There are Church of England, Catholic, evangelical and other faith schools – some able to recruit 100 per cent according to religious criteria, others 50 per cent, plenty with no conditions; oversubscribed schools and those with vacancies, some of the latter withering on the stem in the current highly charged competitive climate; three boarding schools - two grammar academies the third comprehensive with ‘military traditions’; multi-academy trusts; stand-alone academy trusts; one 13-18 grammar school structured so that half of its intake comes from private schools, but trying to change to 11 -18, against fierce resistance from parents; federations of schools of all shapes and sizes; special schools with different specialisations; specialist SEN units attached to mainstream schools and academies, including one grammar school.
There are schools classified by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’ through to those in ‘special measures;’ schools and ‘colleges’ with specialisms, some in their titles others not, some significant, others irrelevant, including– arts, humanities, ICT, languages, learning (!), mathematics, performing arts, science and technology, sports, and technology.
We have sponsored academies run by: churches; profit making organisations; some with names designed to advertise owners (what about the newly named ‘SchoolsCompany The Goodwin Academy’); grammar schools; other lead schools; universities; Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (under notice by government to dispose of all its academies); the Ministry of Defence; a London Livery Company; and private schools. Some of these academies are subject to being transferred between trusts in a sort of Monopoly game, but with children’s futures at stake.
If the government proposals go through we can add to this variety new types of academy and free school grammar and faith schools, along with more underperforming schools sponsored by universities and private schools (neither of which need have expertise in this area).
This is exacerbated here because Kent is still mainly a town and rural county, with no large conurbations (omitting Medway, a completely separate local authority with different rules), and so schools may be widely spread out.
Whilst a few families in west Kent have a choice of three grammar schools, many have just one unless they wish to travel long distances. It is a minority of families prepared to travel to another town for a non-selective school, and able to find one that will admit them, so choice of ‘suitable’ schools can become very limited. Some will not even qualify for admission to their nearest appropriate school, or indeed any suitable school, with the majority of schools in the county oversubscribed. Although parents are given a choice of four schools on the application form, to find four that suit is I suspect a rarity.
But what a task making that choice where it exists, with little guidance to help consider ethos, curriculum, opportunities, performance, OFSTED rating, headteacher style, chances of being offered a place and the many other relevant factors.
In reality, this is a process that heavily penalises those families not able to cope with the complexities, or understand the differences – these being the very families supposed to be at the centre of the government priority to promote Social Mobility according to the Green Paper. It is ironic that until a few years ago, Local Authorities were funded to provide an individual advice service on secondary school admissions precisely for families in need of this assistance to aid social mobility, but this was removed as not being a priority.
Whatever, I have no doubt that as always, aspiring families will find ways to benefit disproportionately from the outcomes of the proposals; I do not in any way blame them for this!