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Friday, 28 December 2018 16:57

Rochester Grammar: Radical Change With Cash for Pupil Premium

The Rochester Grammar School (RGS) is proposing a radical change to its admission rules from September 2020. This follows the government decision to award some £3 million to each of 16 grammar schools including RGS, to enable them to expand on  condition that these schools have plans  to improve access for pupils on Pupil Premium  and to undertake effective partnerships with local primary schools and non-selective secondary schools, to contribute to improved educational outcomes across the wider system.

.Rochester Grammar

The school, which is part of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT), has gone out to Consultation to scrap its current academic super-selective status which sees the great majority of its pupils selected through high scores. It plans to become a school that gives admission priority to girls on Pupil Premium from 2020. Then, after several smaller categories (below) it will prioritise local children who have passed the Medway Test no matter what their scores. Given that the Trust runs two Medway grammar schools and has proposed identical admission criteria for both, except that the other school, Holcombe Grammar, is to give no priority whatever to Pupil Premium, so this does not appear a principled decision,  

I look at wider aspects of local implications of the grammar school expansions in a separate article

The proposal is very similar to the new rules already adopted by Rainham Mark Grammar last year, who may therefore have ruled themselves out of the new scheme, being unsuccessful bidders on this occasion. As a result, there will be no element of super-selection anywhere in Medway grammar schools, with local children having priority for the greater proportion of places.  

I am delighted to learn of this proposal, having frequently criticised RGS for its elitist image in the past and successfully challenged the 2019 proposals which headed off in a completely different direction. They gave no indication of this sudden turnabout less than a year later, suggesting it has been led by the financial rewards more than a complete change of heart. This government approach by carrot rather than stick may of course have been the intention.

Pupil Premium
There are various interpretations of Pupil Premium, but that of RGS is as follows:
1) Children currently registered as eligible for free school meals
2) Children who have been registered as eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years
3) Children whose parent(s) are serving in the regular UK armed forces
4) Children of ex regular UK armed forces personnel who were serving in the last 3 years  Children where at least one parent died while serving in the UK armed forces and the child is in receipt of a pension under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) and the War Pensions Scheme (WPS).
 
The Proposal
This consultation comes to an end on 30th January 2019, with the Admission Authority finalising the rules by 28th February.
 
The following is a summary of the full rules for allocating the places on offer, if the school is oversubscribed. You should consult these if relevant to you.
If the number of applications for admission to the Academy is greater than the Published Admissions Number (PAN) of 205, places will be allocated in the following priority order after any children for whom the school is named in an Education Health Care Plan (previously the statement of SEN) are offered places:  
1)Places will be allocated firstly to current and previously Looked after Children (address irrelevant)
2) Pupils eligible for Pupil Premium, see below for definition (address irrelevant).  
3) Children with siblings attending the academy
4) Children attending any Thinking Schools Academy Trust primary school.
5) Children of staff employed by the academy
6) Health Reasons with medical evidence as to why the child needs to attend RGS
7)Children living closest to the school as measured by the Medway GIS system. Please note this measures distance using known roads and paths.
 
The main potential problem with criterion two is that because address is irrelevant, places may be claimed by PP girls who live anywhere. Many other grammar schools avoid this problem by setting up an inner and an outer area for admissions with PP children having priority in each area separately. 
 
Consequences
It won’t be until 28th February at the latest that the school will be locked into the new system, and there will inevitably be resistance from non-local families who have traditionally taken up places for high scorers. However, this proposal shows a complete turnaround in attitude by the school and has government support through the expansion grant, so it is most unlikely to fall.

I remain puzzled by the funding to ‘expand the school’  for the intake of 205 will have been the same as in the past two years. Presumably government has accepted that because the formal Published Admission Number has remained at 175 it is indeed a technical expansion. 

For 2018 entry, 81 of the 205 places offered went to girls from outside Medway, 47 of them from Kent. For several years to come, siblings of these girls will have priority, but this number will diminish annually.

