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Thursday, 13 February 2014 22:30

Barton Court Grammar School Consultation on move to Herne Bay

Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury has now gone out to Consultation on its proposed move to Herne Bay, details here. In previous articles I have discussed the proposal which has now been amended and refined to read as follows: "proposal to relocate the School to the former Herne Bay Golf Club site from September 2017 and to expand to 5 forms of entry. We have been offered an opportunity to build a new school within a proposed housing and sports complex development by Newmaquinn Ltd”. 

Barton Court

The proposal is being challenged by all non-selective schools in the Canterbury district, on the grounds that there is no call for an extra grammar school class in the area, and to fill it would require the school to admit more students on appeal, who were initially non-selective, changing its character.

Unfortunately, both Barton Court's rationale for increasing its size and a letter to the press from the non-selective heads contain too many errors in the statistics they quote, the cases therefore becoming mutually contradictory. As a result, no conclusions can be drawn from the statistics in either of these two documents. The letter to the press has also gone to BCGS, KCC and the two local MPs. 

I have carried out my own analysis of the data, using information from KCC under Freedom of Information requests, and conclude that the BCGS case for expansion is sensible,  but not on the grounds they give......

Following that through, the move clearly makes sense in the long term. However, current and future parents from Canterbury and to the south who would be affected by a move in  September 2017 will be rightly unhappy if this is approved (although in my experience all such large proposals are inevitably delayed by a year or more). The school currently operates on a very restricted site, and is being given (if funding and permissions are forthcoming) the opportunity for brand new premises, on an expansive site in Herne Bay which, with Whitstable, is seeing extensive plans for new housing coming along.

The proposal describes a reduction in capacity from both the satellite concept and the six form entry of the previous ideas, although the school would be planned to be able to expand to six forms if KCC were to recommend this in future years. Such a recommendation would only happen if there were a shortage of places arising from the housing developments planned for the area, but there would be nothing to stop the school going ahead under its own steam if it could raise the funding for additional premises. It also looks at the funding of the proposition to be met by contributions from the developers, the sale of the present site (a valuable site in the middle of Canterbury), the balance hopefully being made up by a grant from the Education Funding Agency, the arm of government that looks after academies and their capital funding.

The full secondary place allocation figures for 2014 entry across Canterbury will be out in a couple of weeks and will clarify some of the issues, also reflecting the effect of Simon Langton Boys' policy of giving preference to higher achieving boys, which has sadly cut out some grammar school standard boys from the local villages, a pattern that will grow as it becomes established. If the move happens, there will therefore be a long term problem for some boys of grammar school standard in the rural areas around Canterbury, who would only have access to a grammar school in Herne Bay, or else look to Folkestone, Dover and Sandwich as alternatives.

The Consultation Document

The consultation document dwells on the opportunity to build a completely new school on a much larger site, the financial incentives, pressure on capacity, the popularity of the school and the high proportion of current students coming from the coastal area, all powerful reasons for a move. However, oddly it does not mention the other reason previously put forward for the move regarding traffic issues in Canterbury, with the consequent support of Canterbury City Council.

The school claims it is always very popular, but the last five years show a very different pattern.

Grammar School Qualified applications and
offers of places at Barton Court Grammar School 
1st Choices 1st Choices Offered Total Offers
2010 123 99 121
2011 93 82 120
2012 75 75 97
2013 121 93 128
2014 89 ? ?

The pattern of first choices reflect changes at the school which took a nose-dive in popularity in 2011 and 2012 following the retirement of the previous headteacher, but reached a peak in 2013 as the new style became settled It has slipped back again for 2014 entry for, as I forecast in my previous article, Canterbury parents are likely to be very wary of the proposed move to the coast. However, this should recover when and whichever way the future is settled. The three grammar schools in Canterbury have seen relative popularity switching between them, but apart from 2012, all three schools have been full each year on allocation in March, each absorbing some of the children who failed to get their first choice elsewhere, and each seeing higher figures after appeals.  

