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Sunday, 25 November 2018 06:02

Controversial Proposal for New Primary Provision for Girls only in Medway

Rainham School for Girls, a non-selective secondary school in Medway,  is consulting on a controversial scheme to set up the first new primary section for girls only in the country. It would have an intake of 60 girls, beginning in 2020-21. There is currently just one all through girls school in the country,  a girls' private school founded in the 19th century that only became a state school recently, and remains a member of the Independent Girls School Day Trust, a very different set up to that proposed for Rainham Girls. There are just seven single sex state primary schools nationally, five of which are conformist Jewish schools. 

Rainham School for Girls Logo 

The only reference to single sex education in the thin consultation document is the rather tentative one of: ‘We are keen to explore with stakeholders the concept of single sex primary provision, which we feel is an exciting prospect that will enable us to not only focus on the best learning strategies for girls, but will ensure that they have the chance to explore all aspects of learning, challenging stereotypes’.

The document also offers little rationale for extending the age range.

‘The offer to extend our all-inclusive wrap around provision to Primary age children is an exciting one. The biggest impact of extending the school’s age range would be on a pupil’s learning journey.  The school’s ethos of high expectation and aspiration, in addition to having a common learning language from the age of 4 through to 18 will significantly increase a pupil’s progress path, leading to successful, well rounded young people’, which offers nothing to the over 80% of Year 7 girls who would be joining Rainham Girls from other schools.

As noted, the above quotation ignores the major flaw of current all-through schools locally (there will be four in Kent next September) that this continuous provision would only apply to a small proportion of the secondary intake. In the case of Rainham some 40 girls (having lost a quarter to grammar school amongst others who don’t take up the offer) would join more than 200 others from different backgrounds in Year 7.  Will the school then differentiate between the two groups? Surely not as this would create first and second class citizens. But if not, the ‘advantages’ of the home grown pupils will surely dissipate, except that they are likely to self-identify as a group which knows the ways of the school which may be difficult to handle. 

Local Impact
The proposal also highlights one of the weaknesses of the academy concept, that of self-centredness and lack of concern for any knock-on effects in other local schools. There were eight Gillingham and Rainham primaries with over 20% vacancies on allocation for 2018, so it is likely that most girls from a new intake would come from some of these local schools. This would significantly alter the boy/girl ratio and create potential difficulties, including financial pressures.

Rainham School for Girls complements The Howard School, the nearby boys’ non-selective school, so logically if a new primary section was to be formed, it should feed into both schools. This won’t happen as the two are academies from different Trusts, and there is no indication anyhow that Howard has any interest in such a project.

The Consultation does not refer to or consider the overall Medway Place Planning Strategy, whose 2018 Review concluded that for Gillingham and Rainham: the spare capacity in 2019 is 4.3% and 4.9% in 2022. The surplus capacity is forecasted to grow over time, and so should ensure that sufficient places are available during this time to meet demand from inward migration. It is therefore suggested that the actions taken in recent years, and those currently underway will provide the appropriate number of additional places to meet demand and no further expansion is recommended in the short term’. In other words, the proposal for an extra 60 primary places will simply add to the vacancies in other local schools.

Single Sex Provision
It is difficult to comment on the concept of single sex provision in a primary school as there is almost no relevant precedent, although I have often argued tongue in cheek that the main rationale for boys’ schools is so that girls’ schools can exist. Five of the schools are Jewish, abbreviated names: Lubavitch Ruth Lunzer (boys and girls separately); Beis Yaakov (girls); Avigdor Hirsch (boys); and Pardes House (boys) ; the others are Winterbourne Junior Boys and Girls’ Schools in Thornton Heath, dating back to 1907, where almost all pupils are from ethnic minorities, so not a lot  of parallels! There is also one all through state girls school, Birkenhead High School Academy which was previously a single sex private school created in the nineteenth century up until 2010, when it left the private sector to become a small girls academy, sponsored and strongly supported by the Girls School Day Trust, described as the UK’s leading network of independent girls’ schools.  The school's Outstanding Ofsted Report makes interesting reading. 

However, gender issues are making waves in this country at present, and it could be that the proposal will catch the mood of the moment. Certainly, it would be popular amongst some cultural and religious groups. I don’t consider myself competent to comment on such issues, but I would have thought that such a proposal ought to do so.

