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Friday, 16 September 2016 11:41

Meopham School - Consultation on becoming a Grammar School

Meopham School in Gravesham, a non-selective mixed academy that has achieved excellent GCSE results this year, is proposing to change its status to become a mixed grammar school from September 2018.


This school, with a current intake of 160 students and run by the Swale Academies Trust, has published a Consultation document about the plan.  This outlines the proposal if the recommendations of the recently published government Green Paper allowing non-selective schools to convert to grammar schools are approved. Current students at the school would be able to continue on their present courses.  

I can see there would be strong demand for such a school if it came into being, as outlined below, but there are also massive problems for non-selective children in an area where there is already enormous pressure on non-selective places.

This is just the first proposal nationally to become public, and gives rise to speculation about several other possibilities of a similar nature across the county. 

Please note: What follows are my initial reactions to breaking news today, but I will return to it, with a more measured response and updates as they arise.

UPDATE: A comment at the foot of this article asks what would happen to those SEN children who are currently catered for in the Nick Hornby Centre, the only SEN Specialist Unit in Gravesham for children with an EHSC Plan, which caters for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder if the school changes to become a grammar. Answer - I don't know, and an answer may emerge as the plans develop, but I suspect they could be sent to the Iris Centre, a similar provision at Wilmington Academy, in the far West of Dartford, although this only has a capacity for 15 students at present. 

This plan is dependent on Parliament approving the proposals outlined in the Green Paper. The relevant part allows new grammar schools to convert from non-selective schools, or to be set up independently, or else to expand from existing grammar schools, using as yet unknown methods of selection to improve social mobility. A fund of £50 million is to be made available as a start-up aid.  This may be the first, but certainly won't be the last such proposal. 

My greatest concern, looked at in more detail below, is that there appears no consideration  given to the whole community – it is as if to paraphrase “there is no such thing as community” which would consider the needs of all within it.

However, I can see superficially convincing arguments for the proposal if one does not take such matters into consideration. Meopham School, which a few years ago was struggling, has now been transformed into one of Kent’s highest performing non-selective schools, based on this year’s provisional GCSE 5 A*-C pass rate. This was 71%, which would have put it second in the county in 2015. There would be a strong market locally. Meopham and its surrounding villages  send a high proportion of their pupils to grammar school, mainly in Gravesend, but some to Dartford or Medway grammar schools. The neighbouring areas of Hartley, Longfield and New Ash Green would be very tempted, because students currently face longer public transport journeys to Dartford or Gravesend. It is on a direct rail service to the south of Bexley, Bromley and into London, which would prove an attractive alternative to those on the busy mainline to the north into Dartford and Gravesend. London currently offers what appears to be an inexhaustible supply of selective ability boys and girls. The school is planning to introduce its own Meopham Selection Test and admission may be completely independent of the Kent Selection procedures.This would enable it to frame its own admission rules and academic levels, although it would need to provide appropriate rules to encourage social mobility. There is no mention of using the Kent Test as an alternative assessment, as happens in Dover, Folkestone and at the girls' grammar schools of Gravesend and Sittingbourne, all  of which fill their places as a consequence. The school would therefore be able to determine its own level of academic performance or potential for admission, and thus could prove an attractive option for Gravesham families, creaming off what would otherwise be the higher performers in local non-selective schools to their detriment.   

Swale Academy Trust, an expanding and acquisitive Trust, currently runs non-selective and primary schools in various parts of Kent, and can argue that it currently caters strongly for children at the lower end of the ability and social scales, so it is not being elitist. It currently has a struggling primary school in the next village, Istead Rise Primary, which could be turned into a feeder school to the Grammar School, with priority for admission. 

However, against all this, I return to my ‘community’ theme. Children who have not qualified for grammar school in the Meopham area in previous years have looked across the District for alternatives but, as the school’s reputation has improved, numbers have grown. However, it did not quite fill this September, according to initial figures. The problem comes if it is completely removed as a non-selective school. Where do the displaced children go? The rest of Gravesham is under massive pressure for non-selective places, with local children being sent to Ebbsfleet Academy in Dartford, and Meopham itself. KCC already acknowledges the need to expand non-selective provision, but does not have the current option of increasing places in existing schools as numbers continue to rise.

The nearest alternative would be Longfield Academy, but this is already heavily oversubscribed. Wrotham could take a few, Thamesview in Gravesend might have a little capacity. The only school able to absorb numbers is Holmesdale in Snodland, six miles away by narrow roads. Meopham School was also designed as a whole community facility with a range of local facilities, including the Public Library in its centre, which could be lost. The school is already going to benefit from a completely new set of buildings, due for occupation next year, now to be taken from most of the local children if this proposal goes through. 

