Complaint about Wilmington Grammar School expansion

wilmington boysAn excellent and detailed response from Joanna Vaughan, a parent who is opposing the expansion of Wilmington Grammar Schools (Boys and Girls) using Selective School Expansion Funding. To find details of this school consultation and express your opposition CLICK HERE.

I am extremely concerned about the proposals to expand the Wilmington Grammar schools and I am strongly objecting to the schools’ bid for additional funding from the Department for Education Selective School Expansion Fund. I am objecting on a number of grounds, which are as follows:

1. The plans do not meet the needs of all children across the region

The Department for Education should not be funding the expansion of schools which do not meet the educational needs of the region’s children as a whole. Schools which are restricting entry with an academic test are by their definition not inclusive and not representative of their whole community. Indeed they are dividing and therefore destroying communities, rather than helping local communities to thrive.

Young children are being separated from friends and siblings and are being branded failures by a divisive test. The Wilmington schools educate a very low proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds – with only 7.8% of pupils on Pupil Premium at the Girls Grammar School and 10.4% at the Boys Grammar School. This is well below the Kent average of 24.2%. Equally the schools’ numbers of children with Special Educational Needs and those with English as an additional language are also well below the national average.

It is only right and fair that we only expand schools with open admissions that give every local child the same chance of an education. Expanding a school which through its 11+ admission test discriminates against disadvantaged or vulnerable groups of pupils is fundamentally wrong.

The Wilmington schools only take the top academic children therefore an expansion of these schools are only increasing parental choice to a minority of parents. For the majority of parents (i.e. the 75% whose children do not pass the 11+ test), the choice of school places in this area is already extremely limited and by creating additional places that are only available to a certain section of children, their choice is further limited. This is an even greater problem for parents of SEN pupils, vulnerable pupils and disadvantaged pupils.

Kent has the highest proportion of home-educated pupils in the country – by a very long way. Many of those pupils are SEN pupils who have been let down by a system that is skewed towards educating only a minority. It is imperative that the educational needs of less advantaged children in the Dartford region are met and I would much more willing to support an investment plan that would correct years of local education policy that has written off thousands of children as failures at age 11.

2. The Department for Education’s requirements have not been properly met

The DfE’s guidelines for submitting bids for funding from the £50 million Selective School Expansion Fund states that the school must offer “an ambitious and deliverable plan for improving access for disadvantaged pupils”. It further states that in order for the bid to be successful it “must make clear how they will increase their intake of disadvantaged pupils”. The schools’ similar bid for extra funding under this scheme failed last year because its document did not even address how it would improve access to its schools for disadvantaged pupils.

This year the bid makes reference to it but the balance of evidence shows that the measures that you intend to put in place will not be at all effective in addressing this issue.

You say that you intend to change the admission policy to give priority to children on Pupil Premium over children who live near the school in a bid to increase your numbers of disadvantaged pupils. Figures show that although 34% of pupils in Kent are on Free School Meals, only 3% of FSM pupils pass the Kent Test each year. As both your schools already have more than this number, one can conclude that every FSM child who passes is already given a place in a grammar school – especially as the Kent system is set up to ensure every Kent child who passes the 11+ test a grammar school place. Therefore, admission policies prioritising disadvantaged pupils over others will have no effect on increasing the numbers of disadvantaged children getting a grammar school education.

A recent Freedom of Information request conducted by Comprehensive Future and published by the TES showed that school admission policies to give Pupil Premium pupils priority had made no difference whatsoever to the numbers of disadvantaged pupils admitted to grammar schools. All research shows that a very low proportion of disadvantaged pupils pass the 11+ test (due to a range of factors including tutoring and family expectations), which means that admission policy changes like this are in fact not effective.

Indeed the only way admission policies could potentially lead to an increase in disadvantaged children claiming grammar places, would be for the Kent Test score for grammar school entry to be lowered for disadvantaged pupils. I suspect that you have not proposed this option as it will be extremely unpopular amongst your current parents, who will view it as some children getting an unfair advantage and could lead to a public outcry.

