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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

Adjudicator Rules on Dartford Grammar Schools Admission Arrangements

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has ruled on a number of complaints about decisions made by Dartford Grammar School (DGS) and Dartford Grammar School for Girls (DGSG) to award more of their places to high scoring pupils in the Kent Test at the possible expense of local children. He also considered complaints about sixth form admission policies and also about failures in consultation about the proposals. The complaints were submitted submitted by parents and governors of neighbouring grammar schools in Bexley. You will find the determination (decision) here. 

DGGS                       DGS

In the biggest area of complaint, the Adjudicator does not find fault in the changes in priority at the expense of local children.  

With regard to the sixth forms, the main faults in the admission process and criteria at the two schools are also applicable to many other secondary schools in the county, a regular issue raised with me by parents whose children have been denied entry, further details here.   

Both schools failed to consult properly on their changes, although the Adjudicator oddly argues that as there were few responses (not surprising if few knew about them), there appears to be no need to find a remedy.

A key and surely controversial section not directly related to the complaints arises from the provision of the ‘unique’ International Baccalaureate Curriculum beginning in year 7 at DGS. The Adjudicator notes that the nature of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum is seen by both the school and the Local Authority as not being suitable for all qualified applicantsand for this reason the school has “ …attracted pupils from a wider reaching catchment area, as a result of this niche which they have created in the education market”, to quote the LA”. To me this is a remarkable statement, for surely, if the IB is not suitable for some local children then the admission arrangements should be changed to reflect this rather than allowing them to enter and struggle. Alternatively, and highly preferable for me, would be to amend the curriculum arrangements so that all children admitted could access the curriculum.  

I expand on all these issues below:........

The Adjudicator’s analysis and decision is very complex, being one of the longest I have seen, running to 22 pages. However, he has generally rejected the complaints about changes introduced by the two grammar schools to the policies in place for 2014 admission, the main requirements for revision being to both schools Sixth Form entry requirements. The schools now need to make a few changes to their published admission arrangements in 2015 as explained below. The minor changes affecting Year Seven admissions will have to be made rapidly, so that parents know the situation before making applications by the end of October

Allocation of Places

The background to the changes in admission criteria is quite simply that both schools, whilst giving some priority to local children, have sought to expand their intake of high scorers, by recruiting in the huge hinterland of South East London, easily accessible by train, with DGS proposing to expand by 30 boys to 180. You will find its admissions policy and oversubscription criteria here. The girls’ school is remaining at 160, its policy here.  

DGSG sought to limit the number of local girls to 80, previously having recruited primarily from named Kent parishes, awarding the remaining places (apart from any going to girls in care) on high scores in the Kent Test wherever the girls live. The school has also removed the priority for siblings. During the consultation, it had increased the number of local girls from 80 to 100 following representations from KCC.

DGS had a tighter local zone, but is expanding this slightly, although proposing to limit numbers gaining places by virtue of local residence to 90. It had previously removed sibling priority.

In both cases, if local children do not qualify for ‘local’ places, they can still gain admission via the high scoring route.

Kent County Council made clear to the Adjudicator that it would prefer both schools to give local children priority for all places.

The key complaints in this section were:

 i) that the arrangements mean that some qualified children living within the area to which priority is given will in future fail to be allocated a place;

(ii) that the higher score needed in future to secure a place for those living within this area will mean that the “coaching culture” will be given further impetus, disadvantaging those unable to afford such coaching;

(iii) that children living in this area will not know the mark on the tests needed to secure a place in future;

(iv) that some local children will in future need to travel further than to one of the two Dartford grammar schools to access grammar school education;

(v) that it is unfair to remove a child’s right to attend their nearest appropriate school;

(vi) that since lower scoring local children will live in more deprived areas than higher scoring local children, the higher score required to gain admission disadvantages a particular social group, and

(vii) that the Code does not permit the use of a capped number of places to be associated with a given oversubscription criterion, meaning that this practice is unfair.  

The adjudicator has analysed the figures of children being admitted to the schools and up to 2014 entry can find very few local children who would have been disadvantaged by the changed arrangements. He notes there is a forecast increase in numbers of local primary school children working through, but there are also other local grammar schools that could absorb any shortfall. He notes there was no objection from KCC about this aspect. He finds no fault in the new arrangements in this respect, apart from what I regard as a minor fault at DGS with regard to the management of waiting lists.

