Alan Ramsey Vice Chair of Governors at the Whitstable School gave permission for us to share this letter opposing the ‘satellite’ grammar school in Herne Bay and Whitstable. Read more about this plan here.
Having viewed proposals by Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and the Barton Court Academy Trust I, on behalf of the Governors of The Whitstable School, would like to express unequivocal objection to what those plans appear to envisage.
We do, of course, take the pragmatic view that Grammar Schools are an established element of local provision and we are properly respectful of the considerable achievements of the two schools in question.
It is necessary, however, to qualify that acceptance with a number of caveats.
First of all the notion that grammar schools promote social mobility is routinely claimed. That claim has been investigated at intervals over several decades – most recently by Professor Stephen Gorard of the University of Durham. The Gorard study has received a lot of attention though, in reality, its findings have tended to corroborate previous findings (though with an irreproachably inclusive sample i.e. the entire national KS4 population 2014 – 2016.)
The first such finding was that there is absolutely no empirical evidence that grammar schools have made any positive impact on social mobility. We applaud the high aspirations for social mobility expressed in the submissions made by both schools, particularly in view of the fact that, should they succeed, it would be a first.
A couple of additional conclusions from the Gorard investigation seem pertinent:-
“Disadvantaged children are less likely to attend grammar schools even when they have higher prior attainment.”
“Evidence indicates that a talented child selected for grammar school at age eleven will attain the same examination results at age 16 as if they had attended a comprehensive school.”
The crux of our objection, though, is about local numbers not national ones. Specifically the number 21 springs to mind; that being the percentage of the cohort which is the nominal boundary marker for success in the Kent Test. (Leaving aside that 11 plus tests have proven themselves to be neither adequately objective or standardised, take no account of age differences within the cohort and are ludicrously distorted by the cottage industry of coaching which surrounds them.) If the grammar schools kept to that figure of 21% – or 25% (or even kept close to it) after the labyrinthine process of appeals has been accounted for, there would be no properly established need for any additional capacity.
The mooted increase in school population is speculative but it is being treated as though it was beyond dispute. The children who will enter secondary school between now and 2030 are already born and experience indicates that in established communities with high average property values it is boots (and bootees) already on the ground which tend to be the most reliable population indicators. In that regard we are already experiencing something of a downturn. The number of rising 5s due to enter reception classes in 2019 is appreciably down and the following 2 years do not present any immediate redress. Massive expenditure predicated on such vanishingly flimsy evidence of population growth makes no sense. (Though on the subject of massive expenditure hearty congratulations to Barton Court whose glamourous new extensions have allowed them to considerably increase their facilities and their intake within the last year: how fortunate to be the beneficiaries of such largesse in these straitened times.)
Although the established fact of an “annexe” which is nowhere near the original site has been road-tested in Sevenoaks it is, nonetheless, a ridiculous affront to common sense and a transparently Machiavellian stretching of the rules to the very edge of their elastic limit.
In this case it also seems a rather cynical and solipsistic affront to two good secondary schools in Whitstable and Herne Bay who are obliged to live with the uncertainty of having this demanding cuckoo chick plopped down between them in the most artificial manner.
For my own part I can attest that the Leadership and staff of The Whitstable School have, over the course of the last two years, worked with unremitting effort, rigour, enthusiasm and no little skill to create a vibrant, achieving school. They, and especially the children in their charge, deserve to be working in a supportive environment which is not blighted by an undertow of transparently political and commercial manoeuvrings which appear to be completely divorced from any real reference to community need.
Vice Chair of Governors The Whitstable School