The second issue with the proposed new admission policy is that by giving priority to those children on Pupil Premium over those who live near the school, it will result in out-of-county pupils being given priority over those who live near the school. Not only does this go against your basic reason for expanding the school (i.e. the need to meet a local need for school places), but it will be extremely unpopular with parents.

Indeed recent media reports show that Kent Education Network has already expressed a concern over this very issue which they see is already a problem in the North West of the county where grammar schools have many children coming in from London. Parents will view this new admission policy as one that that is very far from putting local children first, but rather about ticking the right box in a bid to get more money.

I note that these new admission policies are not yet concrete and are still to be put out to a separate consultation. I just cannot see that the majority of local grammar school parents, most of whom have paid for tutoring etc to ensure their child gets a grammar school place, would support new policies that would bring in disadvantaged children from neighbouring London, and therefore they will never be implemented.

Therefore, the Department for Education should not use these new admission policies as evidence that the school has “an ambitious and deliverable plan for improving access for disadvantaged pupils”. Plans to work with local primary schools Your proposal says that your school intends to work with local primary schools to help pupils from disadvantaged pupils in preparing for the test. There is no detail about this would work and it is a very sketchy and woolly sweeping statement.

Given that research shows that the huge attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is already evident by the time they arrive in Reception and then widens further as they move up the school, are Wilmington staff intending to go into schools to work with Early Years children? If so, how will this work, especially given current teacher shortages and restraints on school budgets? Will Wilmington teachers go into the primary schools during the school day, if so, how will they will get around Kent County Council’s rules that bar primary schools from helping children to prepare for the 11+? Or will they simply attend primary school talks in the evening about secondary school applications and offer a few words of advice and provide some past papers to Year 5 parents? Again, this will be too late for many children and risks not reaching the parents of the very children you are trying to attract.

To significantly improve the attainment of disadvantaged children in the Kent Test, will need a very detailed and committed programme of work with dedicated staff working alongside primary schools and there is no evidence of this in your bid at all. There is not even any evidence of any local primary schools who have already agreed to work with you. In summary, your plans to increase access for disadvantaged children are without any detail, factual evidence, figures or statistics. You cannot simply say that these measures will create ‘fair access’ without backing it up with some proof.

3. There is no shortage of school places

Your main remit of your bid for funding is to address what you call a shortage of school places in this area. You have provided no actual evidence of a shortage of school places in the area and you seem to be relying on the ‘evidence’ of your over-subscription. The fact that the school has more applications than it has places for is not evidence that there are children in the surrounding area left without a school place.

As you will be aware, many of these children will not have met the admission criteria for your school and will go to on to find a place in an alternative school. Indeed far from there being a shortage of school places locally, over the last few years there has been a significant increase in places with the creation of several new schools, as well as expansion at others. In nearby Sevenoaks, the new Trinity School created an extra 120 Year 7 places set to rise to 180 from this year.

The new Weald of Kent annexe in Sevenoaks created a further 120 Y7 places, the new Hadlow Rural Community School created another 75 places and Endeavour MAT’s own new school, Stone Lodge, will create a further 120 places in Dartford itself this year. Coupled with expansions at Orchards Academy in Swanley and Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, the area has seen an increase of at least 500 additional Year 7 places in the last five years, even with the closure of Oasis Hextable, which only saw the loss of 50 allocated Year 7 places. I suspect that the claim that there is a shortage of places comes from Kent County Council’s Commissioning Plan which is a long-term projection based on the maximum number of new houses being built, despite the fact that all local housing projections are many years behind schedule as well as many of them being opposed by local residents.

Indeed KCC itself says the projections are based on ‘worst-case scenario’ and therefore should not be read as totally accurate. There is no evidence from local primary schools which supports the case for rising school numbers. Indeed their numbers in the district are falling. Kent County Council’s own projected data for pupils needing grammar school places for 2018 and 2019 was in fact widely wrong so it a reasonable assumption that predictions for secondary school shortfalls in 2022 onwards are also likely to be wrong.