TKAT Academy Trust
Rainham School for Girls is run by TKAT, an Academy Trust with 44 academies, mainly across the South East. There is no doubt that Rainham School for Girls is a strong and successful institution, regularly oversubscribed with good academic performance and strong Ofsted Report. However, its eight primary schools in Kent and Medway contradict the claim in the Consultation that: ‘TKAT have a proven track record in providing excellent primary education, overseeing the educational teaching and learning in 30 primary schools across the South of England with the children in these schools making outstanding progress during their time with us’. Nearby Napier Community Primary Academy, under TKAT control since 2014, was described in its recent Ofsted Report as Needing Improvement because: ‘Leaders and governors have not ensured that pupils make good progress since the school converted to become an academy. While the school is improving, issues such as staffing turbulence have affected the quality of education provided’.  The 2017 KS2 progress results show it well below average in reading, and mathematics, and average in writing ,disproving the TKAT claim that its schools make Outstanding Progress.  With over a third of its places empty on allocation this year, and just two miles away from the proposed new provision, it would surely be one of the local schools most hit by losing girls from its intake. The Trust also runs four schools in Thanet, each of which has had a poor history since being taken over by TKAT and which are all still very unpopular with families,  although recently there has been some improvement. In 2017, one of the four had above average progress in KS2, the other three contributing one above average grade out of the nine possible. Thus the TKAT claim that the children in its Kent or Medway schools make Outstanding Progress is completely false.

There is of course a solution to the gender imbalance and that is for TKAT to propose that its Napier Community Primary Academy be changed into a boys’ school. Imagine the outcry to see what is wrong with the proposal.

Conclusion
There may be a case to be made for additional girls’ primary provision in Rainham, but I don’t consider this is it, and I very much doubt if it would convince government either.

As a footnote, it is surely an anomaly that it is possible to successfully challenge a school's Admission criteria through the Schools Adjudicator as I have demonstrated recently by forcing a clutch of Medway secondary schools to retract their proposals for change, whilst it does not appear legally possible to challenge proposals for a new academy. This proposal appears simply to be a change in admission arrangements for an existing school. Presumably therefore, if the proposed new criteria were adopted by the school these would also be open to challenge for the Adjudicator to rule on.


Last modified on Tuesday, 27 November 2018 19:32

7 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 06 December 2018 22:31 posted by Sort of proud RSG Parent

    I have a daughter at RSG and was excited to read about this proposal from the school. Then I read your article. Selfishly, like the school I can live with the problems it would cause to others if my youngest daughter benefits.However, will she? We are lucky to live near Fairview, a good school which offers a mix of boys and girls surely the best start for all children. I can see that other families are less fortunate and might therefore go for this. On balance I am against it

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 05 December 2018 23:27 posted by baffled

    Does this mean that a girl, in theory, may not ever speak to a boy, from the age of 4 to 18? Well-rounded? I don't think.
    Also more traffic, pollution in what is a very congested route already. It's obviously a large profit for TKAT but what about local impact. I'm a teacher and a parent and a local resident. I'm in disbelief.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 02 December 2018 21:46 posted by Another Primary Teacher

    It doesn't sound as if Governors bothered to seek any second opinion before coming up with this crackpot scheme. To quote the motto of the whole academy scheme: I'm All Right Jack and to hell with anyone else - children or schools.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 01 December 2018 21:40 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Not my real name as you will understand but I have supplied this. As a teacher in one of the primary schools local to RSG I thank Peter for exposing this potential scandal. Clearly TKAT and RSG do not care a fig for the consequences on other local schools of the withdrawal of a considerable proportion of girls from our classes. We work hard on discipline but this would make life so much more difficult. A disgrace to the education service, or it would be if they were not intent on destroying that term. I am losing what little faith I have that schools are here for the benefit of children, rather than of those that run them. If this goes through I won't be the last to leave what was once a profession I was proud of.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 28 November 2018 19:33 posted by Farnham Girls Parent

    What an appalling story Thank you Peter for exposing how TKAT a fairly dodgy Trust appears finally to have gone off it's head

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 28 November 2018 13:14 posted by Phillip Richards

    I Don't live in Kent but follow your free website avidly. Your well informed, superbly researched and comprehensive analysis outperforms anything else on the market. I recognise you are local to Kent but what you offer should be bottled and exported across the country. Congratulations and keep it up! I look forward to the next episode. PETER: Thanks for that. If you really wish to show your appreciation please feel free to make a small donation to support my work, here: https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/what-i-offer/donations.html

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 27 November 2018 21:16 posted by Jenny Little

    What a brilliant analysis of a foolish ambition. I have only one question. Why on earth did Rainham School for Girls not consult you, the acknowledged expert in such matters? It would have saved them from this embarrassing debacle.

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