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Wednesday, 29 June 2022 19:26

Medway Grammar Co-Ed Plans Update: Mainly More False Claims.

This is the fourth episode in my saga about incompetence, dishonesty, and flights of fancy as Medway Council attempts to prop up its proposal for supporting three local grammar schools to become co-educational. Each time the Council attempts to respond to issues raised in my coverage it scores more own goals!  A recent item published in Kent Online about my analysis produced a response which is no exception. The biggest falsehood this time comes in a sentence that ends with the ridiculous new reported claim that 'with the expected increase in pupil numbers over the next few years it (the Medway Test pass rate) will continue to decline if we do not create this extra capacity in the system'. There are just three problems with this very brief statement. I look at these and further examples of ineptitude below, together with a very surprising and sudden response to my fifteen year campaign to have the makeup of the current Medway Test changed, as it is not fit for purpose.

To assist browsers who may be unfamiliar with the Medway story over the past 12 years (and beyond), you will find a catalogue of some of my articles over this period here, highlighting many of the common themes. 

The first of the three problems in the statement above is that nearly a fifth of all places in Medway's grammar schools were left unfilled on allocation this March after Medway children were accommodated, although most were then taken up by children from outside Medway, including 81 from Bexley and Greenwich. It will therefore take many years of growth before there is a problem with capacity. Secondly, the proposal to make the three grammars co-educational does not add a single extra place to capacity so this is another false claim. Thirdly, the Medway Test pass rate at 23.11% is the highest since 2017, see here, so there has been no decline whatever in recent years, as claimed. The sole reason the selection process regularly identifies below the target 25% of the Medway peer group is because of the hopeless Medway Review process, which this year saw fewer than nine extra children selected against a target of 70. 

I have tried not to replicate issues examined in my previous articles in this article, but there are plenty of them, most recently here I appreciate that some of the reported views from Medway Council in the article, may not be the exact wording quoted. For further details of the failures of the Medway Test process go to Medway: Supplement to my 'Review of Seventeen Years of Support for Families'

Another nonsensical claim.
The first half of the  sentence in italics above began: ‘The proportion of pupils attending grammar schools across Kent and Medway varies considerably by area, with some areas of Kent, it claims, as high as 40%. It says, in contrast, Medway’s selective cohort at 23-25% currently is comparably low’. 

It is unfortunate that the hapless individual who wrote this rubbish betrays such a complete failure to understand the system that s/he contrasts two very different measures which are not at all comparable. To be clear, the Kent selection procedure identifies 25% of the population as suitable for grammar school for the whole county although unsurprisingly the pass rate varies in different districts of the county in the same manner across Medway, as can be seen here. This is the same level as the target Medway procedure, although the latter's perennially failing Review process drags the selection rate down.  The Medway Test pass rate was 23.11%, very close to the same figure that it has been for the past 15 years at least, and slightly higher than at any time since 2017. Fewer than five Medway boys and five girls were successful at Review this year (against a target total of 70), the exact number not being provided because of the rules about small numbers. 

Both of these are very different from the number of pupils who attend grammar schools as measured in the October schools census  and explained below, so there is no point of contrast or comparison. There is no indication of who the person is who is described as ‘it claims’, in the above, but as I believe I am the only person who collects and has published data in this area (the Local Authorities don't), I presume it must have been me. I have certainly explored the effect of successful appeals and Local Tests (for admission to six Kent schools serving areas with high levels of social deprivation) on numbers arriving in schools the following September. 

To take one of the most extreme examples, Chatham Grammar School. For entry last September, 106 children were offered places of whom 49 were from outside Medway, including 20 from Greenwich and 15 from Bexley. Many of the latter are likely not to follow through, subsequently gaining places at schools nearer to where they live. Some of these children will not have passed the Medway Test, as 16 children gained places through entry by the Kent Test which is accepted as an alternative (there were 37 at Holcombe). Because the school is so short of pupils it encourages appeal panels to be very generous with upholding appeals, with 38 out of 45 being successful, at 84% the second highest success rate for any grammar school across Kent and Medway (averaging 27%). None of these girls have previously been found selective by either route, and some are from outside Medway. The October census has 130 girls from Medway and elsewhere attending the school in Year Seven.  There is no conceivable way this can be related to the Medway pass rate as claimed, nor be comparable with any other school in Medway or in Kent, which all have very different circumstances. I can expand upon these if necessary.

