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Friday, 06 May 2022 11:50

Proposal to Turn three Medway Grammar Schools Co-Educational is based on falsehood.

Index

Why are the changes being proposed?
(Heading in Consultation document). There may well be valid reasons for the schools to go co-educational, but this section of the Consultation mentions none of them. The Council has now veered away from issues I highlighted with the original document sent to Cabinet. In particular there is no mention of the capital costs, which included: ‘The Council will support the schools in bidding for a grant from the Selective Schools Expansion Fund (SSEF), which may assist in funding the capital works’, apart from a line in the final section. 

The first and presumably main reason given for change is that ‘To attend a grammar school, pupils must take the Medway test and be assessed as grammar. The current test process allows for a maximum of 25% of Medway pupils to attend a grammar school (23% plus up to 2% on review). This percentage could be increased, to allow more Medway pupils to go to grammar schools, but only if there is a more equitable split in the numbers of places available for boys and girls. The proposal allows for a minimum of 25% provision, whilst also providing better capacity for future growth in the local population and school cohorts’. What a nonsense! At least, after I criticised the failure to mention the Review process in the Cabinet article, which simply quoted a pass rate of 23%, the Review is now mentioned. What is not mentioned is that it never, ever comes anywhere near passing another 2%. This year there were fewer than nine successful Reviews out of 179 which should have seen another 72 children found selective if the target had been achieved. The gross unfairness of this process is explained here. According to Table One in the consultation document there are currently 83 boys from outside Medway who have taken up vacant spaces in Medway grammar schools, which rather makes the point. A few of these will be from Kent at Rochester Maths and Rainham Mark, who live close to the schools, the large majority from London filling up empty spaces at Holcombe. So there is no shortage of places for Medway boys whatsoever!

Then comes the underlying aim of the whole proposal, which I explored in my previous article that ‘This percentage could be increased, to allow more Medway pupils to go to grammar schools’ , the key is 'Allowing more Medway pupils to attend selective grammar schools will also reduce pressure on nonselective secondary schools. This will help make sure there are enough school places for all Medway pupils, whether they wish to go to grammar school or not'. In my previous article, I looked at the consequences of the Cabinet proposal to extend the selection rate from 23% to 28% to ease the pressures on non-selective places. So really nothing to do with the welfare of grammar school children. The Consultation has sought to downplay this gap by shrinking it to a range from 25% to 27%, but this is just an example and the level of increase is left open. On current figures an increase of 3%  would allow around a further 150 Medway children to be offered grammar school places, with plenty of space for them in at least one, so it will be popular with these families. However, it will denude the non-selective schools of their ablest children and so is hardly likely to be popular with them (but who cares?). There is also the question of whether the grammar schools or their children will benefit from a watering down of the curriculum to meet the needs of the 8% or more extra pupils at the lower end of the ability range admitted, which is surely questionable. But this is the only way that will help to make sure there are enough school places for all Medway pupils without expanding provision, although this idea was talked about in the Cabinet Paper.

And that is it, apart from the feeble ‘Pupils will not have to travel as far to go to school’, the Council apparently not having noticed that Medway is primarily a compact urban district, so hardly a problem, and there will inevitably be some who have to travel further. On the rural Hoo Peninsula girls are currently give a priority to Fort Pitt, and most boys can only secure places at Holcombe. Fort Pitt would now give access to some boys who wish to avoid Holcombe, if it is not overwhelmed by others living in the current main priority area of less than two miles from the school, or attending the linked primaries. So some girls living on Hoo may now be pushed out further to Holcombe or Chatham. The law of unintended consequences!

How will this affect the number of places?
A largely irrelevant question in view of my above analysis but: Currently, the lack of boy’s places limits the pass rate to 25% of the cohort’.  Clearly false as this year there was space for 200 ooc children at allocation. ‘Indeed, the outcome of the proposal is that more Medway Boys and Girls will be able to access a place at a grammar school’, confirming that the plan to raise the percentage who will be found selective is integral to the whole thing. The tables in this section look impressive but demonstrate nothing.
 
How will this impact Medway girls?
Yet again this contains section contains dishonest claims. ‘The Medway test pass rate is limited by the number of boys places available’.  Rubbish. As I have demonstrated, Holcombe is able to take in around 60 boys annually from outside Medway, a measure of the surplus places available. No, once again the true reason  for the proposal emerges ‘but this will also allow the pass rate to increase, allowing more Medway girls to attend a Medway selective school’. Completely false, as there are even now just 73 Medway girls allocated to Chatham Grammar for its 150 places in September. That is up to 77 girls’ places potentially available for local girls. The school did fill last year, but only by admitting another 38 girls on appeal, the 84% of appeals upheld being by some way the highest percentage in the whole county.

