Update: The application was rejected by Government in August 2016, details here.
I have covered the apparently unstoppable move by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) to turn Chatham Grammar School for Boys into a co-educational school in previous articles. One thing above many others puzzled me; the decision by Medway Council (Slogan: "Serving You") not to disclose to the people of Medway if it had made objections to a proposal which inevitably will have a serious negative impact on grammar school provision and admissions in Medway. Indeed, the Council turned down my Freedom of Information request on the amazing grounds that it was not in the Public Interest to disclose their objections.
"Our country can't afford a two tier education system with London streaking ahead and areas like Knowsley and Medway lagging behind. It’s morally wrong and economically self-defeating"
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, in her speech to justify all schools be academised, using Medway Education Department to make the case.
Following an Internal Review (complaint) I have now obtained the Medway Council submission, which turns out to be a strong, if overly polite, attack on the proposal. This begs the question of why were they ashamed of critical arguments revealing the problems this proposal will now cause, that should have influenced other respondents to the ‘Consultation'? Given the strength of these objections was there not a case for marshalling the opposition? You can still only read the full objections here at present, although Medway Council may wish to explain why they are not otherwise available.
I have covered most of the following issues in previous places, but not being aware of other proposals by the Sir Joseph Williamson’s Trust, had not realised full the impact of giving priority for grammar school places to children in primary schools of the two Trusts, which is likely to deprive children in some other Medway primary schools, especially in the Hoo Peninsula and Rainham, of grammar school places in the future. Surely this aspect must now be halted somehow for both Trusts. Medway Council has once again let its residents down appallingly in failing to raise this issue publicly at the right time.
Although I am not aware of it, the question also needs to be asked whether Medway Council itself was informed of the objections, or were Councillors treated with the same contempt as the people of Medway? This is surely another example of the reality that, as a comment below suggests, political power in Medway education lies in the Maidstone Road, where the two Multi-Academy Trusts, TSAT (headed up by The Rochester Grammar School) and the Williamson Trust, lie.
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, opening New Horizons Children's Academy in Chatham, a new TSAT school.
TSAT's response to the Consultation criticises Medway Council's statistics, but does not actually indicate that they objected to the proposal or provide any further details, choosing to ignore most of the following arguments. Indeed, during a parental consultation meeting they suggest the Council was in favour of the proposal: “In Medway the Council can see the benefit of a co-educational school to absorb both boys and girls”, which may of course have led Medway residents and Councillors to draw a false conclusion. Likewise in the response to the Consultation, there is no reference to what are likely to have been far more strident objections from Medway's secondary schools and others, which include the local Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, any mention of the consultation, apart from the TSAT response, appear to have now been withdrawn from the school website, presumably as it is regarded as historical. You will find the new Admission Policy for September 2017 entrance, here.
The Council objections in summary are:
The potential (a polite word which should be removed or replaced with actual) negative impact on:
1) availability of boys’ places, 411 per year against 519 for girls. The proposal will exacerbate the problem and would result in there being only one grammar school for boys in Medway.
2) the Council's ability to meet its statutory duty to provide sufficient school places, with a significant shortfall in the availability of boys' grammar school places from September 2017, even taking into account the willingness of the school to consider allowing an additional form of entry
3) the viability of one or more of the girls' grammar schools in the short term (a very real threat. If a school runs out of money and children as I have shown elsewhere it can rapidly go into a downward spiral, of having to reduce staff, and then options to stay afloat, causing a fall in popularity).
- 4) equity in the selective system. It is suggested in the consultation that the proposals represent an increase in choice for parents with selective children. However, the proposed arrangements will create an inequity in the selective system, as girls will now have five preference options and boys only three. Only one of those options is a boys' grammar school as opposed to three for girls. Furthermore, the combined impact of the proposed changes along with the increase in pupil numbers in Medway overall, could be to significantly restrict the ability of boys living in some areas of Medway, such as the Hoo Peninsula, to access grammar school places. Many Hoo Peninsula boys already only have access to Chatham Boys Grammar, and are likely now to lose this in the future!
The council also objected the proposals:
a) to give priority to "Children have a sibling who any other TSAT secondary academy in Medway" and "Children who attend any Trust primary school, alongside proposals from Sir Joseph Williamson's Grammar school to give priority to children attending Williamson Trust primary schools and the Trust's proposals for the school to become co-educational, which will become issues as pupil numbers increase. Not being aware of the Math school’s own proposals I hadn’t spotted how serious this is, but with the coming shortage of boys' places, it could make attendance at one of the schools of the two Trusts obligatory to secure a grammar school place, in some areas such as the Hoo Peninsula. Presumably Conservative Councillors on the Hoo Peninsula and in Rainham (for boys who don't qualify for Rainham Mark Grammar which recruits on high scores) were told in advance;
b) that "From National Offer Day, any available spaces will be allocated to those children who have provided sufficient evidence to the Admissions Committee of being of grammar school standard", contrary to the school Admission Code Section 1.31. I first made this issue public in a previous article, picked up by the Medway Messenger. The Trust has now withdrawn this section, giving credit to the Messenger for identifying, it, not even deigning to mention the Council!