The limited number of boys places:
The original false claim came in the Proposal itself, but is now upped with: Currently, the lack of boy’s places limits the pass rate to 25% of the cohort. The pass rate must be the same for both girls and boys (It is only a minor quibble, but this is the Education Department, and to use the singular boy’s multiple times when the plural boys’ is grammatically correct, is sloppy in an official document). Quite simply, there is no lack of boys’ places, with just 249 of the 353 available being offered to Medway boys on allocation in March. A few of the other 104 offers will have a priority from special situations such as siblings and those living close to the Kent border, but the vast majority will only have been offered places after all Medway boys were accommodated. Although I have made the lie very public in my previous articles, no one from the Council has denied or even referred to the reality I have exposed.

The second sentence is also rubbish, astonishingly once again showing a complete ignorance of the Medway selection process. Quite simply, the pass rate for the test itself is set for 23% of the Medway peer group, without any regard to boys and girls separately, which would in any case almost certainly be illegal. The fact that the Test is not fit for purpose, so that typically this year 21.4% of Medway boys and 24.8% of girls passed as I have explained at length in my previous articles,  underlines the stupidity of this claim.

Educational Case
There is a good case to be argued for co-education to which any reputable organisation would have given a high priority. However, all Medway Council can manage in the proposal is the throwaway that ‘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’. The first sentence  dismisses any advantage in achievement from such a change. The second is so weak as to make it unclear what point is being made.

There was another attempt, vaguely made in the preliminary Cabinet paper, but subsequently missing from the Proposal: ‘All of Medway’s primary schools are mixed, as is higher education, and nearly all work environments are mixed.  Medway’s School Place Planning Strategy 2018-2022 states, at section 6.2.5, that the Council will ‘extend co-educational places when new schools are established’, highlighting the Council’s commitment and preference for co-educational settings’. However, it makes no reference to wishing to change current arrangements. 

The latest comment includes: ‘Pupils will not have to travel as far to go to school’, which may be true for some, but certainly not all, as the law of unintended consequences applies here to girls living on the Hoo Peninsula. My last two articles are followed by multiple comments, nearly all appreciative of my point of view, one of the neatest being: 'So why is Fort Pitt and its fine traditions for educating girls to be trashed to save Holcombe, short of boys and hoping to fill up with girls and Chatham, short of girls and hoping to fill up with boys! Meanwhile FP will have both boys and girls queueing up and those of us on the Hoo Peninsula will lose out! PETER: I could have saved a lot of space by putting it this way!'.   

 What is astonishing is that there appears to be no-one on Medway Council capable of making a case for this proposal, other than the dishonest ones about capacity and pass rates in the Medway Test that I have quoted.
 
Changes to Medway Test
I have been campaigning on the need for changes to the Medway selection procedure for at least fifteen years, without any success, apart from a consultation with selective schools a few years back which had no reported outcome. Now, all of a sudden, in another throwaway line in the KM article, we learn that Medway Council says it is currently in consultation with grammar school heads on adding a non-verbal reasoning test for 2023, adding "this will provide a more rounded grammar ability assessment",’ although no details are provided. We are not told if this has any relevance to the proposal and I am not aware of it being mentioned before in this or any other context.  However, it could dilute the current unfairness arising from two fifths of the total marks in the test being awarded to a single piece of written work which can see pass or failure hinge wholly on performance at a single essay.

I guess this may mean a new pattern of papers: two Reasoning Tests, Verbal and Non Verbal, but still with separate papers in English and Maths carrying a double weighting, and no minimum standard in any paper. However, although it adds a third multiple choice paper, this still leaves the unfairness of the subjective English writing exercise, which can lead to extremes of marks even through the standardisation process, for not even the National Foundation for Educational Research, is in favour of such an assessment. Perhaps it is someone's pet 'vision'. Why not change that to an objective test at the same time. 

