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Thursday, 21 June 2018 18:16

Holcombe Grammar: Another Plan to Change Character?

Update: see more recent item reporting further on the shambolic Appeals management by Medway Council.

The 2018 Admission Appeals process is a pointer suggesting Thinking Schools Academy Trust has yet another plan to change the character of Holcombe Grammar School. It is to be changed from a school serving its local community well, to one dedicated to attracting high scorers in the Medway or Kent Tests no matter where they are drawn from.

Currently, Holcombe Grammar has a Planned Admission (PAN) number of 120. For September 2018 entry it offered 148 places topping up the PAN with 28 offers to boys living in London Boroughs as far away as Croydon. It then declared itself full in spite of a previous claim that ‘We have the capacity to provide enough places for every boy and girl who wants one’.

Chatham Boys


The Case for the School from the Trust to the Appeal Panel is a document  riddled with issues. Most importantly it completely misleads the Appeal Panel by providing a gross misrepresentation of how the Medway Test works, as explained below. It also states that ‘students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School, steering the Panel to select additional boys who have been found selective (probably through the Kent Test), but live too far away to secure a place initially. In the event just four appeals were upheld out of some 65, by a Kent Panel who appeared out of their depth, in sharp contrast to the 30 successes of 2017, typical of previous years.

The school is rightly proud of its GCSE performance having been second and third of the six Medway grammar schools in terms of both Progress 8 and Achievement 8 in the past two years, demonstrating its great capability to take local Chatham boys with moderate Medway Test scores through to strong performance. All this is now to be thrown away in the pursuit of glory, using pupils imported from London each year, including 10 from Greenwich for September, nearly 30 miles away.

The Medway Test
The Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) provided a Case for the School for the Admission Appeals earlier this month and signed by its Executive Principal, that sadly shows unbelievably the Trust does not understand the Medway Test mark scheme!

The statement was presented to the Appeal Panel, describing the reasons why applications for admission were refused and why appellants  who had not qualified through the Medway Test should not be offered a place. The key paragraph is as follows:

This curriculum is designed for the top 25% of the ability range. Students below this level would struggle to engage with the curriculum and its delivery. Therefore, students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School. Any score around the 100 mark, (50 th percentile) indicates average. A score below 100 suggests that there may be difficulty in that area unless there are mitigating circumstances. For an appeal to be successful there must be a strong case with compelling evidence.

This is quite simply factually wrong. I give a more technical explanation of the misrepresentation at the foot of this article below but, as briefly as I can make it, the reference to a score of 100 being at the 50th percentile or nationally average only applies to the Kent Test. The Medway test, which the large majority of applicants to Holcombe take and with a very different method of scoring, is not described. In the Medway Test the pass mark of 495 for this year is made up of the total of five components. For example these could be scores for the three Tests of 100 marks each (English and maths marks then being doubled to provide the five components) which would secure a grammar assessment with a total of 500 points. Therefore, a score of 100 is the equivalent of a pass mark, the mathematics suggesting it comes in the top 27% of candidates taking each paper, well above the false claim of 50% by TSAT.

One has to ask the question as to whether this false claim was deliberate or through ignorance? I hope it was not the former. Whichever, it makes the whole appeal process a travesty for those candidates who were not initially found selective, as they would have been on a hiding to nothing if the Panel swallowed the story. Unfortunately, we have no idea of this, as the Panel does not appear to have questioned the claim, possibly because they were Kent based and so wrongly simply accepted it as truth.

The Executive Principal (and Director of Secondary Education for the Trust), who was previously headteacher of The Rochester Grammar School, the super selective Girls Grammar in TSAT, may never have come across this fundamental plank of the Medway Test, as that school sets a higher pass mark than other Medway schools, this year at 520, twenty-five marks above the official pass. So scores of 100 would not normally come under consideration for selection or appeal. Even if the result was due to his ignorance, it is shameful that no one at Holcombe bothered to check, adding to the catalogue of errors they have committed recently (below).

There is no doubt it is an unforgiveable blunder, making a mockery of the appeal process and compounding the months of stress of families waiting for what they assumed would be a fair appeal. It also strengthens my hypothesis about the aims of TSAT towards Holcombe Grammar School. So, don’t be surprised to see another change of character proposed after the two previous failed attempts to become co-educational. It appears the school is attempting to emulate The Rochester Grammar School (RGS), lead school in the Academy Trust, which offers its places to the highest scorers in the Medway Test, this year offering 81 of the 205 places outside Medway, fifteen of them to girls from Greenwich. . The difference is that for RGS these are mainly girls who made a positive choice for the school.

