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Wednesday, 09 March 2016 06:25

Chatham Grammar School for Boys; decision made to go co-educational

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Further Update: Application Turned Down by Government in August 2016, here.

Update: Medway Council's objections published in full here

Chatham Grammar School for Boys is to admit a co-educational intake for September 2017, subject to approval from the Regional Schools Commissioner (advised by the Regional Headteacher Board of six headteachers, of which Ms Shepherd is a member, but who would not be involved in the decision), following a decision by the Directors of the Thinking School Academy Trust. This decision represents a reduction in opportunity for boys, leaving Medway with one very oversubscribed boys’ grammar, inaccessible to those in most of the Council’s area, as opposed to three girls’ grammars.

Chatham Boys 3

The school is to change its name to Holcombe Grammar School.

The Trust has scrapped its controversial proposal to admit children through a decision of the Admission Committee without testing, following my previous article pointing out that it was illegal. This article also covers some of the main issues and provides links to other items.

Medway Council refused my FOI Request for their response to the Consultation “in the public interest!” leaving one to wonder yet again, which public's interests they serve. 

The Local Governing Body of Chatham Grammar was disbanded at the end of 2015, although parents do not appear to have been informed of this removal of an important local voice, so that “Powers for moving the proposal forward have therefore reverted to the Board of Directors”....

The school has published information on the consultation and the decision process here, including Consultation Feedback for Parents and Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Trust that made the decision. These Minutes provide interesting insights into the Consultation process.

Consultation Responses.
Unfortunately, there is no indication of the nature of any institutional responses, even though Medway Council refused my FOI request to know what their position was in advance of publication, as “it is not in the public interest”. Now the report of the consultation has been published, the public still do not know the Council’s view. We are told that local primary schools and local secondary schools responded but not how, although I am informed that at a meeting of headteachers there were multiple and very strong views raised against the proposal. Of course the Academy Trust is within its rights to ignore the views of other institutions and the outcomes of the consultation, and made it clear at a meeting for parents that the Local Authority has no role in such decisions.  

A Trust response to a question stated: “We agree that there is no ‘right’ answer to the question of whether single sex or mixed education is best. What is clear is that for some students a single sex environment is best and for others a mixed environment is best, therefore, parents and students should have the opportunity to attend the school which best meets their personal needs.”  It is therefore unfortunate that this action removes that opportunity for many boys to attend a boys’ grammar as has existed for many years. Again: “We agree that at the moment the local selective education offer is essentially restricted to single sex education and that parents and students will appreciate the opportunity to have an alternative choice of educational setting in a mixed Grammar school”. This is actually not true, as most families have the alternative choice of Rainham Mark Grammar (just a few missing out because RMGS operates a scores cut off a few marks above the pass). At present, a number of Chatham children attend the mixed RMGS already, so the opportunity does exist and is exercised.

Effect on other schools
This document makes clear the school’s intention to add another 60 places in 2017/18, irrespective of the 67 vacancies currently in Year 7 across Chatham Boys and Girls and Fort Pitt, helped along by the recent expansion of Rochester Grammar School to 205 girls. The children to fill these places (if indeed they are filled) will inevitably come from Chatham Girls and Fort Pitt. With Rainham Mark currently seen as the more prestigious school, it is unlikely that many local children will be clawed back from there, so it is difficult to see how both schools can survive independently.

There is considerable calculation about Council forecasts showing they are inaccurate, although this is mainly because the three popular and oversubscribed grammars have regularly taken additional children by increasing their admission number at the last moment or through appeal, out of Council control. Of course there are two other reasons: the Medway Test has in recent years for some reason of its own consistently fixed a pass mark that sees fewer than the planned 23% of children through, and it is also heavily biased towards girls, as explained here, which has kept the imbalance of boys and girls sufficient to keep three girls’ grammars afloat, as distinct from two boys’ now to reduce to one. Oddly, the Consultation document acknowledges this, but then puts in place a change that exacerbates the problem, unless this is a strategy to deliberately close a girls’ grammar outside the Trust: “The system has existing and much greater inequities that we are not aware of being addressed or raised as concerns: 1. Every year significantly more Girls than Boys are deemed selective by the current 11+. For September 2015 entry 338 Boys were deemed selective compared to 416 Girls. The provisional preferences for September 2016 entry suggests that once again there are significantly more Girls being deemed selective than Boys, approximately five Girls are deemed selective for every four Boys. 2. Girls already have more choice of Grammar Schools to attend than Boys in the local area – 3 single sex Girls Schools and only two single sex Boys Schools”.

The Trust “made contact with Chatham Grammar School for Girls in December 2014 to discuss possible proposals for closer collaboration between the two schools. The Chair of Governors of Chatham Grammar School for Girls, Dr C Johnson, confirmed in April 2015 that after consideration “The clear outcome for our governing body was an emphasis on retaining the current status of Chatham grammar School for Girls as a single-sex grammar school”. “Chatham Grammar School for Girls will only be impacted if prospective parents choose to send their daughter to the new mixed Grammar School rather than a single-sex Girls Grammar School. This would be a consequence of parental choice”.  I have to say, I find it difficult to imagine the nature of such ‘collaboration’ other than a takeover, given the Trust’s agenda to provide “additional co-educational provision”. 

The sense of the Consultation Report is that there is little or no objection to the proposal, although the Minutes of the Director’s Meeting suggest otherwise: “The “disagree” responses received from Medway Secondary Schools was (sic) discussed”, although no detail is provided and, apart from a brief comment on Chatham Girls’ Grammar. are ignored.

Proposed Alternative Admission Process
The proposal to run a separate admission process via an Admission Committee for children who have not passed the Medway or Kent Test (an already existing route) has been quietly dropped, mention being made of an article in the Medway Messenger, although this was based on an article I wrote previously in which I asserted that the proposal was illegal, a good reason to drop it!
 
Conclusion
The simple reality is that this is yet another example of Academies now being in a position to make controversial decisions in their own interest, with no accountability to the local community, or consideration of the effects on the education of all local school children, subject only to a legal framework that is now framed for their benefit, rather than the welfare of all children, and approval by a Regional Schools Commissioner who only has authority over and therefore interest in the welfare of academies.

It won’t be the last.  

Read 2250 times Last modified on Monday, 07 November 2016 20:02

2 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 11 March 2016 19:11 posted by Dora Stanford

    If this goes ahead it could be the end for Chatham Grammar School for Girls. Already its roll has fallen to well below 700 and last year's results were not strong. The head is leaving and it almost certainly will have to join an academy chain.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 March 2016 21:47 posted by Jeremy Fox

    The fact that Ms Shepherd is on the board of head teachers who are going to ratify the decision for CGSB to go coed seems like a stacked deck. Even though she won't be involved in the actual decision, her mere presence will force the decision through as most are intimidated by her due her being very well connected.
    The removal of the local board of governors is odd. Was it because some of them were resisting the coed proposal I wonder?
    When TSA took over the running of the school after it was placed into measures, several information meetings were arranged for parents to attend at which Q and A sessions were held. These meeings were chaired by Ms Shepherd. At one of these a parent voiced her concern that CGSB did not become an RGS clone and that the character of the school would not change. Ms Shepherd assured the meeting that the character of the school would not change and that TSA had been appointed to turn the school around and bring it out of measures. .
    How is that going coed is not changing it's character?
    I think there is empire building going on. Teachers should get on with teaching and stop the smoke and mirrors.
    CGSB needs better computers, better sports faciliies and a much better playing field.

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