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Tuesday, 17 September 2019 12:31

Another Futile Attack on Weald of Kent Annexe

Note: I have updated this article again, amending part of it relating to grammar school provision in the Whitstable/Herne Bay area in blue below.

I was interviewed on BBC SE last week, and KMTV this evening about the latest scheme dreamed up by Comprehensive Future and Joanne Bartley to destabilise the now well-established, Weald of Kent Grammar School Annexe in Sevenoaks, although the main target is probably to damage the chances of the proposed new annexe in Whitstable/Herne Bay intended to meet the needs of this rapidly growing area. 

Apparently the organisation is ‘looking into the possibility’  of seeking legal advice on its false claim that the Annexe is a separate school, although the two bases, like other split site schools in Kent, share the same headteacher and governors, with staff and leadership operating across the two sites, with the same culture and curriculum, and most importantly 360 children already in the annexe who know they are ‘Weald of Kent’  girls. However, the crunch legal argument that most easily disposes of the false claim is likely to be that separate schools have to have separate admission schemes. The Weald of Kent Grammar Admission process  makes it crystal clear that applications and offers of places are made to the school with no reference to preferred site, the same arrangement as for other split site schools in Kent.  

‘A new grammar school has been created in Sevenoaks and it is illegal. There is no other way in which the Weald of Kent’s ‘satellite’ may be viewed’
(Quote from Comprehensive Future).

The Weald of Kent annexe will not be illegal until and if the courts pronounce it so, and the likelihood of that appears negligible. Clearly, there must be a short sightedness that stops alternative views being taken, for they certainly exist and stand up.

This as they say is 'fake news’ missing the essential ingredient of legal authority, probably with the main target of halting the provision of sufficient grammar school places for children in the rapidly expanding areas of Whitstable and Herne Bay, as emerges from the pronouncement of the organisation.  Update: My own view is that whereas it was relatively easy for Weald of Kent to set up a single admission policy to embrace both sites, this would be far more difficult for the oversubscribed Queen Elizabeth's in particular to do. If it were to keep its geographical proximity filter, there are problems wherever this is fixed. For Barton Court which is also slightly oversubscribed with first choices, the best point of reference would perhaps be the extremely strange one of choosing somewhere  in the country between Canterbury and Herne Bay. There may well be a solution but it needs to be put on the table, when the illegality argument would once again vanish. 

Surely, given that Kent is a selective authority, committed to providing places to all children identified as of grammar school places,  Comprehensive Future  should first suggest an alternative scheme to meet the very real need for girls’ grammar school provision in Sevenoaks whilst selection remains official policy, with 90% of girls offered places at Weald of Kent this September being local to the area. Personally, I would have thought it best to get the legal advice before running yet another scare story, for the organisation and Jo Bartley, now its Campaigns Officer, have tried and failed many times previously over the past four years to get rid of or destabilise the annexe. I have lost count of the numerous published FOIs to for example schools, KCC, Weald of Kent and government seeking to probe weaknesses, all without success.  You will find the most recent here, relating to the Annexe Consultation at Queen Elizabeth's. 

Without the annexe there would certainly be a serious imbalance of imbalance of selective places in West Kent where there are 580 places available for boys, the vast majority from Kent, as Judd and Skinners have changed their admission rules to give priority for Kent boys in return for new buildings enabling them to expand, and Tunbridge Wells Boys also expanding. These initiatives have enabled a total of 580 places allocated for this September, the vast majority to local boys. This would have been matched by a chronic shortage of places for girls, with just 500 available for the year group this September if there had been no annexe  

KCC has also tried to keep the balance for non-selective schools, the new Trinity School on the same site as the Weald Annexe providing another 180 places and Knole Academy expanding, although some children from Edenbridge were still offered places at High Weald Academy in Cranbrook. Meanwhile I have exposed the limitations of the Free School programme in Tunbridge Wells and previously, with no new school being possible in the near future to meet the current pressing need.

On the back of this non-news, Comprehensive Future attempts to sabotage what appears its main target; stopping the provision of additional grammar school places in Whitstable and Herne Bay. Two schools, Barton Court Grammar in Canterbury and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar in Faversham have made bids to set up an annexe  under the Selective Schools Expansion Fund , previously discussed here (with links to other articles). At present, as pointed out by Jo Bartley in the comment below and in my 2018 article, there are sufficient places in the District, aided by the expansion this year of Simon Langton Boys Grammar in Canterbury to create 30 extra places for boys. This is a case that could of course have been put by Comprehensive Future but has not.  

By all means campaign against the existence of grammar schools as a whole, or of new grammar schools in currently comprehensive areas, but it is wholly wrong to try to damage the current selective system and the education offered by publishing ‘fake news’ stories in this way. Sadly, as I have demonstrated previously, this is not an uncommon tactic. Spot the errors in the linked article!  