A few years ago, when they were struggling for numbers, both of the Chatham Grammar Schools introduced the Kent Test as an alternative route to qualify for entrance. This means that boys who may have had no initial thought of looking at Holcombe, suddenly find they are eligible for a place. As a result 20 boys offered Holcombe had placed the school fourth, fifth or sixth choice, probably having been rejected from Dartford Boys, Wilmington Boys and Gravesend Boys grammars on the way, all nearer their homes in one of the London Boroughs.

Greenacre Mast Head

Fullness of the School
The school boasted when it submitted its controversial plan to become co-educational three years ago that it could comfortably accommodate 180 boys and girls if there was demand. It now claims in a statement to the Independent Appeals Panel that it can admit no more than 150 boys, and no room for any in appeal, also at variance with the subsequent claim (Page 1) that: ‘We have the capacity to provide enough places for every boy and girl who wants one’. It is also interesting in that Consultation document to note the high emphasis on admitting local children, in sharp contrast to the new tactic less than two years later.
Other Issues
To compound matters for appellants, the Appeal Panel from Kent County Council, taken on at the last minute after the previous Panel withdrew (why?), appears to have been out of their depth and the Presenting Officer, Vice Principal of Holcombe (and Head of School elect), appeared unable to answer questions about the school from appellants or Panel, promising instead to find them out later, which is unacceptable.

The sad thing is that the events described in this article take place whilst Holcombe is clearly working well in other areas as confirmed by the recent Good Ofsted Report. However, whilst the Report does not consider external matters, even the Inspectors came across a current of unhappiness about the school that I regularly still pick up: ‘Some parents do not appreciate the good work that is going on in the school. Approximately one third of the parents responding to Ofsted’s online survey Parent View do not feel that the school provides valuable information about their child’s progress. A similar proportion does not feel that the school responds well to concerns raised, and many additional comments suggested that concerns raised were not always responded to in a timely manner’. The school website is unusual in that no one’s name is mentioned anywhere (except occasionally in letters home) echoing a concern that parents do not know who to contact about issues. Why the secrecy?

The Report also failed to pick up the enormous fall out of 22% of students half way through their A level course, more than double that of any grammar schools across Kent and Medway (apart from one on 13%). This follows my exposure of the practice of illegal expulsion of pupils in 2016 in local grammar schools, which caused a sharp fall in students leaving half way through their course everywhere else, but clearly not at Holcombe!

RIC Masthead June 2018 1 

Thinking Trust and Holcombe Failures
The most recent disaster may appear quite small, but was at The Rochester Grammar School when an outsider discovered the data, including personal information  on every school pupil on a Memory Stick, details here. Fortunately, it was handed in. However, it remains incredible at this time with all the attention on GDPR that ANYONE is able to extract secure information in such a way and walk around with a memory stick, rather than keep it in a secure location. 

Holcombe Grammar has made two controversial and seriously flawed failed attempts to become co-educational, which would have reduced opportunities for boys in the area, and threatened the viability of neighbouring Chatham Girls Grammar. In the first proposal, the school confirmed its ability to take up to 180 pupils; in the second it recorded that We have the capacity to provide enough places for every boy and girl who wants one’ ( presumably of grammar school ability, but not mentioned)!).

It also came up with the astonishing, unlawful and ridiculous plan, to be able to fill the vacant places after allocation by a Committee of Governors making their own decisions. They would do this by setting a new test to choose additional pupils who had not passed the Medway Test to fill places. The second proposal for co-education was accompanied by a plan to allow girls (not boys) to transfer from the TSAT non-selective school Victory Academy to Holcombe without formal assessment. This was also turned down, a pilot plan admitting girls on this basis failing because the girls chose not remain.

Then there was the unlawful transfer of boys who had been accepted by Holcombe, to Victory Academy for their education, keeping them on the roll of Holcombe. This was supported by Medway Council, but was declared unlawful by government and had to be scrapped.  

