A school that chooses who to teach, not a school that any child can choose

You might have seen plans for a new satellite grammar school between Herne Bay and Whitstable.

Barton Court in Canterbury, and Queen Elizabeth in Faversham, are behind this, prompted into action because they say they care about the education of local children. They have a funny way of showing it.

Turning away 75 per cent of children is hardly the policy of a school that cares.

Grammar schools are usually rated highly by Ofsted. And people like the idea that “smart” kids are being taught separately.

The issue is that there is no real need for children to be in separate schools. There’s no evidence it even boosts results. A recent study looking at more than 500,000 secondary school pupils found no advantage for grammar school kids. They achieved exactly the results you’d expect based on their level of attainment and background.

If the grammar school children get exactly the same results in schools that everyone can use, why build any new schools that deny entry to local children?

There is another problem to this plan, which the heads of Herne Bay High and Langton Boys have highlighted. They say a new coastal grammar school could result in another school closing.

The heads say the ‘satellite’ opens at the same time as a new school in Canterbury, so there’ll be too many secondary school spaces and it risks the closure of a non-selective school.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Three non-selective schools have closed in Kent in recent years. Grammar schools never worry about empty desks, they regularly expand and drop a need for a Kent Test pass whenever they have space.

This tactic puts non-selective schools at risk. Two local secondary heads are highly critical of Kent County Council’s school place planning. I hope our local councillors are taking note.

So, are we ready to accept going ahead with this plan when the cost to other schools could be so high?

Especially when local non-selective schools, which now have grammar streams, are demonstrating that it’s entirely unnecessary.

Take three non-selective schools in the district.

The Canterbury Academy grammar stream achieved 98% 5 A*-Cs in its first year. That’s better than many selective schools.

Herne Bay High is in the top five in Kent for A-level progress, beating many selective schools.

The Whitstable School’s grammar stream is new but already popular. And, like top independent schools, they plan to offer the International Baccalaureate. The head has set up a program of visiting speakers and debates that rivals anything our grammars offer.

These are great local schools with big ambitions.  Just ask parents sending their children there.

A slide in Queen Elizabeth’s recent public meeting boasted about the school’s Russell Group success. I’m sure that impresses most parents, but to me it highlights how ridiculous our selective system has become.

My own daughter was turned down by Queen Elizabeth at age 11. They turned her down again at 14 when the Chaucer school closed. If she hadn’t achieved all As at GCSE they likely would have turned her down again.

But she doesn’t credit the Russell Group university place she started last autumn to the school that had turned her down twice. That credit went to our local school, The Whitstable School, (then CCW) where she worked hard and succeeded.

How many other intelligent kids (who failed an arbitrary test age 10) are missing out, and being given much less local choice by the schools that pick and choose who to teach? And they do this in the name of caring for local children?

Queen Elizabeth and Barton Court are great schools. They have great staff and governors too. But their interest is based on test scores, nothing more. It’s time to value local children regardless of their exam results.

This ‘satellite’ plan risks the schools that do just that.

It means local children being refused entry to a new local school that they deserve a right to choose. It risks schools being forced to close. My daughter and her friends went through this when Chaucer closed, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

My worry, and the reason I set up a ‘Stop the plan for a new ‘satellite’ grammar school between Whitstable and Herne Bay’ petition, is that our great local grammar streams, which give opportunity for all local children to find academic success, may well suffer if this ‘satellite’ goes ahead.

And the blame will be with Queen Elizabeth and Barton Court schools. How much do they really care?

Jo Bartley

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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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Consultation response from a governor at The Whitstable School

downloadAlan 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.

Dear Sirs,

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.

Alan Ramsey

Vice Chair of Governors       The Whitstable School


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Please oppose the plan for a new ‘satellite’ grammar school in Kent


Kent County Council believes there is a “need”  for a ‘satellite’ grammar school on the coast between Whitstable and Herne Bay. The Selective School Expansion Fund is £50 million a year, and makes it easy to fund the project. But this legally dubious new school will undermine successful local schools, and is completely unnecessary.

There’s a petition opposing this plan HERE.

Please sign and share this widely.

There is only four weeks of consultation. If you can also email consultation@queenelizabeths.kent.sch.uk and consultation@bartoncourt.org by April 17th this will help.