‘Having more mixed places makes the system more flexible’. Poppycock. As far as Hoo girls are concerned, it would certainly see the less popular Holcombe Grammar possibly the only accessible school when Chatham boys look towards Fort Pitt, with other possible, including unforeseen, pressures arising as parents make different choices. Indeed the last paragraph of this section gives the game away about a consequence of the proposed change: ‘For the desired outcome of more Medway boys and girls being able to attend a grammar school than currently do to be realised, parents will need to apply for a place appropriately. I.E., using all their preferences and not restricting the number of schools nominated on the application form. Parents of boys and girls will have five schools to name on their application form and it is recommended, to ensure a place is offered, that all five are used’. A very surprising but realistic warning to place in a consultation on changes in admission arrangements, but presumably the Council is covering itself. 

The Process
It is only in the final section that we learn that the Consultation is informal and has no status. This doesn’t even get mentioned in the title! At the conclusion, we are told that the Council Cabinet MAY decide to fund the proposal if it likes a Report on the consultation findings submitted to it, the only mention of finances from beginning to end. Then the three schools have to proceed on their own, making separate formal representations to the Regional Schools Commissioner.  If approved, the target date is to begin admitting a mixed Year Seven in each school  for September 2024. 

Finally: This document names the Regional Schools Commissioner as being the arbiter, but it appears that the independent Schools Adjudicator is still the final judge if a complaint is made, a route where I have had 100% success to date in challenging multiple admission change proposals for Medway schools including Fort Pitt, Holcombe and Rochester Grammar Schools: Schools Adjudicator Rejects Admission Criteria as Unlawful, and two more for Holcombe Grammar to become co-educational, the first here!

It is surely surprising that, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a political  challenge to the Council so far about the many incompetencies I have exposed since my first in 2009. Earlier this year I wrote ‘Medway: Supplement to my Review of Seventeen Years of Support for Families' which covers many of these, including my successes in many areas, excepting changes to the Medway Test and Review process. Perhaps now is the time!

It appears that the above is the whole case for a massive change in structure and considerable disruption at three Medway grammar schools at a time when all schools and their staff are highly stressed and overstretched following the last two Covid years. There is no mention of any improvement in the quality of education, except: 'There is no evidence that a school being single or mixed gender has a significant impact on attainment. It is more important that schools provide good quality education with a variety of learning opportunities, support for their pupils, and provide a more modern and inclusive education'. Of course this does not cover the necessary change in teaching style in grammar schools to cater for an increase in the ability range of pupils by 8%. And all this to ease the pressure on places in Non-selective schools, by taking their ablest pupils away from them.     

 


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Last modified on Wednesday, 29 June 2022 19:24

8 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 09 May 2022 23:06 posted by Parent

    We took our son out of Holcombe last year. The behaviour and the discipline in an attempt to control it had led to his being bullied. He is much happier now. God help any girls who volunteer to go into that atmosphere.

  • Comment Link Monday, 09 May 2022 19:09 posted by Ex Gordon Primary

    Isn't the problem that Holcombe Grammar is so unpopular and the Thinking Schools Academy Trust sees this as a solution to its troubles. The leopard won't change its spots and if parents of boys won't send their children to the school, why should parents of girls. The solution to all of this at a stroke is of course to make The Rochester Grammar mixed, but TSAT will never allow this to happen. Rather they will settle to b***** up the rest of the system. TSAT should be banned from running any schools.

  • Comment Link Monday, 09 May 2022 18:54 posted by Serving You

    Peter, Surely Medway Council cannot ignore this. You have said that an official Council document contains lies. To me the evidence appears conclusive. What next? PETER: In my experience, like Boris Johnson, the Council will always ignore inconvenient truths.

  • Comment Link Monday, 09 May 2022 11:36 posted by Medway taxpayer

    So what happens next? You have accused Medway Council of lying in its Consultation Document. This is a serious allegation. Are they going to deny it? PETER: On their previous record, I expect the Council to ignore the whole thing and carry on regardless. I have written to a number of Councillors to inform them of my charges. Early days so far, but I have had just the one response, not disagreeing with the facts I have published.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 08 May 2022 16:57 posted by Medway Parent

    Can I ask you to speculate further on the law of unintended consequences? PETER: My best guess is that The Math and Rainham Mark will become even more oversubscribed; Fort Pitt will also be oversubscribed with Medway children; Rochester Grammar may take in more Medway girls; Chatham Grammar won't be much worse off; and Holcombe will pick up Hoo children and then depend on Londoners. But only a guess! As to what happens if they try and fill the grammar schools by extending the ability range, that's getting a bit far even for me!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 07 May 2022 22:42 posted by Medway teacher

    Peter, you suggest that the proposal has come about because the Council wants to reduce the pressure on non selective schools., but the damage this will do to them by taking away their brightest children hardly compensates for this. As a grammar school teacher, I am not looking forward to taking less able children onto our fast track curriculum. No one will win. PETER: Your analysis is, I am afraid, correct.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 07 May 2022 22:37 posted by Medway Council Tax Payer

    This is shocking. It even makes Boris look good. What do you suggest can be done about these so called representatives of the people of Medway?. PETER: I have been trying to get the Council to take action on these matters for years, but it appears no one cares. Their Motto is 'Serving You'. Perhaps 'Self-Serving' would be better

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