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Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Social Mobility and Kent schools

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Two issues of social mobility affecting Kent children were in the news yesterday.

Firstly, the proposal by government to extend its current freedoms for academies and free schools to prioritise admission for some disadvantaged children to all schools. I was able on Radio Kent to identify the one Kent academy, a grammar school, that has already gone down this route, However, I cannot see those oversubscribed church schools where the freedom would be most likely to have an effect, taking advantage of this opportunity to increase social cohesion and mobility. 

Secondly, the Sutton Foundation, a highly respected education charity identified the best and worst academy chains in the country for improving disadvantaged pupils, finding a huge variation in the performance of sponsored academies run by the 31 long standing chains examined. One of the of the best performers, the Leigh Academy Trust,  operates in Kent. Of those don’t who perform as well as maintained schools, five operate in Kent, including one very surprising chain based in the county......

 

Priority for disadvantaged children in admission criteria

Although the option of giving admission priority to disadvantaged pupils has been available to academies and free schools  for some years and been taken up by some schools in other parts of the country, only one Kent school is taking advantage of this, with Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Faversham giving priority for children with free school meals, who have passed the Kent Test from September. The school is heavily oversubscribed but the number of FSM children who would not otherwise get a place because they live too far away is surely comparatively very small. At most, it would only squeeze out a few children who live even further away but have access to other grammar schools, so I don't see this as being a big issue except possibly for a very small number of children in Herne Bay. However, it makes a positive statement that the school does support issues of social mobility, one of the big claims for the existence of grammar schools. With many grammar schools in other parts of the country looking at the issue, it may well be that other Kent grammars will come on board, and make a public statement about their priorities. This won't include the super selectives who continue to give their priority to the highest performing children no doubt arguing that these are the only ones who can access their highly academic curricula. 

Queen Elizabeths

Interestingly, no Kent non-selective academy has seen the need to introduce this scheme so far, so it will be interesting to see  how many county maintained schools take up the option. My own view is that there are few schools where it would actually make a difference apart from those oversubscribed Voluntary Aided church schools and academies where religious commitment rather than distance are the priority. Some of these schools already take children of church going families from many miles away, at the expense of local children. Whilst this is a real opportunity to show Christian charity in the community, how many would be prepared to offend their core community? But see last paragraph. 

Priority for children in nursery schools attracting pupil premium to gain admission to primary schools.  

Government is also looking to give priority for children eligible for the pupil premium to have priority for primary school, if they have attended a linked Nursery School, which I suspect is a far more controversial issue. Many parents take their children to a Nursery near their work rather than their home, and this could distort the pattern of admissions for some primary schools, in a sector which is already overheated.

Performance of disadvantaged children in schools run by academy chains. 

The Sutton Foundation has looked at a wide range of data to see if academy chains improve pupil performance and progress. Media organisations have tended to publish partial data from the Report, rather than look at the bottom line. This looks at a range of factors affecting both performance and progress of disadvantaged pupils, the most important of these being progress. You will find the key table at the foot of this section. The Leigh Academy chain is in the top four performers, whilst in the bottom nine, the most significant one is the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership that currently runs 12 Kent schools, with six more on the way.  Also amongst the worst performers is United Learning, that runs the Wye Free School.

A different picture emerges for measures of attainment where, if a school admits bright children, one should expect good results. Here of the nine above average performers, The Leigh Academy Trust is again to the fore, this time accompanied by the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, clearly saying more about the calibre of intake rather than the quality of education. At the bottom, there are: the Academies Enterprise Trust which runs four problematic Kent primary schools in Maidstone, United Learning, and Woodard Foundation, which runs St Augustine’s Academy in Maidstone.

Final Thought

Whilst I disagreed with much that Michael Gove implemented, these shoots of support for social mobility and disadvantaged children could in my view be the best part of his legacy, and I hope the drive to continue it is not weakened by his departure. However, there is an elephant in the room. Currently, where a school shows support for children with SEN, and attracts large numbers, other parents often shun the school. Sadly, I suspect if a church school were to change direction and give priority to too many disadvantaged children, part of its core community may be less enthusiastic and look elsewhere.  As in so many cases of attempted social engineering, the main beneficiaries would then be the private schools, some of whom in Kent already act as refuge for many of those unsuccessful in the 11 plus, thus producing the completely opposite effect. 

Read 3374 times Last modified on Sunday, 27 July 2014 08:03

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