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Friday, 30 October 2020 05:09

What’s Happening at The Rochester Grammar School?

A few years ago, The Rochester Grammar School was one of the most oversubscribed grammar schools across Kent and Medway, with a strong sixth form and proud of its Thinking Schools philosophy. It has been the only Medway or Kent grammar school to be awarded generous government funds of some £3 million in the past two years through the Grammar School Expansion Fund in spite of a large number of other local applicants. In order to secure this funding, used primarily to expand its numbers, the school completely changed its entry requirements to give priority to girls attracting Pupil Premium and local girls. You will find here a full analysis of the scheme I wrote two years ago, but which is still valid today, as the school appears not to have addressed the issues I identified. The school has scrapped A-levels completely in favour of the International Baccalaureate this year. 

RGS

Outcomes
The proportion of girls joining the school in Year Seven in the first year of the scheme, who attract Pupil Premium for the school, has fallen by over a third from 9.2% to 5.9%. This is completely contrary to the aim of the funding. Even though priority is now given to local girls, only 165 of the 253 places offered for September went to Medway girls, so the school is NOT oversubscribed, except for out of county pupils who take up the spare places.   
 
An even bigger shock is that only 46%, fewer than half of the school’s Year 11 girls in 2019-20, have stayed on into the Sixth Form this year, the second-lowest percentage of any grammar school in Kent and Medway. Even adding in students attracted from other schools, numbers have still plummeted from 87% in 2019 to 53%, with over 100 girls leaving to join the Sixth Forms of other local grammar schools.
Year Seven
According to Schools Week, Rochester Grammar School in Kent pledged to increase the proportion of pupils from deprived backgrounds to 16 per cent by next year. But the proportion of pupil premium pupils in year 7 fell from 6.7 per cent in 2017 to 5.88 per cent this year. A school spokesperson said: “Our strategy to increase the number of pupil premium students at the school started this month. Its positive impact will therefore clearly not be seen until next year’s year 7 intake’. 

Having had two years to prepare for this intake, I am amazed that RGS reports it only started a strategy to increase PP numbers last month. The school appears to be saying in this quotation that, having taken the money, it deliberately ignored its obligation for the 2020 intake. 

Medway has a high level of social disadvantage with 30% of the age group typically being on PP across the Authority, so the three key changes in the admission criteria should surely have seen a considerable increase on the number of PP children admitted this year.
1) The first of these changes was to introduce a PP priority for admission, for any girls who have passed the Medway Test, no matter where they live.
2) Secondly, the previous Medway Test high scoring criterion has been scrapped by the school and replaced by one giving priority to children living closest to the school.
3) Thirdly, an extra 60 children have been admitted by raising the Published Admission Number to 235, all the extras being Medway girls, as indicated by the data here.

Given these three changes, all of which applied to the cohort of girls admitted in September it is completely amazing and appalling that the proportion of PP girls has gone into reverse, and I explore possible reasons below.  

Data Collection
The actual number of Year Seven PP children for 2016-2018 has coincidentally been 17 in each of the three years when the school was super selective, according to Department for Education schools Census data, whereas for September 2020 admission just 14 girls in Year Seven qualified for PP. This is a decrease of over a quarter by proportion, taking the additional numbers into account. The wrong figure of 6.7% quoted by Schools Week, instead of the correct 8.3% for 2017 comes from Comprehensive Future, a pressure group that refuses to withdraw false data including this item, published on its website, as demonstrated here.
 
The figure of 165 children offered places from outside Medway is based on Medway Council data and is approximate as figures of less than five for the London Boroughs are not specified. This number will have changed by the time places are taken up, and some of the ooc places will have been awarded to younger siblings of girls already in the school, who also have a priority. It is possible also that some of the 14 PP places were taken up by ooc girls. 
    The Rochester Grammar School:
Pupil Premium Data
  Year 7 Roll Year 7 PP % PP
2016 179 17 9.5%
2017 204 17 8.3% (6.9%)*
2018 204 17 8.3%
2019 173 16   9.2%
2020 238 14 5.9%
 
* The false 6.9% comes from Comprehensive Future, which I have shown to be guilty of knowingly producing false data. 
For 2016 - 2018, I have used Medway Council census data, but amazingly Medway Council is now not interested enough to collect it (although Kent does).  I therefore applied to the DfE to the data and received it without difficulty (although one comment below wrongly suggests this is not possible!) I have made the assumption that the Comprehensive Future data for 2020 is correct this time, but it will take until next Spring before I can confirm it. For another Medway girls' grammar in trouble see Chatham Grammar, Desperate Advertising. 
 
