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Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:11

Holcombe Grammar loses its bid to go Co-Ed. An excellent decision by the DfE in the interests of Medway children!

I make no apologies for this being the fourth consecutive news item about Medway on this site but, as my previous articles suggest, the education system in the Authority has become unstable, with self-interest by academy chains driving decisions.

Chatham Boys 3

The controversial proposal for Holcombe Grammar School (previously Chatham Grammar School for Boys) to become co-educational has just been turned down for the second time by the DFE. This was no doubt for sound reasons, including those I have identified previously, most recently here.  When the school first proposed the change, it made clear in its paperwork that it did not care about any damage a change would cause to Chatham Grammar School for Girls by increasing the number of girls' school places where there was already a surplus. It would also alter the balance of grammar school provision in Medway to just one heavily oversubscribed boys' grammar and three girls' schools, along with two mixed grammar schools.

This is one of the worst of a number recent proposals for change by Medway secondary schools, the reality being that neither Chatham grammar school was attracting enough local children to be viable in the long term at that time. 

BUT: Congratulations to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, which runs Holcombe Grammar School and features in most of my recent Medway articles, by being identified in a government analysis as the highest performing Multi-Academy Trust nationally in KS4 (GCSE) Progress 8 Assessment Tables

This is the third policy decision the school has failed with in the past two years, and the one with the most far-reaching negative effects on grammar school provision. However, the local scene has also changed dramatically in the short time since the proposal was submitted, with many London families failing to get their children into grammar schools in Dartford, Gravesend and Rochester, having now washed up in Chatham. Chatham Grammar School for Girls, having offered 143 places, including 16 Local Authority Allocations back in March 2017, itself an increase of 70% from 87 in 2016 as London children presented themselves, now has 183 girls in Year 7.  I suspect this dramatic expansion was driven by the threat from Holcombe’s co-educational plan, and a need to secure numbers as the school was in financial difficulty. No longer!

Holcombe, which was happy to expand up to 180 children if it went co-ed, offered 128 places to boys in March, but settled with 161 (see below). It offered just 91 places in 2016. The London effect ensures that the two schools, both previously struggling for numbers are now both secure. 

There is still a clear logic for one of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) grammar schools to become co-educational, but it is not Holcombe. Perhaps we shall now see a proposal for The Rochester Grammar School to admit boys as well, which would provide local children with two girls grammars, two boys grammars and two co-educational!

The Chief Executive of TSAT, in a letter to parents, claims two chief merits of the failed proposal which would ‘benefit all students in the local area’ (although these merits have changed with each launch). The first is the apparently enhanced choice for selective students in Medway, which is a nonsense in view of the reduction in opportunities for selective boys’ places. Secondly is a greater collaboration between Trust schools, although why this needs such a dramatic change in provision is not explained; surely greater collaboration can just go ahead as it stands. Whilst the letter explain that the DfE 'recognised the merit and potential of our application', it unfortunately gives no clue as to the reasons for turning it down! Naturally, most of the letter talks of the academic strengths of the school at present.

I do have concerns about the large number of Holcombe students who leave half way through their A Level course, 20% of the total  this year, by some way the largest fall of any grammar school in Kent and Medway, which certainly helps with performance.

The other organisation with egg on its face is Medway Council which opposed the first application, but found favour with this second proposal, flying in the face of objections from most other Medway secondary schools, and certainly not in the best interests of most Medway selective students. Their capacity for misjudgment is enormous!

Other Controversies
This second failure to change the character of the school, which can be traced through from my original article in March 2016 certainly dwarfs the other two controversies.

Firstly came a plan to admit pupils by decision of an Admission Committee which would decide if they were selective, without having to pass the Medway Test. It is not clear if my publicly pointing out this was illegal led to it being dropped! This then morphed into a proposal to admit girls from the non-selective TSAT Victory Academy during Year Seven who were considered high flyers, although keeping them on the Victory Academy Roll. Notes of a meeting for parents record that only in exceptional circumstance would such girls be admitted into different age groups. In the event, all the younger girls offered places returned to Victory for their own reasons and does not appear to have been repeated for 2017 as a consequence. The only current evidence of the policy is three girls in Key Stage 4 classes, presumably all exceptions and all still on the roll of Victory Academy (to be on the roll of Holcombe would be illegal).

Secondly was last summer’s debacle when the school offered places to late grammar qualified applicants, and then placed them on the roll of Victory Academy, denying them the right of appeal.  Sometime after I commented this was illegal, the Department for Education ruled the same.

If both these latter controversies indicate the sort of increased collaboration between Trust schools that TSAT seeks, it is hardly surprising that the DfE has turned down the proposal. The only surprise is that it has taken it nearly a year to come to this sensible conclusion!
It may even be somewhat of a relief for the school, which now avoids years of turmoil coming to terms with the change, when there is an inexhaustible supply of boys coming out of London. 
Last modified on Saturday, 27 January 2018 23:29


  • Comment Link Monday, 29 January 2018 07:44 posted by Steve Cook

    Peter, I recently read an article in a Maidstone news paper that showed the numbers of 1st preference choices for Maidstone Secondary Schools for 2018 entry. Do you have that data for Medway? It would be interesting to see how popular Medway schools are for this years round of admissions. PETER: I was sent the data for Kent, and agree it is quite interesting, but it is not one I usually ask for, preferring to wait for the allocations data in March. Nevertheless, if you chase for it, I would be happy to receive a copy!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 27 January 2018 23:28 posted by Carl Richards

    So what you are saying is that the two Chatham grammars are only able to go there own way as London overspill schools.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:44 posted by And again

    Perhaps the DfE follows your website, as no one else appears to have provided the evidence for this decision. PETER: My list of subscribers makes fascinating reading!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:38 posted by Yet another Fan of Peter

    Perhaps TSAT should adopt the Millwall Football Club cry of 'No one likes us, we don't care'. It fits better than 'Children first, Aspire, Challenge, Achieve'.

    Last year you exposed the throw out rate of Year 12 children at grammar schools to improve results, with 13% of girls at RGS having left or been forced out. Now it has been declared illegal, RGS is better thanks to you, but 20% at Holcombe? How does the caring slogan fit here?

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:24 posted by Another Fan of Peter

    hear hear to the previous comment

  • Comment Link Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:23 posted by Fan of Peter

    Congratulations to you, the only person who has spoken out publicly against this outrage in two years. Presumably if Denise Shepherd previous CEO of the Trust had remained an adviser to the RSC it would have gone through.

    Pile up your arguments against the feeble ones put forward for the scheme - no contest!

    And of course - where does this leave Medway Council ,who supported it.

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