You might want to say :

That you oppose expanding schools that use Kent Test admissions, they reduce choice for the majority of parents.

It is ridiculous to open a new grammar school when local high schools are doing so well. Herne Bay High and The Whitstable School both now have grammar streams. There is local provision for high attainers in community schools with open admissions. These schools excellent work and successful sixth forms will be undermined by any new selective school.

Legislation prohibits new grammar schools – a building for 1050 pupils is not ‘an extension’ it’s clearly breaking the law.

This school opens at a time when a new free school is also planned. Local heads Jon Boyes and Ken Moffat claim that too many secondary places will lead to a school closure. QE and Barton Court should halt all plans to expand if there’s even a slight risk of a school closure, and all the misery that causes pupils and staff.

You might also say that 33% of local children attend grammar schools, this is much more than the 25% KCC say is the “right” amount. QE claim they want to educate kids in Whitstable and Herne Bay, but in their privileged position controlling test admissions, they can easily set admission scores to a slightly higher bar and then they’d reach children in these towns. They could even instigate local debate about what the “right %” ought to be, only they will almost certainly avoid this knowing that it shows the flaws of the whole Kent Test system.

The idea that these grammar schools can produce ‘fair access’ plans and admit 1% or 2% more disadvantaged pupils is flawed. Local high schools admit significantly more disadvantaged children. It is better to support our community schools, and ensure they have good provision for all pupils, including high attaining pupils, rather than supporting grammar schools, and then pay for wasteful  ‘outreach work’ to persuade poorer pupils to sit the Kent Test.

The schools have not been open about a need for pupils to be educated 4 days a week in the coastal school and 1 day a week in Faversham or Canterbury. It is very dishonest that they told a local campaigner about this but have not mentioned it in their consultation document or told parents at their schools.

Jon Boyes, the Principal of Herne Bay High, has written an excellent consultation response HERE. He makes a convincing case for turning this plan down. Comprehensive Future have also put their consultation response online HERE.  There are many strong arguments for turning this plan down, but we shouldn’t be blase. We know that many local parents will support this school, not least because everyone seems to assume their child will pass the 11-plus! Please do respond to the consultations, even if you just send in one line to say you’re against the plan.

Thanks a lot for anything you can do to spread word and stop this awful plan.

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The Principal of Herne Bay High School, on problems with the proposed ‘satellite’ grammar school between Whitstable and Herne Bay

logoA letter from Jon Boyes, the Principal of Herne Bay High School, outlining the problems with the proposed ‘satellite’ grammar school expansion between Herne Bay and Whitstable. To find out how to oppose this plan please click here.

Dear Sirs,

In response to the consultation by Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar school and The Barton Court Academy Trust on the development of a 5 form entry Grammar school on the north Kent coast between Whitstable and Herne Bay, I would like to formally object to the proposal. This objection is
based on the following,

 Spending nearly 50% of the country selective school expansion budget on the creation of a new Grammar is against the current legislation

 The lack of a clear and transparent strategy to ensure that there is equality for students from disadvantaged backgrounds within the development

 The local area of the proposed site does not have the supporting infrastructure to facilitate a school being built

 The Kent commissioning plan is inaccurate in its projection for need and there will not be enough children to fill the schools resulting in adequate capacity in the Grammar schools in the Thanet and Canterbury area to meet all projected need.

 The plans, should they go ahead, would lead to the closure of at least one existing school

 Spending nearly 50% of the country selective school expansion budget on the creation of a new Grammar is against the current legislation

I would call into question the legality of opening a brand new 5 form entry Grammar school more than 5½ miles from Canterbury (Barton Court) and 8 miles from Faversham (Queen Elizabeth’s). This is not selective school expansion by 1 or 2 new forms of entry that would easily meet any need for
the next 10 years, but clearly the creation of a new Grammar School. This would set a precedent for the country and be politically significant for any government moving forward.

The lack of a clear and transparent strategy to ensure that there is equality for students from disadvantaged backgrounds within the development

The government strategy on selective school expansion is underpinned by their belief that it should create greater social mobility and develop equality of opportunity for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently the three high schools within the locality have between 30% and 45% of
their cohort of such students. Bearing in mind that the current Grammar schools that are bidding have between 6% and 9.7% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, then unless the government insists that the “expansion” school can demonstrate equality at the new provision in
line with the three secondary schools in the locality, it is misaligned with its strategy and should not be funded.