I finished my original article with the following paragraph:
'So, is this a good idea? To be honest, I really don't know, although I may revise this opinion after further thought. What I consider unacceptable is the dishonest claims behind the proposal from Council and schools, which muddy the waters.  They even trump Medway Council's previous 'great idea' back in 2019, to bid for a new grammar school, oblivious of the facts! Imagine how many surplus places there would be now if this had followed through!' What I had never expected were multiple further dishonest and incomprehensible claims from Medway Council education officers which demonstrate a complete failure to understand their own procedures. 
Finally
I was so concerned about the hamfisted and dishonest approach to this proposal, that I sent a copy of my two previous articles to all Members of Medway Council. I am appalled by the total lack of interest shown by them in the blundering and false claims of their Council, and can only assume that their motto is 'My Party right or wrong and who cares about the children'. Presumably there is an opposition.
 
As the Council has tried to fix the inconsistencies in its proposal, completely new ideas have emerged, which should surely  should have been included in the first place if they were realistic outcomes. The whole project is getting more complicated and slipshod with every fresh revelation and so the published proposal should certainly not serve as the basis for making a decision. 
 
It has rightly been said that I am highly critical of Medway Council and its many failures to  support local children's education. In order to provide the evidence for my belief, you will find a selection of 77 articles I have written on the subject since 2010 if you follow the link here. However, the list does not cover a similar number again of the routine annual reports about: the Medway Test and Review; school allocation data; Ofsted; performance; and most primary school articles, all of which can easily be found via my search engine. Try a few!
 
 
 
 
 

  

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 08 August 2022 15:22

8 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 08 August 2022 22:45 posted by Medway primary school parent

    At the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting over a week ago, the main sense of the meeting was that there was minimal interest in the proposal. None of your allegations made the floor. Does anyone care? PETER: I have not made allegations, I have demonstrated that the Council is lying on a number of fronts. You are absolutely right; no one in Authority appears to care about the facts so why should anyone else. Its just a major and pointless shake up in structures, costing at least £2.5 million at a time when those schools should be focusing on providing their children with stability above all. Not even the media have any interest in what is happening.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 07 July 2022 10:51 posted by Cynical Lisa

    Quote from Leader of Medway Council, Alan Jarrett in Kent Online about Boris Johnson: "But he's been an idiot. It's been blunder after blunder. People might not want to hear it, but in politics you've got to tell the truth". As Peter has proved, Medway Council has released lie on lie about this story, so can we expect his resignation shortly?

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 06 July 2022 19:45 posted by Observer

    Boris is hunted down, with lying one of his major crimes. Medway Council sails on lying regardless. Where is the media hunt for blood? PETER: Boris would have loved such a tame media and the country would pay the price.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 06 July 2022 13:04 posted by Student of Kent Advice

    But you have said before that the only way forward for Chatham Grammar to solve its financial difficulties was to go co-educational! PETER: The UKC Trust still has a £160,000 loan outstanding from government for Chatham Grammar, the academy also running at a deficit of £41,000 (not normally allowed) according to the 2021 accounts. Yes, that was my solution, and I concede it may well pay off especially with out of Medway boys switching from Holcombe. At t the end of the day any extras will have to come from somewhere, along with those attracted to Fort Pitt. It doesn't take a lot to guess who will be the big losers!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 06 July 2022 07:47 posted by Ex Medway Messenger Reader

    So where is the Medway Messenger reporting on all of this? So far, there was an item giving the Council perspective way back in May, then the above article in Kent Online giving your perspective. But from the Messenger, not a word on any suggestion of doubt about the proposal. Presumably frightened of upsetting the Council. PETER: I have tried without any success whatever to interest them, including a copy of this article.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 06 July 2022 07:04 posted by Medway Resident 2

    From the outside this sounds like a fluffy, comfortable idea. The reality is that it is being driven by two struggling schools, Chatham and Holcombe grammars who have been in conflict for years. Both think that by attracting children of the opposite gender they will improve the poor numbers of Medway children they currently attract. Peter, you have shown there aren't enough grammar qualified children in the system around, so any gains will be at cost to the other. What a shambles!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 05 July 2022 23:39 posted by Medway Resident

    It is difficult to work out who in Medway Council is driving this by promoting the lies you have exposed (a brilliant job by the way). Is it the officers or is it Martin Potter, Medway Council’s portfolio holder for education and schools. More likely they are just the parrots for Holcombe Grammar in its third attempt to become co-educational as it tries to throw off its dreadful reputation.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 05 July 2022 19:22 posted by Richard Law

    The lies you have exposed coming from Medway Conservatives make clear they get their ethical Code from Boris Johnson

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