code’s requirement in paragraph 14 that arrangements are “fair” and concluded that this criterion disadvantaged boys who live on the Hoo peninsula and who do not attend one of the trust schools. In this respect I have concluded that the arrangements are unfair.’ The objection was upheld.

SJWMS is heavily oversubscribed and, recruiting on distance grounds, draws most of its students from a tight urban area around the school. This results in virtually no boys, apart from siblings, from the rural Hoo Peninsula being offered places without appeal for some years. Along with the normal oversubscription criteria, the new proposals include: “Children who at the time of application attend a primary school within The Williamson Trust”, which is identical to that rejected in 2016. Perhaps they are simply hoping there will be no complaints to the Schools Adjudicator from Medway Council, from other local primary schools who may lose pupils to the 3/5 Trust primary Schools, or from those parents who are now given difficult choices for children aged five or  those who can see their children being discriminated against.

Holcombe Grammar School – Thinking Schools Academy Trust
The proposal of Chatham Grammar School for Boys (now Holcombe Grammar) in 2016, which also covers Victory Academy, considered the challenge by Medway Council that : ‘the inclusion of oversubscription criteria that give priority to children who have attended another of the trust’s schools in Medway or have a sibling in another of the trust’s schools in Medway disadvantage children who live close to the schools but who do not attend a trust primary school’.  There are a number of other issues, but the bottom line for the Adjudicator is that: ‘I have been shown no evidence that there is an issue of unfairness for local children since they are likely to be able to gain a place at one of the two secondary schools if they are eligible to apply’. In other words, as both schools are undersubscribed, there is no unfairness, and the complaint was rejected.

The 2018 criteria which went unchallenged, as well as prioritising children of Trust Primary schools, expanded the common priority of staff children to those with a parent working at any Trust school, which is not in the Admission Code that allows priority for ‘children of staff at the school ‘. Whilst Holcombe Grammar was heavily oversubscribed with overflow from London children for 2017 admission, I am confident that all local boys who were grammar qualified and sought places at the school were offered these. Holcombe is one of just two Medway secondary schools whose proposed or established admission criteria for 2019 are not published on the Medway website. This will be because of the continued uncertainty of the school’s proposal to become co-educational, which has still not been ruled upon by the Regional Schools Commissioner, nearly a year on from its submission, as discussed here and previously. If the proposal is upheld, there will be a shortage of boys’ grammar places in Medway, and so the objection will come into place with meaning.

Currently, the school is the only option for most children on the Hoo Peninsula (the case for SJWMS prioritising some Hoo schools!), but if it were to go co-educational this could close down as many Hoo boys would be excluded on distance grounds, leaving the only grammar school route via a Williamson Trust primary school.  Now that is a recruitment incentive attracting pupils for the Williamson Trust schools away from those who are not in the Trust!