 The local area of the proposed site does not have the supporting infrastructure to facilitate a school being built

The likely location of the “new Grammar” should it be successful, is between the towns of Herne Bay and Whitstable, it is nowhere near a rail link, has poor access and will create serious transportation issues with the likelihood of considerable congestion on the roads and have a detrimental
environmental impact. The very fact that there is no identified site really does indicate the lack of forethought and planning in both applications and an additional unknown cost to KCC and the government.

The Kent commissioning plan is inaccurate in its projection for need and there will not be enough children to fill the schools resulting in adequate capacity in the Grammar schools in the Thanet and Canterbury area to meet all projected need.

The KCC commissioning plan, published in January 2019, has for the first time split the requirements for Grammar and Non Selective provision. It has loosely projected that there MAY be a need for some additional selective places in the Canterbury and Coastal district by 2024, IF all the building
work and the birth rate projections roll out to their fullest. Currently, the data in the plan identifies that there is capacity within the existing Grammar system for 33% of the September 2019 year 7 population, if all Grammar schools take their Published Admission Number (PAN). The Kent test pass rate is set to nominally select 21% of students as “Grammar ready” with some additional space filled by Headteacher appeals. These figures already indicates that there is approximately 10% capacity that is filled with students who have not reached the Grammar entrance requirements.

Additional capacity is already being created via the back door with a number of East Kent and Canterbury Grammar schools taking significantly more than their PAN through the appeals process, or via taking
another full form of entry. Kent runs a selective system, and that is almost certainly here to stay, however, to ensure we retain an effective education system, selective schools should only admit the “Grammar“ assessed students, rather than keep filling their ever expanding rolls with students
regardless of their Kent test scores. The outcome of this continued back door expansion will be a two tier system that further widens the disadvantaged gap.

Within the Thanet, Canterbury and Faversham area there is no capacity issue for grammar provision if grammar schools are already
taking children who have not passed the 11+ exam, therefore, the funding really should be reserved for areas of the country where there is a true shortage of places. Additionally, the Kent County Council commissioning plan published in January 2019 identifying the need for 5 Form Entry Grammar on the coast by 2024 already appears inaccurate. For example, it identifies that there is a 37 place shortfall for September 2019.

This is not the case, not all grammar schools are oversubscribed with students meeting the Kent test threshold. In fact, as already stated, there is
capacity to take up to 33% of the student population, significantly above the grammar selection benchmark. This immediately calls into question the validity of the data projected for the current year. As you project this forward, it is certain that there is simply not the need for the additional
places. I would expect it to be a priority from the DfE to undertake full due diligence around the KCC data and projected need, current selective capacity in relation to those that pass the Kent test and ensure full transparency in the rationale behind spending public money unnecessarily.

It would appear that there is a lack of clarity and accuracy in the strategy, currently 21% of non-selective students have to travel out of Herne Bay to attend a high school as there a lack of space at the existing Good school. It has been decided that this long term shortfall is being made up by the
addition of 150 places at a new school on the site of the old Chaucer school in Canterbury, opening under the Barton Court Academy trust in 2022. This will increase the transportation issues with increasing migration of “coastal students” into the city centre. With reference to the Barton Court
Academy Trust, I would have serious concerns in the capacity of a small two school trust with one outstanding school and one in special measure, having the leadership capacity to drive and maintain
high-quality education at two completely new schools almost simultaneously.

I also have grave reservations about the need for extra grammar places. The published pupil data for Herne Bay and Whitstable indicates a reduced population. In September 2018 there was significant excess capacity in the Reception year with projected stability for 2018 to 2019, the latest data, March 2019, indicates we are now in the position of nearly 100 fewer students in Year R for September 2019. The projections for the next few years show no dramatic increase at all. Whilst this is an immediate
problem for the coastal Primary and Infant sector, the long term impact on pupil numbers for September 2024 and beyond is significant. From 2019 a collective approach from all the Whitstable and Herne Bay Primary and Infant schools has been required to sustain themselves in the face of
reducing numbers. It calls into question the need for additional places, let alone 150 extra per year.