Gravesend and Mayfield Grammar Schools in Gravesend will also feel the cold if those proposals goes through, as both have a high proportion of students from the south in Meopham, Longfield and district, who may be tempted to go locally, Gravesend Grammar in particular. This school, with an intake of 174 boys, does not fill locally by a long way, so the claim by Meopham School that there is a local need does not stand up. Gravesend offered places this year to 43 out of County boys, mainly from SE London and Essex, and so would inevitably see this proportion rise sharply if the proposal went through, with a significant effect on the nature of the school population.  

Last modified on Monday, 19 September 2016 09:56


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 28 September 2016 20:18 posted by Michelle Hawes

    Although the news that Meopham School could apply for Grammar status is extremely pleasing for local parents, I do not feel it would be the correct thing to benefit our local community.
    I have lived in this area all my life, myself attending Longfield School and my sister attending Gravesend Grammar School for Girls in the 1980's. Now my own daughter attends Mayfield and with my youngest at Meopham year 7, I feel it would be a huge loss for the local children. Obviously I am a supporter of Grammar Schools and a believer that they are right for certain personalities and abilities.
    By having Meopham as it is now, local parents feel happier to have that choice rather than tutor unsuitable children within an inch of their life just to get them to a grammar school. I feel very lucky to live in this area where all abilities are catered for to their full potential.
    To lose an excellent secondary that due to its leadership and staff has proved that it is possible to raise the academic levels would be a tragedy.

  • Comment Link Monday, 26 September 2016 12:06 posted by Karen

    I cannot believe that a non-selective school, within a county that already has FORTY FIVE grammar schools (including the Medway towns and the Bexley and Bromley boroughs that border Kent.),both mixed and single sex, is proposing to become a selective school. Particularly as the Gravesham and Dartford boroughs are struggling massively for non selective placements already, as previously mentioned.
    My son is currently a year 10 student at Meopham who has special educational and emotional needs. He has a diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome (high functioning Autism) and, although he doesn't have a SEN statement thus cannot access the Nick Hornby centre or any other SEN specific facility, the mainstream facilities at Meopham with it's fantastic pastoral care and study support unit, we're absolutely EVERYTHING we could have hoped to find in a mainstream setting to meet his needs.
    I have spoken to many other parents, of children with very similar needs, who feel the same as I do.
    What a real loss to children like my son if we lose mainstream, non-selective Meopham. Have children like my son even been considered in this decision making? Children who are often forgotten in the system, who are somewhere in between mainstream and needing a SEN facility, but who are considered too high functioning to qualify for a SEN statement, yet their educational capabilities not nearly enough to qualify them for selective schooling?
    Meopham now, in it's current "format"
    serves children like my son, so very very well.
    I'm absolutely devastated at the proposal to take this away from children who need it. This won't affect my son. He will have all but left school by the time this proposed change will take place. However future pupils like him, including possibly my daughter, I fear will be gravely affected.
    May I also enquire as to what will happen to the teaching staff at Meopham please? Do teachers need to be trained to selective school standard, or can any teacher teach in grammar school? Are we talking mass job losses here, or will the teacher's jobs be safe? PETER: I've a lot else to say. Those making the proposal should read this and see that it damages too many life chances.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 September 2016 15:21 posted by Phil

    I am not sure how a non-selective school can choose to change to a grammar school without providing provision for those pupils who fail the test. Presumably they wouldn't build another school nearby. But if they use their own tests and criteria then maybe the same ability range of pupils will still attend but it will just be called a grammar school for names sake. I suppose one other school you didn't mention is St. Georges CofE so perhaps pupils would simply swap between them since they are on the same road albeit a few miles apart! PETER: Certainly the pass mark could be varied to suit the schools needs, and there is no regulation to determine what that standard would be. But I can't see your idea happening or it selecting more than say 50%, KCC talks about 25%, but finishes up with 30%. The reason I didn't mention St George's is that it is the second most oversubscribed non-selective school in the county with no room for additional students.

  • Comment Link Monday, 19 September 2016 22:02 posted by loopylala

    What will happen to the siblings who don't pass the test? PETER: As the school would only be accepting children who have passed, they would need to find another school elsewhere; see my article for suggestions - no, I don't think it is fair or reasonable!

  • Comment Link Sunday, 18 September 2016 08:19 posted by Worried

    Very worried about what will happen to the Sen provision there if this happens, as it's the only mainstream provision in gravesham borough. Do KCC have a say in this as they fill the unit? PETER; This is an excellent point, I will ask the question and am incorporating it in my article shortly. Sadly too many academies in any case would like to lose SEN responsibilities. One other operating locally, that is under pressure from government tries to get rid of SEN children from their main stream schools as they now carry a financial cost.

  • Comment Link Friday, 16 September 2016 19:52 posted by Cynic

    There is another explanation for the Consultation. This is a strong marketing device, just before secondary school admission applications go in. It gives brilliant publicity for the outstanding GCSE results this year!

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