Sixth Form
The table below shows the calamity of Sixth Form entry for 2020. The school Sixth Form Prospectus proudly states: ‘We are proud to be an International Baccalaureate World School, and have offered the IB Diploma since 2008. Due to the success of this pathway, from 2020 onwards we will only offer the IB Diploma, and will no longer be offering A levels’, although the staying on rate into the Sixth Form was already falling for several years as it became more dominant in the curriculum.
 
The Rochester Grammar School
Sixth Form   
October
Census
Year 12
Number
% Year 11
Over Year 12
2016  164  102% 
2017 173 90% 
2018 149  86%
2019 146  87% 
2020 105* 53%
Note: Data for 2016-19 comes from KCC official census figures. 
 * Data From RGS
 
The data shows a complete failure to sell compulsory International Baccalaureate to students unless other factors have played a part, or both apply. I have received messages from some since publishing this, including the comment below, angry about the way the compulsory change was suddenly announced at the end of Year 10 without consultation, leaving girls feeling they were unimportant. I have this year for the first time carried a survey of staying on rates into school Sixth Forms and will publish results in due course. RGS has the second-lowest rate of girls staying on into the Sixth Form of grammar schools in Kent and Medway at just 46% of its Year 11 roll (the 53% includes the 14 students admitted to the school from outside). The overall 53% was just ahead of Dover Grammar School for Boys and behind Chatham Grammar, the next lowest at 58% (although attracting a much larger proportion of sixth formers from other schools), then up to Highsted and Tonbridge grammar at 64%.  Next are three more grammar schools for girls, indicating another factor. Of the 106 girls who left RGS in Year 11, at least 82 joined other grammar schools in Medway and Kent, 34 transferring to Sir Joseph Williamson’s over the road.  
 
So what is the problem?
According to RGS, the reason for the low PP intake at Year Seven is that the school astonishingly and completely failed to have a strategy to attract such pupils in its first year after the changes, and this will presumably show up in the 2021 intake.

There is no doubt that the introduction of the compulsory IB will have played a considerable part in the Sixth Form debacle in a similar way to the low staying on rate at Tonbridge Grammar. However, Dartford Grammar, the third wholly IB school in Kent and Medway, has a very different pattern with 84% of its Year 11 staying on and 181 students being admitted from other schools, 99 from grammar schools including 15 from RGS.

Neither of these sets of data completely explain the problem with the school and its image. Over the years I have learned much about how the school is seen by clients. I live just outside Medway and so also know families personally whose daughters have attended Rochester Grammar, several of whom are from the cohort who took GCSE last summer and have now transferred elsewhere, or who are coming up to it this summer and are looking to alternatives. I have for years had the view that the school best suits girls who are high performing, highly motivated and conformist. I have seen no evidence that the school has time for strugglers, too many of whom I have helped to find alternative schools, some having been positively encouraged to leave. I have gone out of my way to talk with families of older children this year who I know personally, admittedly a small sample. They and/or their daughters have reinforced this view, but additionally have commented on the school’s own view of its elitest superiority, it being a privilege for girls to attend and its focus being off-putting for ‘ordinary’ Medway girls.

It is now facing the difficult challenge of completely changing this ethos to attract girls whose background is very different and clearly has a long way to go at present. My previous article contains three particularly pertinent quotations:

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.

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.  I was completely wrong with this one and suspect that many ooc families have not yet realised the school is changing rapidly in character, and much of its prestige as an elite school will vanish. 

However, the biggest challenge may be the current ethos and reputation of RGS......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.

The Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) which started its existence at RGS, still its flagship school, is very proud that last year it was ranked by the Department for Education as the in the top academy trusts in the country for GCSE performance, and the best in Medway and the South East. With its four secondary schools including two grammars (the super-selective RGS and the massively controversial Holcombe Grammar), it probably has one of the highest proportion of selective schools in the country of any academy Trust and so this level of performance is to be expected. This is not an item about Holcombe, but the same earlier article contains: '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 (2021) contain no mention whatever of priority for children with Pupil Premium!' This website contains multiple times about the poor senior management of TSAT, including my six victories against RGS and Holcombe with the Schools Adjudicator. These blocked the proposed outrageous change of status at Holcombe (twice) and failed attempts to change oversubscription criteria, together with my challenge to potential illegal Sixth form expulsions at both schools. It is probably cruel to mention the biggest scandal, the departure of the excessively paid previous CEO in 2016, following multiple leadership issues. Her latest post is as Director of Education and Accounting Officer at Khalsa Academies Trust, although she is not mentioned on the Trust website.  