 The plans, should they go ahead, would lead to the closure of at least one existing school

The proposal identifies a high likelihood that two new schools will be opening at the same time, a High School in Canterbury and a Grammar in Herne Bay/Whitstable. This will add 300 new year 7 places into a system that currently has spare capacity. This will result in the closure of an existing school within Canterbury / Coastal area. The consequence of such a proposal would not only be hugely detrimental to the existing provisions but a fundamental misuse of taxpayers money. A much better solution would be greater investment in the continuing development the three Good
secondary schools on the coast to support the deprivation agenda in a more cost effective way by supporting their drive to a fully comprehensive intake.

I therefore urge you to reject the proposals and fully support the continuing development of the three good secondary schools on the coast.

Yours sincerely

Jon Boyes
Principal, Herne Bay High

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Kent County Council have avoided education democracy since 1944

unnamed-fileKent 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.

ImageVaultHandler.aspxWhen 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?

Please respond to the school consultations, here and  here and have your say.





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Kent grammar school expansion is all about supporting the wealthiest schools

Damian Hinds
Damian Hinds

There are at least six Kent grammar schools applying for a share of the Selective School Expansion Fund. But there’s a weird side effect of the funding, and it proves Damian Hinds and the DfE don’t understand selective education at all.

There’s a correlation between 11-plus test passes and wealth. So in Kent, with one test for a whole county, poorer areas don’t get so many test passes.

kenttest variation

This table shows that in wealthy Tunbridge Wells 54% of the children pass the 11-plus, while in poorer Shepway the pass rate is only 27%. Kent’s 32 grammar schools are fairly evenly spread around the county, but low numbers of  pupils passing in poorer places like Sittingbourne, Ramsgate, Folkestone, and Dover means few children eligible for grammar schools, and many grammars are undersubscribed.

It’s a little-known fact that many Kent grammar schools fill up their places though 20-30 appeals each year, taking children without 11-plus passes to make sure they have no empty desks. They turn quite comprehensive when no one’s looking!

But it’s a requirement of the new grammar school expansion funding that the schools prove they are oversubscribed. So the most likely Kent grammar schools to expand are the ones serving wealthy communities, plus the oversubscribed Dartford grammar schools that dubiously ship in loads of kids from London. These grammar schools are likely to be schools  with the lowest proportions of disadvantaged pupils.

The six Kent grammars applying for the Selective School Expansion are as follows, with their proportion of Free School Meals eligible pupils listed.

Wilmington grammar school for girls 3.5% FSM
Highworth grammar school 3.2% FSM
Tunbridge Wells grammar school for boys 3% FSM
Wilmington grammar school for boys 2.9% FSM
Cranbrook School 1.5% FSM
Skinners School 0.9% FSM

The average proportion of FSM pupils in Kent secondary schools is 10.3%.  It feels like Damian Hinds is giving  his £50 million to the wealthiest areas, and the Kent grammar schools with the lowest proportions of disadvantaged pupils.

Maybe if they try really hard these schools can double their disadvantaged pupils to 3 or 5%? Most likely they’ll just admit  some more middle-class pupils who can afford Kent Test tutors or to attend Tunbridge Wells’prep schools. Meanwhile the deprived bits of Kent have little chance of getting money for fancy new school buildings.

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What to do with £50 million?

So, here is the problem: how do you allow all young people fair and equal access to an education that will enable them to fulfil their personal, academic, and vocational ambitions?

The current government has a number of policies intended to do just that. We shall leave it up to you to decide which of these is most likely to answer our question.

Cut spending on Early Years provision by almost £700 million

Spend £5 million on attracting teachers to an FE system already described as ‘in tatters’.

Spend an extra £50 million on a schooling system that is based on testing and selecting children at the age of 10 that paradoxically has no greater impact on young people than any other system. This is the much touted plan to spend £50 million on Grammar School extensions, or satellites.

Not one of these policies makes sense, you could argue that shouting about spending £50 million detracts us from thinking about losing £700 million from the Early Years, a phase of education where a real difference can be made to the lives of young people. Or, thinking about how pitiful £5 million is when you consider FE provides opportunities outside of statutory school age to complete A Levels, vocational qualifications, as well as amongst other things, teacher education, prison education and the much-hyped apprenticeships.

