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Tuesday, 30 April 2019 11:27

Medway Council vote for new Grammar School: oblivious of the facts.

Update: Given the decision of The Rochester Grammar School (RGS) to switch totally from recruiting high scorers to local children (see below), if nothing else changes Chatham Grammar School For Girls (CGSG) will come under pressure but can solve its problems by recruiting London girls (many of whom would previously have gone to RGS). There is an alternative. If  CGSG were to become co-educational, then all problems of capacity for boys and over provision of places for girls will be resolved! No new grammar needed anyway, as explained below. 

Medway Council has voted to support a bid for a new grammar school or satellite grammar in the Authority, apparently oblivious of the current data on grammar school places, with a large surplus in girls school places, due to get even larger next year when Rochester Grammar abandons its super selective status to give priority to local girls. Whilst the two boys schools are both full on allocation this year, this is achieved because of 82 offers to boys from outside Medway at the two schools, 48 from London. As my article on Medway grammar school allocations this year confirms, 23% or nearly a quarter of all grammar school places, went to children from outside Medway.  

I give below the full picture of allocations for Medway grammar schools in September 2019, which should surely have been placed in front of councillors to enable them to reach a rational decision! Unfortunately, the decision shows the Councillors could not have been aware of the facts. Yet another example of what I have previously called Medway Madness.

Unsurprisingly as I forecast elsewhere, I am hearing of children of families moving into Medway who are being penalised by the unlawful decision of Medway Council not to test them for grammar school entrance, as in my previous article. Another Medway grammar school issue has now been brought to my attention in that a number of boys and girls were offered places at Chatham Girls and Rochester, but who were not grammar qualified  have now had those places withdrawn. I look at this further below.

Does no one on the Council care about education????

There are two main two grammar provision problems in Medway. Firstly, there is the gender disparity in numbers of places. The co-educational Rainham Mark Grammar gives equal priority to boys and girls, recruiting locally. Other than this, however, there are three girls' grammars but only two for boys. This gives a total of 505 places for girls and just 325 for boys!  This disparity will be exacerbated from 2020 onward, when The Rochester Grammar School scraps its super selective status in favour of local girls, in order to benefit by £3million from the 2018 government award. A high proportion of the money will go to increase its admission number by another thirty places. This will hit Chatham Grammar for Girls hard. Secondly, the influx of children from London Boroughs unable to access the six grammar schools in Dartford and Gravesham because of pressures there, simply disguises much but not all of the surplus.   

Thus we have the bizarre situation of Medway Council voting to increase numbers in its undersubscribed grammar school sector, whose main benefit will be to offer places to even more London children. If there is no pressure on places, the main way of supporting disadvantaged pupils will be to offer a lower pass mark in the Medway Test, a highly controversial move allowing in pupils not of a grammar school standard.   

Medway Grammar School Allocations for September 2019
  Places Available Offers Out of Medway Offers Medway Offers
Chatham Girls 180 134 75 59
Fort Pitt 150 150 2 148
Holcombe 150 150 67 83
Rainham Mark 205 205 13 222
Sir Joseph Williamson's 203 203 15 187
The Rochester 175 175 74 101
TOTALS 1063 1017 246 800

The 2019 grammar school expansion scheme made no provision for additional places to be provided through an annexe to a current school or by a new free standing grammar school. These are the two ways forward proposed by Medway Council, the second one being unlawful under current legislation. The schemes that were approved instead all appear to be straight forward expansions, such as the one at The Rochester Grammar School which is going to have far reaching effects across the grammar school sector.. The only grammar school annexe of this nature currently in existence, is the one at Weald of Kent which has had to be created in the image of the main school, and was funded by a different route. Although there is no case to be made for additional boys' places, as there is a large amount of additional capacity at Holcombe Grammar for Medway children who have priority on distance grounds, it could be argued that provision for boys and girls should be equal. An enlargement of the oversubscribed Sir Joseph Williamson's merely raids Holcombe grammar that will then be forced to admit an even larger number of London boys. However, now that Sir Joseph Williamson's is run by the Leigh Academy Trust from Dartford it is difficult to predict their attitude. An enlargement at Holcombe Grammar should not be considered, given its appalling track record for managerial incompetence, summarised here.  

I suppose there is the possibility that Rainham Mark, Medway's only mixed grammar school, and situated in the East of the Authority could have been approached to set up a mixed annexe further West, but this would only exacerbate the issue with a surplus of girls. Then there is the possibility of a Kent grammar coming in to provide. The possibilities are endless but surely the probability needs to be nil.

A few years ago, the Thinking Schools Academy Trust made a strange proposal to make the situation worse by making one of its schools, Holcombe Grammar co-educational, increasing the surplus of girls places, and putting pressure on boys provision by reducing boys places. Perversely this was supported by Medway Council, whilst I appeared the only person to challenge it, successfully as it turned out. My suggestion to make another of their schools,The Rochester Grammar, co-educational which would have the reverse effect of evening up provision between boys and girls was unsurprisingly ignored!

Chatham Grammar Girls and Holcombe Grammar
There has been an error in the allocation of some places to these two schools, with ten children being offered places who were not grammar qualified. Now the mistake has been found out, the places have been withdrawn. In a rational sense this could simply be argued as a technical error, and there is no injustice as families presumably put those schools down expecting to appeal after being rejected This does not take account of the distress caused by having a place withdrawn six weeks after being told the child was going to grammar school, some families having assumed that there must have been an additional method of assessment which found them eligible.

However, this has proved a major problem for some, as they could have lost their other choices as a consequence, although I understand from KCC that they have negotiated the restoration of the correct offers that should have been made on National Offer Day, had there not been an error.  Some have also lost the opportunity to appeal for Chatham Grammar Girls at the correct time, although they will not be disadvantaged as there will still be places available. 

The problem has only occurred at these two schools where admission is by success at either the Medway Test or the Kent Test. KCC has confirmed it made an error in sending through some wrong data about the Kent Test results to Medway. It is most unfortunate that this was not acted on swiftly leading to an unnecessarily long delay in correcting it. This also meant that some children who had not taken the Kent Test were still wrongly informed they had a grammar place. 

I have previously come across the problem of places offered in error and then withdrawn, coincidentally only at Medway schools. In one case, the family pushed the matter as far as they could, then took legal advice, but were unsuccessful in reversing the decision to withdraw the offer. The bottom line is that even if the Local Authority is responsible for the mistake, the child is not grammar qualified and so not entitled to a place without appeal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 24 June 2019 17:19

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