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 October 2019 09:37


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 18 September 2019 12:04 posted by Nuala Burgess

    I was surprised by the personal tone of your attack on Jo Bartley, a long-valued member of Comprehensive Future’s steering committee. Comprehensive Future has long campaigned against the unfairness of selective education and the creation of annexes as a ‘back door’ route into creating illegal new grammar schools. Arguments that there is a shortage of grammar school places in Kent are spurious. What you mean is that people such as you want more grammar schools, not that there is an intrinsic demonstrable need. Or, are you suggesting that more children pass the 11 plus than there are grammar school places? In which case, we should build more schools that cater for every child. CF campaign to put a stop to the 11 plus test because it is an unfair way to organise admission to secondary school. It also puts enormous pressure on parents in selective areas who are understandably anxious to get their children into a what they believe is a ’good’ school. The 11 plus tests are also hugely unfair on all the children whose families cannot afford coaching. We know that every parent wants the best for their child. We would have hoped that a former head of school who must know therefore, know how rich and diverse young people’s talents, abilities and interests are, would be supportive of an education system which is inclusive and fair to all children. Please may I suggest that you dignify your arguments against Comprehensive Future’s campaign against grammar school annexes by sticking firmly to educational debate and without resorting to personal attacks on Jo Bartley, a much-valued campaigner for a socially just education system. I do not expect you to publish this response, but for the sake of fairness, I hope you will. Sincerely, Dr Nuala Burgess, Chair, Comprehensive Future. PETER: I can find no personal attack on Jo Bartley in this article. She is named twice in reference to her impassioned and very public personal efforts to try and prove the Weald annexe illegal over the past four years including before she joined Comprehensive Future. It is not a value judgement about her to state that she has attempted to destabilise and show the annexe to be illegal over this time according to her beliefs, but it is factually correct. However, much more importantly, my article is primarily about your false assertion that the annexe is illegal without any evidence to prove this, apparently on the basis that if you shout loud enough it will be believed. Quite sensibly you choose not to address the case I make against this but prefer to make a personal attack on 'people like me' attributing to me false characteristics. I have never ever argued for more grammar schools. I have argued that if there is a selective system then the number of grammar school places should rise in proportion to the population rise. That is surely logical. For some reason your lengthy comment turns into a tirade about selection per se, although there is just the one reference to this in my article when I write: 'By all means campaign against the existence of grammar schools as a whole, or of new grammar schools in currently comprehensive areas'. Do not ascribe false views to 'people like me', as I believe you will not find these anywhere in the 900 pages of this website! P.S. What is there not to publish!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 17 September 2019 22:07 posted by Jo Bartley

    Dear Peter, just a couple of corrections to your piece.

    You appear to have changed your position on a need for selective places in Whitstable/Herne Bay in a way that must make your readers unsure which of your own takes is "fake" news.

    Your blog discussed the potential satellite on February 22nd of this year and stated, "there is no overall shortage of grammar places in the District." You even went on to describe how this proposal would weaken other local schools. I read similar quotes from you in the media.

    On your other point, we have indeed put forward alternatives to grammar places in Kent, based on the fact that children of grammar school 'standard' are thriving in non-selective schools in this particular area. This means parents are increasingly confident to choose these schools even when their child passes the Kent Test. The grammar streams of schools like Herne Bay High, The Whitstable School and Canterbury Academy are doing really well. The heads of these schools are all opposed to an 'annexe' school in their area, no doubt because of the shift it will mean in their own school demographics.

    Indeed two heads even spoke to the press to say this 'annexe' will lead to a Canterbury district school closure. One of them also asked the Regional School Commissionar to check KCC school place planning numbers partly because too many pupils attend grammars, and also because a local grammar serving his town was taking excess amounts of pupils on appeal.

    There is no NEED for more grammar places in any area of Kent. If a high attaining child can be given suitable provision for their needs in non-selective schools this simply works. In this case it makes no more sense to enter into a multimillion plan to meet a parental preference for a selective school than to work for parental prefence for a faith school, a single sex school or a school for pupils with ginger hair.

    The council's own stated aim is 28% attending selective schools, and this figure is busted in almost every area of Kent. The appeals process is used to suit schools and increase selective places excessively. Though of course no one at KCC has interest in checking any of this, and none of the schools applying to expand care about keeping selection to its traditional percentage. This rather makes a nonsense of the whole process. PETER: Thanks Jo for your well argued and courteous comment, the first part of which I agree with. I am afraid I got caught up with the main point of my argument, the nonsense of claiming that the Weald of Kent annexe is a separate school from the main site, when it clearly isn't, with all applications being for the school as a whole and offers made on that basis, there being no way of applying for a specific site, being the same arrangement with all split site schools in the county. I am sorry, but there would have been a clear shortage of grammar school places for West Kent girls without the annexe, the appropriate form of education for for the most able pupils in a selective system.

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