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Friday, 11 May 2018 14:12

Grammar Schools, Faith Schools, and Non-Selective Provision in Tunbridge Wells

Updated 13th May

This item covers the government announcement of £50 million to provide new grammar school places and the relaxation of rules for admission to faith schools. 

The first issue was discussed on Meridian TV News on Friday to which I contributed, having previously discussed both issues including a previous article from last year, that looked across the landscape. This was updated with more recent coverage of the now likely provision of a Coastal Grammar annexe at Herne Bay or Whitstable, and the extension of the Weald of Kent Annexe. The latter is currently for girls only, but with premises offering capacity for boys, so approval does not appear to be finance related and presumably can be granted simply by a change in regulations. There may also be proposals from some of the more assertive grammar schools to look at annexes across the county boundary in Sussex and Surrey. 

The second part of the government plan has attracted fewer headlines, and indeed appears toothless, whilst promoting a new generation of  Voluntary Aided faith schools. However, any built under this proposal (which appears little different from current regulations) will evade the current limit on new faith Free Schools, who can admit just 50% of their intake for children who qualify through faith criteria.

The crisis in non-selective places in Tunbridge Wells has been brought about by church schools operating under the previous regulations, as explained below. 

Please note: This article was written whilst details of the new scheme are still emerging, so it may need to be updated in the light of these. Please let me know of any such developments if I have not recorded them.  
I have written a number of previous articles looking at more general possibilities of expansion of grammar school provision, including one also looking at the current diversity of provision across Kent. The current proposal was flagged up by a Green Paper in 2016, which also indicates some of the pressures on government to relax control of the 50% limit on faith schools. 
Grammar School Expansion
The proposed 50 million on funding will surely be primarily for capital works, so the level of expansion will quite limited. As an indication of costs, the rebuild of Meopham School, a small secondary in Kent, cost £14 million. As well as Herne Bay and Sevenoaks, an article in The Times lists four other Kent grammar schools seeking to expand by 'more conventional ways', Cranbrook; Invicta; Wilmington Girls; and Tonbridge, although without a source for its information, and three somewhat of a surprise.
The big issue is that any expansion comes with a requirement for obligatory schemes for social mobility. Possible ways forward were extensively discussed by a KCC Select Committee for Grammar Schools and Social Mobility in 2016. Possible grammar school actions focus on improving Pupil Premium pupil's chances and opportunities in order to prepare them for grammar school entrance and the Kent Test. There is, in my opinion rightly, no appetite for a reduction in the Kent Test pass mark, except for super selective schools. Several of these, but not all, are  offering priority for Pupil Premium children. Other schools are offering a few places for Pupil Premium children,but as most oversubscription criteria are based on distance from the school these are likely to be limited in extent. It remains to be seen what proposals will be sound suitable; at present there are no clues. 
What I certainly cannot see is a grammar school annexe of say 90 pupils, admitting anywhere this number of disadvantaged pupils. 
This article expresses no view on the virtues or disadvantages of grammar schools. Interestingly, the same issue of The Times contains a letter from a private school headteacher arguing that they could do the job better through scholarships. No sign of the hypocrisy that it is such private schools which are academically and financially selective which are creating the greatest social divide in Europe. Politically, no party appears interested in tackling this issue - vested interests! 
No Medway grammar school shows any signs of having considered these issues.
Cranbook School
Set in a very rural part of Kent, is currently converting partially from 13+ entrance to 11+. Offers 30 boarding places. For 2018 entry, all its 60 eleven plus day places were taken up, all but one first choices, with 17 first choices were turned away. It may well be that the school is just chasing funding for 30/60 new places. If the latter, they would be hoping to draw rural children away from the Maidstone and West Kent grammars.
Highworth Grammar School
This is the girls' grammar school for Ashford, a major development area in Kent, so there will certainly be future pressure. It added 26 places this year taking its total to 210, just about filling before appeals, so funding to support these would no doubt be welcome. 
Invicta Grammar School
The VIAT Academy Trust of which Invicta is a lead member, already runs seven academies. I can see it would be looking for fresh opportunities, but there is a surplus of boys' and girls' grammar places in Maidstone, so no case for a straightforward expansion
Wilmington Grammar School for Girls The four Dartford grammar schools are overrun with an inexhaustible supply of children from SE London, and across the Thames into Essex looking for Kent grammar school places. I simply wouldn't have thought of Wilmington Girls on its own. The two Wilmingtons' in Federation maybe as they are currently picking up a new Free School in Dartford. 
Tonbridge Grammar School A super selective school, currently offering 10 Pupil Premium places to children who have passed the Kent Test. I can see a logic to expanding numbers perhaps to creating a complete class of lower achieving children, but....
Faith Schools
In 2010, government introduced a rule that for any new academy with a religious character at least 50% of their places must be open to children without reference to faith. If existing schools had a 100% faith requirement applying when the school was oversubscribed, it was allowed to retain it. All Kent's Catholic schools give priority to children of faith. You will find an example at the foot of this article and, although current Kent Catholic schools vary greatly on the detail of their often complicated oversubscription rules, they all follow similar basic principles. The majority of faith schools in the county are Anglican primary schools classified as Voluntary Controlled, which have no faith priority. 
The Catholic Church has taken a stance that it will not support new schools unless it can award 100% of its places to children of faith through such oversubscription criteria, if there is sufficient demand. In such cases the top priorities would be Catholic related (several Catholic schools in Kent also give priority to Orthodox Christian families), although lower categories may prioritise other Christian sects or other faiths. 
Currently around one third of all schools in England are faith schools, mainly Anglican and Catholic Christian, but also Christian Evangelical, Moslem, and Jewish. In addition a high proportion of new schools are being opened by the Church of England and Evangelical churches. In Kent, the Canterbury Diocesan Academy Trust is completely taking over some of the many CofE voluntary controlled schools as academies. Nearly all church secondary schools in Kent are heavily oversubscribed, admitting high numbers of aspirational children which contributes to the academic success of most. Church primary schools have a more mixed records. 
Tunbridge Wells
The current crisis in non-selective places in Tunbridge Wells is brought about because three quarters of all Year Seven non-selective places in Tunbridge Wells schools are taken up by children from faith backgrounds. Both of the two church schools, Bennett Memorial Diocesan School (Anglican) and St Gregory's Catholic Comprehensive School set their admission criteria before the 50% limit was introduced. As a result, some children in Tunbridge Wells  are being forced to make a lengthy bus journey to Cranbrook to find a school for 2018 admissions. 
New Generation Voluntary Aided Schools
The world moves on: in the Government 2016 Green Paper, before the Brexit vote, a key reason for a proposal to abolish the 50% faith limit was the influx of Catholic children from Poland and other East European countries looking for Catholic schools, with the Catholic church refusing to sponsor new schools until this limit was abolished. 
The proposal has now been dropped and there is no reference to Eastern Europe or its Catholics! Instead a new generation of Voluntary Aided Schools, set up by Local Authorities is to be introduced. Such schools would still be funded from the general new Free School budget (so no new money needed  and a reduction in funds for other new Free Schools), but sponsors would need to provide 10% of building costs, a requirement of VA schools. As yet there is no clue as to whether the Local Authority or the VA School's Foundation will own the land, a critical issue in the current climate. The Foundation for such a school would appoint a majority of the school's governors, and the Local Authority would hold an influence. Such schools would be able to set admission criteria allowing 100% of pupils to be admitted on faith grounds.  A Catholic website considers the proposals amount to no more than is possible under current regulations. 
Which begs the question: will any new schools at all be built under this proposal?
Oversubscription Criteria for St Gregory's Catholic School, Tunbridge Wells
These apply when there are more applications than the number of places available

