Kent County Council want to build a ‘satellite’ grammar school between Herne Bay and Whitstable, so Queen Elizabeth grammar school in Faversham and Barton Court in Canterbury are running consultations on plans for a new coastal school.
Neither the council nor the schools mention that new grammar schools are actually unlawful. The 1998 School Standards and Framework Act and the Academies Act 2010 say new schools must be for everyone in their community – without any test for entry. Our council hope to get around these inconvenient laws by pretending the school is an extension of an existing grammar school. The Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge did this, though the schools minister at the time was told there was a 70% chance it would be found illegal if there’d been a judicial review.
The saying goes ‘if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck’. This coastal school looks a lot like a new grammar school, and that’s a big problem. Two buildings nine miles apart are clearly not one school, it’s like the Lands End Academy creating an extension in John o’ Groats and saying it’s the same place! The first lesson this new school will teach our kids is that politicians dodge laws when it suits them.
It’s clear that Kent County Council have a history of avoiding education laws. Right back in 1965 they skipped the law when the rest of the country moved to all ability secondary education. They looked away again in 1998 when parliament suggested eleven was the wrong age to divide children.
KCC are like some tinpot dictatorship of school planning, they talk up our schools, all while avoiding rules and democratic accountability. Rule-dodging is never the route to great policy. Our secondary school system doesn’t fit the rest of the country and so its quirks and problems never get properly reviewed. Just look at test tuition, is it honestly a level playing field in the Kent Test? What about the money parents waste on tutors, isn’t this a problem? Do our ‘fiscally efficient’ Tory council know how many families feel pressured to pay £40 a week? What about the fact Kent Test practise is banned in state schools while prep schools do this every school day? Then there are the rumours that the Kent Test has algebra questions that aren’t part of the year 5 maths curriculum… Is all this fair?
The Kent Test is our county’s choice and not an official national exam so we’re on our own with these problems.
When was there the last proper review of our school system? It was 1944 when the selective school system was set up. Our grammar schools just kept going as the world changed all around them. Our council kept their heads down, knowing it was controversial to choose their own different education route. Silence and secrecy don’t build a great school system.
In 1944, the British government decided various types of children should get differing education to suit their different needs. A report said those who didn’t pass the 11-plus,”deal more easily with concrete things than ideas… The mind is essentially practical, it may be incapable of a long series of connected steps… Abstractions mean little to them.”
This outdated nonsense is the formal plan for our school system today. It doesn’t look like our council have made any statement since on actual reasons for the education divide. The 1944 plan is just awful, but the truth was it was designed to offer something beneficial to each of its two ‘varieties’ of children. Nowadays selective education only gives advantages to the quarter who pass the Kent Test. What benefit is there for the rest? None. It just means less choice of local schools, and schools less likely to be rated ‘Outstanding’.
Our council’s school commissioning plan is a strange document, it carefully plans for the 25% of children called ‘selective’ types, without defining why they even exist. This percentage was decided in another era, based on university entrance rates from around seventy years ago. Nowadays 45% of children go to university, yet many of these kids are barred from Kent’s selective schools. Isn’t it odd that they’re not allowed to attend grammar schools, but they do great in high school, then find themselves in exactly the same lectures as the grammar school kids aged eighteen? No child with an ambition to sit a degree should be denied entry to a quarter of local secondary schools.
Perhaps I’m being overly logical. Our council don’t feel a need to write down a plan for their education system. They don’t feel any need to review it, or check it’s still fit for purpose We’re a traditional county and they think people like it this way. But wouldn’t it be nice to be asked? Sadly I imagine our councillors will commission Kent Test papers in 2089 when the rest of the country has advanced to education implants and robot teachers.
Whitstable and Herne Bay are now on the frontline of our council’s plan to keep going with their 1944 system. So we need to ask ourselves what we want from a new school on the coast. This school will educate our children for generations to come – this is important. Do we want a school that the majority of our primary school kids can’t visit on year 6 open day tours? Or do we want a school that every local child can consider as an option? We surely wouldn’t want a brand new hospital that turns away three quarters of locals who need its services, so why would we build a school that refuses to educate the majority of our fine local kids?
So, in one last ditch attempt to convince you that our council’s ‘selective’ and ‘not selective’ thing is just weird, here are some actual children’s scores in the Kent Test. These are raw marks before KCC do their ‘lets confuse parents’ standardisation thing. (Names are not real.)
English 12 / 25
Maths 19 / 25
Reasoning 49 / 80
Total 80 out of 130
English 20 / 25
Maths 10 / 25
Reasoning 47 / 80
Total 77 out of 130
English 14 / 25
Maths 12 / 25
Reasoning 36 / 89
Total 62 out of 130
Which one of the children is “suitable” for our great new coastal grammar school, and which two are “unsuitable?” If you look at this and can’t tell who passed or who failed you’re human! Kent County Council thinks their test is all logic and science, but Ben, Emily and Rebecca are all much more complex than test numbers, and they all deserve great schools.
I’d like to KCC to run a proper review and consultation on their school system. But for now all that’s within our power is a chance to have a say on this new school.
I’m going to make three points when I respond to the consultation.
This school looks like a new grammar school, I don’t want a rule-breaking education establishment on my doorstop.
The council’s point that there’s a shortage of provision for 25% of kids makes no sense because the actual proportions haven’t been reviewed or debated for more than fifty years. There’s no logic to selecting a grammar school percentages based on 1960s university rates.
I’d rather we built an absolutely amazing lets-be-proud-of-it new secondary school that works for every amazing child in our town, not only the lucky ones who pass a test.
Ben failed the Kent Test due to one question wrong in English (he didn’t sleep the night before) Emily failed due to one question wrong in Maths (she had no tuition) and Rebecca passed each paper but had the lower overall mark and she was classed ‘selective’. Our kids simply can not be divided fairly into two binary ‘types’ of learner. These three are individuals, best friends, and much more complex than their scores. Imagine Ben, Emily and Rebecca living on the same road and walking to primary school together every day. Why shouldn’t they all get a chance of heading to a great new local school?