The Rochester Grammar School - Thinking Schools Academy Trust
You will find the proposal and my views here, in a previous article. Along with SJWMS, this will clearly be the most serious concern for families and primary schools, although it is difficult to say which school has set off the surge towards restrictive admission criteria across the Authority this year. Apart from Robert Napier School, the widest range of connections with priority proposed: girls at a TSAT Primary school, siblings at a TSAT secondary school; and children of staff at any TSAT school. Whilst the Admission explicitly approves ‘Children of staff at the school’ under specified circumstances, there is no provision for widening this across the schools of a Trust, so it is likely to be ruled unlawful.  There are currently seven Medway schools in the Trust.
Fort Pitt Grammar School – Fort Pitt Thomas Aveling Trust
Fort Pitt appears to be the originator of these restrictive conditions, having had its criteria accepted without challenge some years ago, the Council Cabinet approving for Fort Pitt : ’The oversubscription criterion “Students who attend a school within the Fort Pitt Academy Trust” is amended to read as “Students who attend a school or who have a sibling in a school within the Fort Pitt Academy Trust.”’  back in 2014, and similarly for Robert Napier School, but oddly not for Thomas Aveling (see below). In point of fact, as all the Trust’s four other schools are within a two mile radius of the school, another priority, it is irrelevant, but no doubt serves as a marketing tool for the primary schools.
After the two mile cut off, Fort Pitt prioritises girls from the Hoo Peninsula. This is a key lifeline at present, as the alternative only for non-high scorers is Chatham Girls which, because of its location, is very difficult to reach from the Peninsula. 
Chatham Grammar School for Girls – University of Kent Academy Trust
Proposes priority for an elder sibling at any UKAT school – currently just Brompton Academy. Although plenty of space for local children, so this is irrelevant, the school has expanded greatly in 2017 with London girls flocking in.
Rainham Mark Grammar School – Rainham Mark Educational Trust
The only Medway grammar school (or indeed any Medway school) to give a priority to children on Free School Meals. The school has already radically changed its oversubscription criteria last year, moving away from high scorers to give priority to local boys and girls (closing off the Hoo Peninsula). The proposed priority for two local primary schools, appears irrelevant and is again likely to be simply a marketing tool for the two schools.  
Brompton Academy – University of Kent Academy Trust.
Also operates a Fair Banding Test for all applicants. See below for explanation. Second most oversubscribed non-selective school in Kent and Medway, with a very tight catchment area, and few successful appeals. A priority for children with an elder sibling at a UKAT school, currently would give priority where there are sisters at Chatham Girls, the other school currently in the Trust, which draws from a very wide area. The proposal may only apply to a small number of children, but there is no educational logic for this one, and it would be very unfair, and indeed unreasonable, to quote another section of the complaints upheld by the Adjudicator.
Greenacre School – Greenacre Academy Trust
Usually just fills after grammar appeals remove a number of boys, so the restrictions become irrelevant. Gives priority to siblings at its neighbouring link school, Walderslade Girls’ together with historical siblings (have left the school in the past five years); also priority to Trust primary schools, just the one at present, Warren Wood under two miles away.
Howard School – Howard Academy Trust
Regularly oversubscribed. The Trust has three primary schools. No new proposals, the previous determined scheme only providing the normal priorities listed above.
Hundred of Hoo Secondary Section – The Williamson Trust
I have already covered the issues here in my previous article.
TKAT is one of the largest Academy Trusts in the South East, but RSG is its only secondary school in Medway, along with Napier Community Primary. It has made slight changes to the current criteria in its proposal, but retains the normal priorities, listed at the head of this section. Fully subscribed, but no need to offer priority to Napier at present. 
Robert Napier School – Fort Pitt Thomas Aveling Trust
See Fort Pitt, above.
St John Fisher Catholic Comprehensive School
The one Medway secondary school that is not an academy. Has a long list of admission criteria, set previously, revolving around the Catholic faith including, and unusually, non-catholic children from a list of ten Catholic priority schools including two out of Medway, but irrelevant as the school is unpopular with families, and has plenty of vacancies for all.
Strood Academy – Leigh Academies Trust
Sets a fair banding test for all applicants. Normal priorities.
The Thomas Aveling School – Fort Pitt Thomas Aveling Trust
Regularly oversubscribed. Slightly different criteria to the other two Trust secondary schools, with proposed priority applying for an older sibling, or attendance at a Trust school from the beginning of Year 5. The close location of the three Trust primary schools, all less than two miles, would suggest that most of the latter should be awarded a place anyway.
Victory Academy – Thinking Schools Academy Trust
Operates a Fair Banding Test for all applicants.  Is proposing the same arrangement as Rochester Grammar, but being considerably undersubscribed, may well get this through. Alternatively, it may fall if there are complaints and RGS is also turned down.
Walderslade School for Girls – Stand Alone Academy, but with links to neighbouring Greenacre.
Established criteria, including sibling at Greenacre, and historical sibling (having left the school in the past five years).
Medway Academies and linked Primary Schools
 Brompton Academy
Chatham Grammar Girls
University of Kent
 Fort Pitt
Robert Napier
Thomas Aveling
 Fort Pitt Thomas
Aveling AT
Robert Napier
Balfour Junior
Phoenix Junior
 Greenacre Greenacre AT Warren Wood 
Holcombe Grammar
Rochester Grammar
Victory Academy
Thinking Schools
All Faiths
New Horizons
Howard School Howard AT
Miers Court
Temple Mill
Thames View
Hundred of Hoo
St Joseph Williamson's
Williamson Trust
All Hallows
High Halstow
Hundred of Hoo (Primary)
St James CofE
Stoke Community
Hundred of Hoo 
Rainham Girls TKAT Napier Community
Rainham Mark  Rainham Mark ET Riverside
St John Fisher Catholic Non-Academy
English Martyrs
St Augustine of Canterbury
St Benedict's
St Mary's
St Michael's
St Thomas More
St Thomas of Canterbury
St William of Perth
and two Kent schools

Fair Banding TestsThese are set for all applicants for places in some  schools which are potentially oversubscribed. Then a proportion of pupils in each ability band in ratio to the whole population are offered places, aiming to replicate those ratios, and produce a good ability spread. I suspect that where there are grammar schools this has the effect of selecting a higher proportion of the top ability level children applying. 

Last modified on Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:43

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