Children with a statement of special educational need (SSEN) or Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which names the school will be admitted before the application of oversubscription criteria. As a result of this, the published admissions number will be reduced accordingly.

Places will then be allocated in the following order of priority:

Category 1a:
Baptised Catholic children*. Priority within this category is given to baptised Catholic Looked-After Children and Looked-After Children in the care of a Catholic family (see note 1). All other baptised Catholic Children are ranked according to the over-subscription criteria as detailed below. * We accept children baptised or received into the Catholic Church or a Church in union with the See of Rome or a child who is a member of the Ordinariate
Category 1b:
Other Baptised/Dedicated and/or Practising Christian** children and Looked-After Children. Priority within this category is given to all other Looked-After Children (see note 1). All other Baptised/Dedicated and/or practising Christian* children are ranked according to the over-subscription criteria as detailed below. ** By “Christian” we accept attendance at a church which is a member of Churches Together in England.
Category 2a:
Children of other faiths. Governors would consider under this Category applications from parent(s) who are practising members of other world faith-based communities, and who attend, as defined by local practice, the meetings of their community and are actively involved in its life. Evidence of religious commitment provided by a priest, minister or religious leader or a designated place of worship will be required.
Category 2b:
Any other children. Applications where the Supplementary Information Form is not available, or which do not fall into the above three categories.

Applications will be ranked, within each Category, using the following over-subscription criteria: a. the presence of a brother or sister in the school at the time of admission, and/or b. attendance at one of the following partner primary schools: St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School (Tunbridge Wells), St Margaret Clitherow Catholic Primary School (Tonbridge), St Mary’s Catholic Primary School (Crowborough), St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School (Sevenoaks), and/or c. frequency of the family attendance at a church / place of worship as verified on the Supplementary Information Form. In the event of a tie-break, distance as measured by the LA will be used to rank applications.

For applications within Categories 1a, 1b and 2a Appropriate documentary evidence of church / place of worship membership will be required. This should ideally be a certificate of baptism or dedication and a completed Supplementary Information Form. If any of these documents are unavailable (e.g the church / place of worship attended does not practise baptism or dedication), a letter from the priest, minister or religious leader clearly detailing the family commitment to and attendance at the place of worship will be required.



Last modified on Wednesday, 01 August 2018 17:02


  • Comment Link Friday, 18 May 2018 01:32 posted by Philippa F

    Peter, Thank you for giving a clear explanation of the Faith School Proposals. Everyone else seems either confused or with the wrong end of the stick. I think you are saying that the Voluntary Aided option won't happen. PETER: I may be wrong but I can't see why any faith organisation would want this.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 13 May 2018 18:22 posted by Rachael

    Heard we lost our appeal at Skinners Kent Academy. In despair at impossible journey for our daughter to dreadful High Weald Academy. This cannot be happening. Help! PETER: I am so sorry about this. You will not be alone and it will be worse next year as there is no strategy to solve it. It is late in the day, but I would look at Sussex schools and Hillview in Tonbridge, although I suspect they will also be packed out by now. Show your Member of Parliament this article and ask him why the failing Free School programme which depends on finding suitable sponsors, is not scrapped, and how he can help you. Perhaps government thinks the new Voluntary Aided schools proposal will sort it. It certainly won't in TW! Yes, I am very angry on your behalf if it helps, but I doubt that is much comfort.

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