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Friday, 28 December 2018 18:49

Pupil Premium Grammar School Expansion: Kent and Medway (revised)

Revision of Previous Article
Kent County Council has been highly pro-active in promoting grammar school opportunities for pupils on Pupil Premium which has no doubt contributed to the fact that over three quarters of its 32 grammar schools already make provision for this in their Admissions Policies. Kent now appears to have been punished for its success in following government policy!

Medway Council appears not have noticed the shift in priorities and as a result just one out of the six grammar schools currently has a relevant policy. Certainly, there is no evidence that Rochester Grammar, the one local school offered funds for expansion in return for developing a social mobility policy, has ever shown any interest before in such a development. Further, such an expansion when Medway has a large surplus of grammar school places for girls, appears pointless, and could place Chatham Grammar School for Girls at risk through lack of numbers as explained here. It in turn is now chasing London girls and so should survive. 

I look below at issues in Kent and Medway in more detail. 

I don’t know the details of plans for all the successful schools, although I have prepared a separate article looking at the astonishing turn around for The Rochester Grammar. You will, however, find a list of their names here, along with some examples of the incentives offered.

Targets will be set, although it is difficult to see what sanctions can be applied if schools fail to meet these as the new buildings will then be in place. I have not looked across the country to see if there are any patterns in the successful schools, but the contrasts between Kent and Medway are quite stark.

You will find a full list of applicants here. Those in Kent are: Cranbrook; Highworth; Skinners; Tunbridge Wells Boys; Wilmington Boys and Girls; together with Rochester and Rainham Mark in Medway. I have looked at most of these possibilities and rationale in several previous articles, most recently here. Each of these schools is under pressure to expand. 

Pupil Premium
Most of the Kent grammar schools support funding for children in receipt of Pupil Premium (PP). This includes children who: are recorded as having received Free School Meals at some time in the previous six years (Ever 6 FSM); Looked After or previously Looked After children; or in receipt of a Children’s Pension from the Ministry of Defence. You will find a more precise government definition here. Some schools use a slightly different criterion offering priority to pupils currently on Free School Meals (FSM).
Oversubscription Criteria
These vary widely from school to school, with several specialised categories coming at the top. Looked after and formerly Looked After Children will always have the first claim on places in all schools, although I remain surprised at the small proportion of carers who choose to exercise that claim to gain access to the most popular schools, especially non-selectives. Other priority categories may include: children on PP or FSM; siblings; children with health reasons requiring attendance at a particular school; children of staff at the school; and children from linked primary schools.  Where these apply, they can appear in any order although for secondary schools they will never fill the number of places available. Other priorities further down the list may refer to the distance from the school, residence in particular areas or places allocated according to Kent or Medway Test scores.
You will find a full list of admission criteria for 2019-20 for each school here, and new proposals for 2020-21 here

The 24 grammar schools offering some form of social mobility encouragement encompass a variety of plans. These include 12 who offer a blanket PP priority such as Dartford Girls’, together with Borden  and Queen Elizabeth’s both offering FSM priority, but in slightly different ways, and Weald of Kent that offers a maximum of 18 PP places. A further seven offer priority to PP or FSM children living in a priority area defined by the school for its general admissions, such as Maidstone Grammar which sub-divides its priority area into two, one for high scorers (when all would get in) and one for other boys (who should also all get in). Tunbridge Wells Boys places PP pupils in each of its two priority areas and also outside these at the top of the category. 

The other three are super-selective schools, all offering a set number of places to the highest achieving pupils on PP or FSM, such as Judd School with 5 places on offer to the five highest scoring FSM boys.

Just seven grammar schools offer no priorities: Dane Court; Dartford; Folkestone School for Girls; Harvey (these last two Folkestone schools, however each offer a large number of places to passing through the alternative Shepway Test with both having amongst the highest proportion of Ever 6 FSM pupils in the grammar school sector in Kent); Mayfield (also admitting extra pupils through the Mayfield Test), proposing FSM priority for 2020-21; Norton Knatchbull; and Simon Langton Boys. 

Kent Grammar Schools:
Highest and Lowest Proportions of Ever 6 FSM (2016-17)
 School  % 
Chatham & Clarendon 17.6   Skinners 1.9
Dover Boys 14.9   Judd 2.0
Dane Court 13.8   Cranbrook 2.6
Dover Girls 13.1    Tonbridge 2.9 
Harvey 11.3    Tunbridge W Girls 3.8
Folkestone Girls 11.0   Weald of Kent 4.3 
 Wilmington Boys 10.4   Maidstone  5.5
 Highsted 10.3   Simon Langton Girls 5.6

The six schools with the highest  percentage of Ever 6 FSM comprise all the East Kent grammars apart from Sir Roger Manwoods. The four Folkestone & Dover Schools all operate alternative local tests which should explain the high figures. All serve areas of high social deprivation, especially the two Thanet schools. The six schools with the lowest percentage are all in West Kent. Three are super-selective. Five of the West Kent grammars have recently changed their oversubscription criteria to give some priority to Pupil Premium children, so one would expect to see these percentages increase over the next few years. 

