I actually find it very difficult to believe that a large Academy Trust with all the resources it has at its disposal, including presumably legal advice, can allow such a dubious proposal to be put forward, and personally I doubt this criterion will ever see the light of day as the Schools Adjudicator will surely throw it out if challenged (and it will be), but it is a clear statement of the ambition of the Thinking Schools Trust, at the expense of the other schools, both selective and non-selective, in Medway.
In this proposal, the School Admissions Committee whose membership is undefined but, as a committee of governors, will include unqualified, untrained members working to fill available spaces using undefined criteria for grammar school ability. The Admission Code states: “Tests for all forms of selection must be clear, objective, and give an accurate reflection of the child’s ability or aptitude, irrespective of sex, race, or disability. It is for the admission authority to decide the content of the test, providing that the test is a true test of aptitude or ability”. Apart from removal of need for a Test itself I can see no way that the process can be clear and objective, and with its primary aim to fill spaces – 120,150 or 180 to be chosen according to school choice, any standard of admission becomes arbitrary and behind closed doors, inevitably leading to allegations of favouritism.
The Statutory Code of Admission for schools states that Grammar Schools “do not have to fill all of their places if applicants have not reached the required standard”, but there is no provision in the Code for a second tranche of children to be admitted in this way after March 1st. Surely, that is what the School Appeals process is designed for, setting out a formal process to ensure that children admitted to the school late, are independently assessed as of grammar school ability, a process that appears to have worked well for the school for many years. What the appeal rights of a child are, who has been through this second alternative process, remain unclear.
It was made clear in one of the meetings for parents that no boy would be deprived of a place if the school changed its character, as it could be expanded up to 180 students. Currently a small number of girls from the Victory Academy already attend the school full-time, and it could be that with a change of designation other girls would join older year groups, although here, only the school’s own test would be acceptable as the entry criterion.
There are several references in the reports on consultation meetings of Medway Council’s apparent approval of the proposal: “in Medway the Council can see the benefit of a co-educational school to absorb both boys and girls” and “Medway LEA were happy for the school to increase its published admission number to accommodate all those that applied for a place”. Although the Council has no formal role in the decision making procedure, it is surely important to know the their formal stance on this important matter.
Is there also a sub-plot here to boost the reputation and attraction of Victory Academy, which only manages to fill half its places each year. If the new school were to fill, it would also give priority to members of the two Medway Primary TSAT schools, New Horizons and Gordon, which are both struggling to fill places whilst all other local schools are full, but with a potential capacity of 180 before the alternative route is applied to fill places, I can hardly see oversubscription being an issue.
Whilst the proposed new procedure for admitting children after March 1st could right the balance, all the evidence shows that selection by scrutiny of work and records if this is the process chosen (as happens in the Medway Review and Kent Headteacher Assessment) also favours girls, so this would do little to address the imbalance!
NOTE: There appears to be a serious discrepancy between the Medway Test figures and those published at the time of release of Medway Test results which I shall explain further in my full analysis of the Medway grammar school selection process, to be published shortly.