Postscript
Congratulations to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust Deputy Chief Executive Lee Miller who was Appointed MBE In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list last month for services to Education. 
Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2020 18:54

10 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 November 2020 20:24 posted by Christine

    Peter, I am very grateful that you have exposed the machinations of RGS. This is the important truth to grasp, not nitpicking technical bits whilst ignoring the reality that someone needs to be accountable for blighting the happiness of so many young people to the extent they want to be anywhere except RGS.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 November 2020 16:35 posted by out of county

    It looks like you’ve accidentally repeated 2017 figures for 2018.
    You can find the correct figures for children on roll at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-school-and-pupil-numbers.
    For 2018/19 you need the file "Schools_Pupils_and_their_Characteristics_2019_pupil_characteristics_UD.csv" which is in the zipped archive file.
    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/826253/Schools_Pupils_and_their_Characteristics_2019_Underlying_Data.zip.The DfE don’t break down figures for PP funding because it’s designed to manage PP funding and not monitor whether schools are being inclusive in the way they admit children. PETER: Unfortunately you are completely wrong. I have checked the data and coincidentally 2017 and 2018 figures are identical. Whilst from 2016-2018 I used Medway Council data, for some reason they have stoppped collecting it and advised me to approach the DfE for Jan 2020 data. This has now been provided without question, and i have updated my article accordingly

  • Comment Link Saturday, 07 November 2020 18:25 posted by chris

    I found the school to be very elitist and arrogant and was totally put off by their attitude. My daughter is now at a grammar school close by and is very happy and doing well. I am disappointed to hear that they have gained the funding and are not abiding by the rules.

  • Comment Link Friday, 06 November 2020 13:54 posted by Dedicated tutor

    I am an independent tutor who teaches students from various grammar schools. I find the quality of teaching at A level at RGS is appalling down to specific teacher. I feel sorry for those girls who are not being supported by the school and have to rely solely on private tutoring. Teachers need to think that whatever they do on the daily basis would decide the future of the children- either you make it or break it. Students will remember you either way but you would like to get remembered for good reasons. Put some effort in and do your job properly.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 03 November 2020 16:00 posted by Year 7 Parent (name provided)

    I am flabbergasted that even after £3 m funding to local children , they still continued to take on girls from outside Medway. My daughter has just started y7 at the RGS and I am shocked at the lack of empathy and care for the students, the poor communication and arrogance and its only been one term !

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 03 November 2020 09:58 posted by Ex parent

    I absolutely agree and would add that personality is not allowed, character, passion and humour does not have a place at RGS nor does pastoral care. I moved my child after 3 years of substandard teaching (10 maths teachers, 12 English teachers in that time and some pretty shocking science supply), archaic rules and an inability to work with the child to help them through life challenges. My child did not struggle academically but needed to feel as though she was wanted and valued. Her statement 'You don't know what it is like to go to a school where no teachers care about you, where you are not praised for doing well but jumped on immediately at the tiniest issue' did it for us and we moved her out of the school, far far happier in her new school, completing more work than at RGS and her grades are better too. Regret ever sending her there!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 03 November 2020 09:29 posted by Ex Staff Member RGS

    In summary: Utter Arrogance! This was also my experience.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 01 November 2020 05:36 posted by Year 12 RGS Parents

    Our daughter was and remains angry that the IB was forced on her Year Group without consultation or even the courtesy of telling them what was in the wind. She has stayed into the RGS Sixth Form at our request and because of the excellent teaching. However, we have endured endless rows over the matter especially as most of her friends have upped and gone.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 31 October 2020 17:11 posted by Alan from Ashford

    What I like most about your writings are the small titbits scattered through and the unwritten suggestions woven into the text. Ensures the interest is kept up. Ashford Grammar obviously trained you well!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 31 October 2020 13:09 posted by Happy parent of a happy Year 12 girl

    Spot on! Ordinary families (to use your term) and ordinary girls are made to feel inadequate. Our daughter is one of those 100 who have upped sticks, believing that the school is there for its own glory, rather than the welfare of the children. She is now very happy at the Math. I recommend this move to the current Year 11 girls.
    Well done.

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