Radical Solution
I have my own radical solution to the host of failed initiatives listed above. Simply start with the good Ofsted Report, which generally reflects well on the school, accept the school structure as it is and settle down to a period of stability. Take the time to improve communication and the high proportion of mistakes made in publications and policies, some of which I have highlighted before (Ofsted reported on an important policy not updated since 2011, which the school must have known about for some months, but is still unchanged, even though much of it no longer applies!). Put some quality control in place.  


Medway Test Scoring (more technical explanation) - may be of use to Holcombe staff
There are three papers in the Medway Test, set in Verbal Reasoning, Maths and Extended Writing. The first two are multiple choice papers, the English being a single piece of Extended Writing, which can only be marked subjectively, with children performing well or badly according to the way they perceive the set task. Typically, many girls score very highly on the Extended Writing, and some otherwise able boys very low, forfeiting their grammar school place. For all three papers, marks are turned into a normal distribution curve (normal being the technical word to describe a bell-shaped curve) with a score of 100 being allocated to the middle mark of all those who entered the Medway Test. In 2017 there were 1793 Medway state school candidates out of a total Year 6 roll of 3286. The 896th (half of 1793) best performing child for each of the three tests is therefore allocated a score of 100. However, across the whole cohort, this roughly relates to a child who is at the 27th percentile, i.e close to the 25% grammar school standard, not the 50th percentile as claimed by the TSAT Director of Secondary Education. For the mathematician, the calculation comes from 896*100/3286. For a child to be in the 27th percentile this means they are in the top 27% of all candidates.
The three scores are combined to give the sum of:

Verbal Reasoning x 1 added to Maths x two added to English x two.

The pass mark is then set to allow 23% of Medway children in state schools to pass, with another 2% to be judged selective on Review. This process is called Local Standardisation as it relates to local performances by candidates.

So the child who scored 100 in all three tests, with its total of 500, will come within the top 23% of Medway children, above the cut off level with a clear pass, not at the 50th percentile as claimed.  

The Kent Test is very different as it is nationally standardised using a sample of children of all abilities to establish the average score, which is then set at 100. Hence, the statement in the school case that: Anyscorearoundthe100mark,(50th percentile)indicatesaverage.A score below 100 suggests that there may be difficulty in that area unless there are mitigatingcircumstances is valid for Kent Test performance only.

Last modified on Sunday, 09 February 2020 19:44


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 30 January 2019 09:06 posted by Jeremy Fox

    Holcombe changing it's character.... again? Surely not!
    My son attended the school just as it was placed into special measures in 2012. At a subsequent parents meeting the Principal of Rochester Grammar, who was appointed to bring the school out of measures, (subsequently fired by TSAT after controversial activities were discovered and which are in the public domain) fielded a question from a concerned parent. The parent was worried that, as the Principal was from Rochester Grammar, could she promise that no cultural change would be made to Chatham Grammar (as it was then) and that it wouldn't turn into an "RGS clone". The Principal assured us all that it wouldn't. Then to everyone's surprise all the previous houses, named after famous naval ships of the line, were abolished
    and classes made of 2 hours duration instead of 1.5 which often meant that my son didn't get time to eat his lunch. The board of governors was made up entirely of those at RGS. This is just to name a few and generally the whole ambience of the school changed within a month or two. In short parents (I was there) were lied to. Since then of course it has changed it's name, with the iconic Kent Horse inside the blazer badge and on the tie, changed and it has gone for a very strange colour choice for it's uniform. The supplier of the uniform was moved from one in Chatham to another in Tunbridge Wells who clearly had supply issues concerning the brown shirts the the students were made to wear as there were numerous differences to the colour. And of course there were 2 failed attempts at going co-ed. So on the basis that nothing is new under the sun I for one am not surprised.

  • Comment Link Friday, 29 June 2018 16:07 posted by Lucy Phillips

    Holcombe is guilty of arrogance and neglecting any obligation to its local community in its rush to try and emulate RGS. It is reducing opportunities for local boys as it tried to in its two failed attempts to go co-ed. Peter thank you for alerting us all to this. But what can we do? PETER: Sadly the people who ought to be fighting your corner are Medway Council, but as usual they appear to have no interest in opportunities for local children. I am afraid all I can do is expose what is going on and hope to shame those responsible.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 24 June 2018 20:12 posted by Katie

    Four successful appeals out of 65 as local boys lose out to Londoners many of whom have not even visited the school.
    Why doesn't Holcombe move to Greenwich and have done with it. What a disgrace as TSAT confirms its lack of support for local children!

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