 The six schools with the highest  percentage of Ever 6 FSM comprise all the East Kent grammars apart from Sir Roger Manwoods. The four Folkestone & Dover Schools all operate alternative local tests which should explain the high figures. All serve areas of high social deprivation, especially the two Thanet schools. The six schools with the lowest percentage are all in West Kent. Three are super-selective. Five of the West Kent grammars have recently changed their oversubscription criteria to give some priority to Pupil Premium children, so one would expect to see these percentages increase over the next few years.

The national percentage is 29.1%. It is totally unsurprising that the grammar school average of approximately 10%  is much lower, as the average proportion of Ever 6 FSM children achieving higher KS2 results is lower than for the general population, and so the two are not comparable. Please note that this does not discount the demonstrable fact that too many able PP children do not achieve their full potential, and so are not selected for grammar school. This is what the KCC policy and the actions of many grammar schools are about. What is needed is an incentive, or a pressure to get the remainder to follow suit along with creating a positive attitude in all primary schools, rather than this bribe which will do nothing for the majority of grammars not  involved in the scheme. 

So where do these decisions leave Kent, with increases in its population creating serious pressure points, as it tries to provide 25% coverage of grammar school places across the county? It also has to manage the additional pressure of out of county children seeking Kent grammar places with no control of academy provision.  I have written about these issues several times before, with regard to grammar school expansion here, and looking at pressure on places here. Yes, the number of grammar school places has increased with self-funding, money from KCC (often in return for PP policies) or from government under different financial headings. However, current schools cannot expand indefinitely, some with restricted space cannot expand at all (for example the two Wilmingtons'). Unless government policy changes to allow new schools, KCC will be unable to offer places to all Kent children found suitable for grammar school. This scheme does not address this serious issue. 

Case Study: The Wilmington Grammar Schools.
The two schools have recently changed their oversubscription criteria to give priority for most of their places to local Kent children, in spite of enormous pressure from London boys and girls, turning away 137 first choices between them, and much higher numbers of second choices. Many North West Kent grammar qualified children received no grammar school offer, but eventually won places at the Gravesend grammars on appeal. Both schools have amongst the highest percentage of Ever 6 FSM children in Kent grammars, likely to be already rising following the new criteria. Both are on space limited sites, so little room for successful appeals - 11 out of 211 between them for 2018.  Both give priority to local PP children. The massive ongoing expansion of the Ebbsfleet housing development is placing massive pressure on all six local grammar schools and there will inevitably be much greater challenges in the coming years. The two schools submitted an imaginative expansion plan for the scheme, enabling the schools to expand from five forms of entry to six, by re-locating the joint sixth form provision to another local site. This has now been removed from the website following the failure to win the bid.
On allocation of secondary school places in March, there were 60 available grammar places left empty, all at Chatham Grammar School for Girls. 109 places were offered to girls from outside Medway, 81 of these at The Rochester Grammar School (RGS). There is a shortage of places for boys. You will find an article covering Medway offers here.

The only Medway grammar school offering relevant admission priority is Rainham Mark Grammar School, which offers places to grammar qualified children on FSM, irrespective of place of residence, although most other places at this oversubscribed school go to boys and girls living nearest. This follows a recent complete change from priority for high scorers irrespective of residence. Like the Kent schools, Rainham Mark appears to have been penalised for its success, having introduced the proposed RGS scheme two years too early. 

Medway Grammar Schools:
Highest and Lowest Proportions
of Ever 6 FSM (2016-17)
  School   %
Holcombe 13.8
Fort Pitt 12.9
Chatham Girls 11.9
Rainham Mark 9.7
 Sir Joseph W's 8.1 
 Rochester  8.0 

It is no surprise that of the two TSAT schools, Holcombe appears to be trying to lose its basis for prioritising local boys by restricting numbers, falsely claiming at appeals that the pass standard is much higher, and twice failing in its attempts to turn the school co-educational, the issues at RGS being explored below. The new criteria now being introduced contain no plans to prioritise Pupil Premium boys. 

The Rochester Grammar School
I have written a second article analysing the RGS bid in some detail, which you will find here.
At present it has no priority for girls on PP, or any indication that it encourages them. The school has just lost a challenge by me to the Information Commissioner seeking to give preference to girls connected with the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT), but not the school, showing its different priorities.

The proposed criteria will see extra girls drawn from within Medway, which will inevitably hit Chatham Grammar School for Girls (see below) with possible dire consequences. Is this really what the scheme is about?

Chatham Grammar School for Girls
Chatham Grammar has had a torrid time in recent years, suffering from poor management until taken over by the University of Kent Academy Trust. Some factors were recently covered here, but the two rightly failed bids by Holcombe Grammar, also of TSAT, to go co-ed and attract girls away from Chatham Girls would also have threatened the school’s future. Does TSAT have an agenda to get rid of Chatham Girls?

The school has considerable potential under its new management to rebuild its reputation as a good school serving its local community. Now it appears that government wants to undermine that future and close the school. Surely that is quite the opposite of what this scheme is about. However, Chatham Girls does have a 'Get out of Jail Free' card, in that it it is also looking to out of Medway girls to make up its numbers, the whole making Brexit look quite simple! 

Kent County Council should be protesting strongly about the message this inappropriate decision sends out. 
Last modified on Saturday, 23 January 2021 05:26

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