How much impact on the ambitions and futures of young people will a £50 million spend on allowing Grammar Schools to build extensions or annexes have? Don’t forget, this £50 million could always be spent elsewhere, so we have to assume the top brains in Whitehall know exactly what rewards this windfall will lead to.

Two and a half satellite schools could be built – it is worth noting that the only Grammar School extension built this side of the 1966 Football World Cup is the Weald of Kent Grammar School Sevenoaks ‘Annex’. This came to £19 million pounds of tax payers’ money. A lot of fuss over 2.5 potential ‘annexes’.

£50 million is worth spending if the children going to these schools obtain better academic outcomes than attending other schools – unfortunately they don’t. £50 million will be spent on making no more difference than any other type of school.

£50 million will be spent encouraging the ‘coaching for the 11+ test’ market – currently parents spend around £6 billion a year on after school tutors. You have this choice if you can afford the private tutors.

£50 million spend on Grammar Schools distracts from the excellent work carried out by the remaining 80% of schools.

£50 million is not actually that much money. Damian Hinds reckons that around 3,500 young people could benefit from this scheme – that works out to around £1,400 each. This is not a ‘change the world’ amount. If parents are willing to spend £6 billion a year on coaching, surely government resources could come close to matching that. How much difference would £6 billion make?

£50 Million spent on supporting testing at the age of 10 will not provide world class education – we already have that in comprehensive and secondary moderns schools all over the country. This is not about world-class education, it is about continued segregation based on socio-economics.

£50 million spent on Grammar School extensions will have a negative effect on social cohesion.

£50 million spent on Grammar School extensions represents an ‘all fur coat and no knickers’ approach to education – it looks glamorous from the outside but there is something sleazy on the inside.

The £50 million is not about supporting quality education, it is a cynical attempt to buy votes and distract from the damage being done to other phases of education.

This plan has not been thought up by those who have an interest in education, it is delusional, desperate and deceitful.

Dr Alan Bainbridge is the Joint Coordinator of the Kent Education Network. He currently lectures in higher education having previously taught in Secondary Schools for 20 years. He is writing this article in a personal capacity.

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A challenge to Kent County Council : Review the Kent Test

New research shows that families who pay for private tutors are winning the majority of grammar school places.  

Researchers from the University College London’s Institute of Education (IoE) discovered that 70 per cent of those tutored secured a place in a grammar school. That compares with 14 per cent who had no additional instruction, relying purely on ability.

Kent County Council will offer a new format for Kent’s 11-plus test in 2019. The Kent Education Network believes they should review the test structure, and particularly look at the social inequality caused by test coaching.

Dr Alan Bainbridge from KEN said, “This research proves what we’ve all suspected – expensive private tuition works.

“The idea that the Kent Test is a true test of ability is nonsense, children practising maths and English with skilled tutors clearly have more chance of passing than those without any help.

“Kent will have a new 11-plus test in 2019 and we want the council to acknowledge the huge tuition problem and do something about it. Prep schools and test tutors are effectively rigging results for wealthy families.

“The test is fundamentally unfair for any child who has no coaching.”

The Institute of Education researchers reviewed evidence from selective areas and found wealthy families claimed the majority of grammar school places.

The poorest 25 per cent of families had less than a 10 per cent chance of attending a grammar school, compared with about a 40 per cent chance for children who from the top quarter of household incomes.

Alan Bainbridge said, “There is no such thing as a tutor proof test and the council need to admit this.

“A consultation on the new test would be a good way to review the obvious problems. It’s not ethical to mislead our children about what we are actually testing.

“It is dishonest to suggest this test is an accurate judgement of ability when a large part of it is about practice and coaching.”

KCC currently pay £178,000 a year to GL Assessment to operate the Kent Test with the contract ending in September 2018.

No plans have yet been revealed for the 2019 Kent Test, but when the test was last put out to tender in 2013 the review involved a consultation with Kent head teachers. Many of the heads were critical of the extent of private coaching, and there was even a complaint that one head offered the services of his wife as a paid test tutor.

Alan Bainbridge said,  “The last time the council reviewed the Kent Test head teachers said coaching was a big problem, but nothing was actually done about it. Now here we are again, five years later, with even more evidence of problems. I hope the council will be honest about the flaws of the test and not bury their heads in the sand.”