Dartford Grammar School IB Curriculum  

One key issue is not directly concerned with the complaints, and that is the nature of Dartford Grammar School with its unique International Baccalaureate Curriculum beginning in Year 7. The school, with remarkable sleight of hand, argues that with 80% of its applicants coming from outside the local area, it is fairer to them to know there are a definite number of places available to the high scorers. Even though this reduces the number of local children who will gain places, their chances are higher than for those out of county! Kent County Council describes the outcome as an unhappy compromise, acknowledging that the school could alternatively award all its places to high scorers. The issue of the lack of suitability of the curriculum for some local children who will gain admission is surely too important a matter of principle to be swept aside like this. My own sense is that most of the out of county applications are not seeing the IB as the key draw, rather parents are looking for their children to attend a high achieving grammar school. Very few parents who consult me quote the IB as a factor in their preference. 

Consultation

With regard to consultation on the changes, the Adjudicator considers that both schools failed to carry out the required consultations of admission authorities of other secondary schools in Kent and upholds the complaints, although observing that there were in any case few responses to the consultation. As a result he requires no action to be taken to correct the fault. Interestingly, when the Chatham Grammars failed to carry out consultations in a similar way a few years ago, the Adjudicator was damning about their failure.

He upholds a complaint against DGSG who have removed the sibling priority, that younger siblings of girls already in the school in 2015 should continue to have that priority, but notes the need for this will vanish over time. This will now be restored.

Sixth Form Issues

The Schools Adjudicator upholds complaints about the admission arrangements to the sixth forms of both schools, a problem area across many schools in Kent as parents report to me regularly. Both schools fail on the technical point of requiring statemented students to name the school.

At DGS the adjudicator criticises the application form that asks for information about extra-curricular activity and career aspirations, which are not objective and so not allowed. It also states that: the admission rules contained a statement that places are conditional on “the availability of courses”. DGSG adopts similar wording “the school must be able to provide a viable sixth form programme” which is equally criticised, as these are not objective criteria that the parents are able to assess. This approach is not allowed, although other schools also illegally apply it. DGSG is at fault for not declaring the number of students from outside the school to be admitted to the sixth from, again a fault at many schools.

Summary

In my view the overall judgement is a (regrettable) vindication of the policy of both schools to chase the highest ability candidates from the vast recruiting area of SE London whilst continuing to offer places to children in the immediate vicinity of Dartford. The faults in the Sixth Form Admission Rules are significant, but certainly not unique across the county. The failure to accept the need to carry out appropriate consultation shows a regrettable attitude of mind that powerful academies don't need to consider local sensitivities.

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 22:46

1 comment

  • Comment Link Sunday, 03 May 2015 08:54 posted by Sandra

    Hi. I read with interest your concerns about "high scoring OOC children" getting priority at DGS. You would say that these children are grammar school material yes? So why shouldn't they have a fairer access to a grammar school? Just like everyone else. These children are not catered for in their boroughs since the labour government closed them all down. What are parents supposed to do with brighter kids? Send them to the local comp? I would be interested to hear your views. I also spoke to a friend who said you were a speaker at St Marks private school a while ago. So it's ok for private school kids to take grammar school places then? PETER: I am afraid you appear confused. Unfortunately you don't say who they should have priority instead of. They are actually getting places ahead of Kent children who have passed the Kent Test and are of grammar school ability. As a Kent tax payer who has seen KCC provide DGS with millions of pounds worth of its splendid facilities choosing it in preference to other local schools, I think that is wrong. The definition of a comprehensive school is one that provides for all abilities. If you are unhappy with the policy in your own Borough, then you should take it up with your local politicians. I certainly don't presume to advise you what you should do about your child of grammar school ability as you don't live in Kent and I write this website for Kent families, although I quite understand your aspiration to secure the best education for your child, but you must understand you are trampling on the opportunities for Kent children to do so in a Kent school. Kent fought to retain its selective system, rightly or wrongly, for its own children, and it is galling for those families to see 24 boys from Greenwich and Lewisham being given priority over them. I am afraid I cannot see the relevance of my talk at St Michael's to parents of Kent children on Kent grammar schools. Of course it is ok for private school children to go to grammar schools. It would be ridiculous to suggest as you appear to be trying to, otherwise. I am equally happy to talk to parents of children in Kent state schools when invited.

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