4. The impact on neighbouring non-selective schools

In an area where the high-attaining children are creamed off and put into grammar schools, its neighbouring non-selective schools are always put at a disadvantage. In the current competitive education climate, schools are driven by league tables and it is only natural that grammar schools will top those league tables because they have selected the top academic pupils. This only serves to push the non-selective schools further down the league tables, making them less attractive to parents, and also leaving them struggling to recruit teachers, and often leading to bad Ofsted reports.

Many of your neighbouring secondary modern schools, like Knole Academy, are now offering top sets and ‘grammar streams’ in an attempt to operate like an all-ability comprehensive school. This helps to make the schools more aspirational places, particularly if a good proportion of pupils then go on to study A-levels and to further education. However because of the existence of grammar schools in an area, obviously their proportion of SEN pupils and disadvantaged children will be significantly higher than the national average.

If your school expands the balance in your neighbouring non-selective schools will become even worse, as increasingly more high-attaining pupils are offered places at the Wilmington grammars. This will have a devastating negative impact on these schools, causing them to lose pupils, staff and at worst become ‘sink schools’ – thus having terrible consequences for the community as a whole.

5. Kent does not need any more selective places

Kent does not need any more selective places. The problem in Kent is non-selective places where choice is extremely limited. In fact most parents whose children fail the 11+ test are not given a choice at all because there is not a variety of schools available. Only two years ago, the county got the first brand new grammar school to be built in 50 years – in the guise of the Weald of Kent annexe in nearby Sevenoaks which will eventually create space for 450 additional selective school places. This was a £19 million investment into a place which, again, will not be open to all pupils but only to a select minority.

Kent’s attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils is one of the worst in the country. According to Kent County Council’s ‘Vision and Priorities for Education’ annual report, Kent’s secondary school pupils make less progress than all children in England’s state sector, while the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils in Kent secondary schools is 23% compared to the national gap of 15%. English and Maths GCSE results for disadvantaged pupils in Kent are particularly poor – the county is the worst performing council compared to all statistically similar authorities.

6. The consultation has not been ‘fair and open”

The DfE guidelines for submitting bids to the Selective School Expansion Fund is that there must be a ‘fair and open’ consultation process lasting a minimum of four weeks. In order for the consultation to be ‘fair and open’, it is necessary to have opened it up to all interested parties and in particular to all other schools in the area. There is no indication that other schools have been informed or consulted on the expansion, nor is there any indication of the response from the local authority which operates the school admission procedure and Kent test. I understand that plans for a grammar school annexe in Herne Bay/Whitstable are being submitted for funding from this fund and do have the backing of Kent County Council.

There is also no indication as to whether residents in the areas around Common Lane and Parsons Lane have been consulted – or whether it has been opened up to the wider public in the Wilmington area or to parents at potential feeder schools. Unless this has been done, it is not a ‘fair and open’ consultation. I am also concerned that the consultation process is not being taken seriously by the trust because it states that the responses will be used to form its bid. There is no proper open process for submitting consultation responses and therefore there is no guarantee that objections will not simply be ignored when the trust applies for its share of the funding.

I understand that it is a requirement of all applications to the Selective School Expansion Fund to detail any consultation criticism and respond to it, so I will also be forwarding a copy of this letter to the DfE to ensure that is read alongside the bid.

In summary, I would like to object to this expansion because:

• It is fundamentally wrong to increase places in schools that are not available to all local pupils.

• There is no evidence that your proposed changes to your admission policy will increase access for disadvantaged children.

• There is not enough detail or evidence explaining how your plans to work in primary schools will increase access for disadvantaged children.

• The premise that the school needs to expand to address a shortage of school places is fundamentally flawed.

• Your expansion plan will damage local schools and reduce their academic and social diversity.

• The 11+ is known to select very few SEN and disadvantaged pupils, so creating places in selective schools is discriminating against vulnerable pupils.

• Kent does not need any more selective school places.

• The consultation process has not been ‘open and fair.’

Joanna Vaughan

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