Barton Court took in an additional form of entry for 2013 entry, after 37 of its 89 appeals were upheld confirming the pressure on places last year, the school confirming that 30 of these were for children who had been found non-selective. This is a considerably higher figure than in previous years, the Appeal Panel responding to the school's willingness to take an additional form. However, the school has stated it is unable to do this again for entry this year, because of lack of space, so we can expect to see far fewer succeed at appeal if the school is serious.  

I am very concerned by the statistics quoted in the document that actually damage a good case. It claims that 20% of Kent children are automatically selected for grammar school by the Kent Test, when the figure is actually 21%. It reckons another 5% of children  are found selective by Head Teacher Assessment, whereas the figure is targeted at 4%, although in Canterbury it is traditionally far higher than this, having been as high as 10% in recent years, along with Swale far higher than elsewhere in Kent. As a result, as many as 30% of Canterbury children qualify for grammar school, considerably higher than the county average. The document goes on to claim that “the remaining 5% of children who are eligible for a grammar school  place (i.e. those who have been found selective by HTA), have to access a grammar school via the headteacher assessment (again?) or via the independent appeal panel”. This does not make sense. They have been found selective and are thenceforward treated identically to those who have passed automatically. The school refers to the high number of applicants it receives but the inclusion of children who have not passed the Kent Test in their figures, and the fact that it includes first, second, third and fourth choices means this data becomes meaningless.

 Elsewhere the school claims it turned nearly 100 children away in 2013, another nonsense figure. 28 qualified first choices were turned away, but the school has also added in those who had not passed the Kent Test, together with others who had put other grammar schools first. Some of those 28 will have been awarded places at Barton Court off the waiting list. Barton Court claims that the appeal panel turned away about 60 children but most, if not all of these were non-selective in the first place so were never eligible for a place. The school had already expanded its admission number to 128 places for one year only so, with the 37 successful appeals, there were 165 children offered places. There are now 150 children in Year 7, so 15 of these have already chosen to go elsewhere.

 These factors undermine the BCGS claim that Canterbury is a selective form short. However, if the HTAs continue at the same high levels then the extra form will be needed even before appeals take place. In any case, the school is correct that building development now and in the future, especially in the coastal area will create the demand for that extra capacity and therefore this is a sensible plan for the future.

 Letter from Canterbury Non-Selective Headteachers

The letter from the non-selective headteachers provides equally misleading statistics, not surprisingly coming to opposite conclusions. For some reason they believe that not more than 3% of children can be successful in HTA, although the target is 4% and as seen above can be as high as 10% in Canterbury and Swale districts. This provides around 150 children each year for each district, far higher than the 40 asserted by the schools. The Planned Admission Number for Barton Court is 120 not 128 as they assert. It went to 128 on a one off basis last year, almost certainly paving the way for the extra class admitted through appeal, although BCGS states this won’t be possible this year. 

 This is the reason the arithmetic that follows which claims just 55 grammar assessed children are available for Barton Court if the others fill, just does not work and is self-evidently wrong with 89 grammar qualified first choices at the school for this year entry, the total intake probably rising to 120 with unsuccessful second choices from elsewhere. My best estimate is that once again all three grammars will be full, before appeals because this has been the case in three out of the four previous years, and because the proportion of successful HTAs remains far higher than the document miscalculates. The document does refers to children going out of the Canterbury District to grammar schools elsewhere and private schools, but the outcomes still finish with all three schools being full! The document makes clear why it is written. There is a real concern that if Barton Court expands by a form this will dilute further the quality of intake at the selective schools, BCGS in particular by widening its ability range further. As a result the non-selective schools will see the academic quality of their intake fall still further, the HTA figures suggesting the District has the lowest proportion of  higher ability children in the county. The bottom line is that they are too late, as some widening has already happened, but the numbers ARE still there to maintain the academic standard of intake to the grammar schools, as demonstrated by GCSE performance at BCGS. Barton Court circulated a document to parents recently, reporting on its GCSE results, showing it is the most successful of its four competitor grammar schools by this measure. In particular, in each of the last three years it has had the highest % pass rate in  five GCSEs, A-C including English and maths, of any of these schools, so its appeal intake appears to have had little negative effect on outcomes. Other grammar schools  are rightly more vulnerable to the criticism! 


Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 21:59

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