There has been a surplus of grammar school places for girls in Medway for some years, so there is no need for expansion. Two of the schools, Fort Pitt and RGS are both considerably oversubscribed, as is the mixed grammar Rainham Mark. The gap is at Chatham Grammar for Girls (CGSG) where there were 60 vacancies for its 142 places on allocation last March. However, by the October census this had shrunk to 27 vacancies due to successful appeals and late applications including some from out of county.  

The new RGS criteria are going to see the out of county numbers fall sharply, except for girls living nearby in Kent, to the west and south of Medway possibly expanding to villages such as Higham, Shorne and Wouldham. This would be in parallel with the also heavily oversubscribed neighbouring boys school, Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School. It would, however, hit CGSG badly except that the school is likely to be compensated by some of the displaced RGS pupils from Kent and London and one can see the school’s admission strategy adjusting to tackle this.

However, the biggest challenge may be the current ethos and reputation of RGS. The most recent criteria for 2019 make no mention whatever of disadvantage, and there will be much to do to change from chasing high performance from the ablest pupils with those unable to meet the school’s high standards too often casualties of the school. It is indicative that 24 girls left the school at the end of Year 11 this summer, although the eight that left at the end of Year 12 is a much lower number than before I exposed the scandal of illegal academic expulsion in 2016, when 24 left half way through the Rochester Grammar A Level course*.  The school is now committed to supporting all girls who have passed the Medway Test or qualified through the Medway Review, including those with social disadvantage and I hope it will be ready for this. For some years to come, there will be two very different cohorts working through and the school ethos will come under considerable stress. This is no criticism of the proposal as such, merely pointing out the stresses that will need to be managed. 

Holcombe Grammar School
There is one other Medway grammar school that now stands out for the extraordinarily high rate of pupils leaving A level courses half way through at or before the end of Year 12 this summer. This is Holcombe Grammar School, which saw 30% of the sixth form cohort leave, or 30 pupils (mainly boys with some girls).  If any of these students were not allowed to carry on into Year 13 as I suspect, to achieve this rate of attrition then then the school has behaved illegally. If not, what on earth has caused these students to leave voluntarily half way through their course. 

Holcombe Grammar has now published its own consultation on oversubscription criteria for 2021. After the multiple blunders for 2019 entry, which I exposed in a series of articles earlier this year, the Thinking Schools Academy Trust has decided to play safe and has simply copied the RGS criteria over for Holcombe, but with one exception.  If TSAT was serious about supporting disadvantaged children, surely they would want the same rules in both their grammar schools, but the proposed criteria for Holcombe contain no mention whatever of priority for children with Pupil Premium!

Final Thought 
Take the Holcombe criteria in conjunction with a previous article I wrote earlier this year entitled ‘Holcombe Grammar: Another Plan to Change Character’ and I leave browsers to draw their own conclusions as to the real motives of TSAT for the various changes they are making in their schools.  
Last modified on Wednesday, 30 January 2019 17:29

3 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 03 January 2019 11:31 posted by Richard S

    If they haven't changed Trustees they haven't changed elitist culture. I pity those who don't fit in.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 02 January 2019 13:09 posted by Alison Kennedy

    In an age where the vast majority of pupils that pass the eleven plus are, to some degree, tutored privately, I fail to see how many students eligible to receive PP will actually pass when many surely can’t afford the tuition. Am I missing something here? What sort of percentage are we talking about? PETER: Impossible to answer! Don't forget that for a high proportion of those tutored, it is irrelevant as they would pass anyway. This will also be true of PP children. RGS may have the lowest proportion of PP children at 8%, but that is one still one in every 12, higher than many would expect and capable of being improved with some of the strategies advocated in the KCC paper. Removal of the ;high scores' barrier will itself see this proportion increased.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 01 January 2019 20:13 posted by Ex RGS Parent

    What an arrogant school. Our daughter did not fit in as we weren't able to keep her in the expected style and is now a changed girl. She left at 16 as soon as she was able. How can this school deliver for Medway all-comers. don't they know that some of us live in terraced houses!

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