KEN would like Kent County Council to engage in honest debate about the problems with the test. We feel there is too mucy secrecy about how the Kent Test operates and no consultation with the public on the way our children are divided between school types at age 11.

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Values, the 11-plus… and sausage rolls

Alan BeachI probably eat too much of the wrong food and do not get enough sleep to optimize my cognitive capacity. I also know that these decisions are not the wisest ones I have made. Yet, I do make them and I can pretty confidently predict I will make most of these poor choices again.

Importantly, I know the evidence that highlights my poor decision-making and although not among the most heinous acts of human folly, I have a pretty good hunch as to why I do them. I like sausage rolls, I like the crispy pastry and (in a good sausage roll) the delicious peppery savouriness. Frasier makes me laugh and going to bed happy is a good thing.

So how does all of this help us to think about education – particularly selective education based on a short test taken in Year 6 when most pupils are 10 years old?

Formal education takes place within dazzlingly complex systems and research that reliably predicts cause and effect, will-o-the-wisp like, still eludes the professional and research community. In contrast, the evidence to question and reject an 11-plus style selection system is largely uncontested. The real challenge is to find widespread support for test-based 11-plus selection from either researchers or education professionals.

I do not suggest that the entirely appropriate quest to gather evidence either for or against selection should cease. No, just as researchers and practitioners continue to collect and use evidence to improve practice, so should those who support or reject the notion of 11+ selection continue their quest of evidential support. It’s just that evidence is letting me down.

I’m running out of ways to present evidence to those, who despite the alarming paucity of evidence, continue to support the existing use of the 11-plus and what is now becoming a steady creep to return to a more wide-scale resurgence. Why is the evidence on the inaccuracy of the 11-plus test and the doubtful impact this has on exam outcome continued to be ignored by politicians, local education authority leaders, academy trust ‘CEOs’ and media pundits? To answer this I must return to my search for the perfect sausage roll.

I believe that the time has come to move from a mainly evidenced- informed debate to one that is values-based. I’m not rejecting the syntactic rules provided by evidence, I will continue to use these, but the move to values allows us to consider the semantic thinking behind why I continue to eat sausage rolls and the compelling case against the 11-plus has not been accepted.

Even a cursory nod towards the most basic of human values asks serious moral questions of the 11-plus test supporters. If values are brought into the debate then surely it must be much harder for the supporters of the 11+ to maintain their stance. I offer some values and their associated dilemmas in no particular order.

Honesty: Where is the honesty in a system that refuses to make public how test scores are converted into pass/fail decisions? What honesty is displayed by 11-plus supporters who refuse to look at, or simply ignore, the overwhelming research and professional evidence which can find little or no educational or social value in the 11-plus?

Respect for others: If one of the functions of education is to understand and respond respectfully towards each other, I left bemused how this can be met when large numbers of Year 7 children – who were once classroom peers, now take different routes to school, spend their days in different part of town, in different buildings, with different traditions, studying different curriculum materials, with differentially qualified staff and very often a mis-match in extra-curricular activities.

Equal access to opportunities: The role played by money alone should assuage any 11-plus doubters, when 40% of those who pass their 11-plus have done so with the support of expensive and often year-long private tutoring. Those who claim their tests are tutor proof have their heads in a desert of sand – maybe this is why they have recently gone noticeably quiet?

Opportunities for self-enhancement and excellence: I accept that not all will be able to live out their wildest ambitions but quite how 11-plus supporters can accept this educational cuckoo in the nest defeats me. To make a ‘decision’ at the age of 10 as to a young person’s likely academic (and by association) career trajectory is the stuff of a Hollywood dystopian nightmare B movie.

Surely, none of these values are contentious. I could go on: where is ‘happiness’, ‘health’, ‘freedom’, ‘choice’ or even ‘to be open to new ideas’?

I know the values behind my search for the perfect sausage roll. I make no judgments, I’m just left bemused as to quite what values those who support the 11-plus draw on to justify their cause.

Dr Alan Bainbridge is the Joint Coordinator of the Kent Education Network and member of Comprehensive Future’s Selection Working Party. He currently lectures in higher education having previously taught in Secondary Schools for 20 years. He is writing this article in a personal capacity.


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