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Sunday, 19 October 2014 00:00

Problems with School Appeals at NW Kent Grammar Schools

I am writing this article in response to a large number of enquiries from parents of boys, and to a lesser extent of girls, looking for places at the Dartford, Wilmington and Gravesend Grammar Schools, who have just missed the selective standard and are looking to appeal. 

Last year, between them, there were 183 appeals lodged at Dartford and Wilmington Boys Grammar Schools, of which just 14 were successful, nearly all of these being made up of boys who had already passed but were initially excluded on distance grounds in the case of Wilmington, and not high enough scores in the Kent Test in Dartford.

dgs

 

The problem is created predominantly through pressure from children in London Boroughs, notably those on the railway lines from London Bridge through Bexley and Bromley, looking for grammar school places in Kent. Boys who live in Dartford itself who passed the Kent Test, whatever their school, are able to access either grammar school without difficulty. Other indications of the pressure on these two schools is that upon allocation back in March the two schools between them turned away 174 grammar qualified first preferences from the total of 1358  preferences expressed for the two schools. 419 of these applications were second preferences, although just 48 of these boys received offers. 110 of the 300 places available at the two schools were taken up by out of county boys on allocation in March although, as with the other figures, these proportions will have changed slightly by the time of admission in September, and I am not able to track the direction of any change.

The article explores the issues in more detail, and also looks at the growing problems in Gravesend and in the local grammar schools for girls. 

In summary the difficulty of winning an appeal at one of these two schools for a boy who missed the pass mark, for whatever reason, was and will remain immense.  As a result most parents will need to consider alternatives, several of which are spelled out below. .......

Dartford Grammar School

For 2014 entry, Dartford was the most oversubscribed grammar school in Kent and the school has increased its intake this year from 150 to 180, placing a cap (!) of 90 on numbers of local boys which should be sufficient to meet need. However, I don't see the increase changing the pressure very much, as the school will still inevitably comfortably fill with the highest scorers in the Kent Test from outside Dartford. This will once again lead to large numbers of oversubscription appeals, allowing no more flexibility on increasing numbers through appeal than in previous years.  The school is not allowed to offer priority to siblings because the rules do not allow this for schools that select by highest scorers. The school makes clear at appeal that it has serious concerns about admitting students who have not reached the correct level in the selection tests, detailing those concerns.

Complaints were made to the Schools Adjudicator about some aspects of the changes to the admission rules, but these were largely rejected in a judgement last month.

wilmington boys

Wilmington Grammar School for Boys

The situation at Wilmington is very different from 2014 entry, as the school has made a dramatic change in its oversubscription criteria away from what was predominantly priority for boys living nearest, which saw over half of its intake come from Bexley and Bromley and Greenwich.  The new rules list the priorities as: (1) Local Authority Care; (2) siblings; (3) 15 places for high scorers; (4) boys living close to the school or residing in a series of named Kent parishes to the south and east of the school; any remaining places (5) to be allocated by distance. This is a massive swing from the previous criteria which had distance placed at number four, with no number five. However, I see no diminution of pressure on the school as a result as London families continue to seek grammar school places. A comment below suggests all successful appeals at Wilmington in 2014 were to ooc boys who had passed with high scores, none to non-selective boys. 

 

Gravesend Grammar School

The school is seeing a similar pattern to the above starting to emerge, at present with a large number of lower preferences, mainly from London families placing it second or third to the Dartfords. Several boys who put the school fourth on their application form were offered places this year. Over the past two year, the school  has allowed its numbers to drift upwards from 150 towards 180 by taking in additional boys living further away, and also on appeal. For 2015 entry, the intake has been formally increased to 174, which perversely further reduces the opportunity for local boys to win places on appeal, as the extra 24 places will inevitably be taken up by non-local boys, allowing little flexibility at appeal.

dggs 2

Dartford Grammar School for Girls

Dartford Girls' has also changed its admission arrangements for 2015 entry, again attracting complaints from the Schools Adjudicator, which were also largely rejected. It has restricted the intake from local girls across a wider area than the boys, to 100, taking highest scorers if there are too many qualified. This could mean that some girls living very close to the school will be denied a place, although they will be able to get a place at Wilmington. Dartford Girls was the third most oversubscribed grammar school in Kent for 2014 entry, again with immense pressure from London girls to secure a place. The new arrangements will make places available to up to 60 girls from outside Kent, against 17 offered places last year, but one can still expect a high oversubscription level. The school is not allowed to offer priority to siblings because the rules do not allow this for schools that select by highest scorers. Nearly all of its successful applicants last year placed it first choice, indicating the real popularity of the school. At appeal, the school makes clear that it is looking for the most able students, capable of coping with a demanding academic programme from the start.

wilmington girls

Wilmington Grammar School for Girls

The school was undersubscribed in most years up to 2013, probably reflecting that parents of girls are sometimes reluctant to let their children travel too far to school. However, for 2014 entry the London effect arrived with a vengeance, and 20 first choices were turned away, with 89 of the 120 offers being made to girls from outside Kent. The school has responded in the same way as Wilmington Boys, above, setting new criteria giving priority to Kent children, but I am sure places will still be in heavy demand form girls outside the county, unable to gain places at Dartford Girls. A third of its places last year went to girls who placed the school second or lower on their admission form. The school was also overwhelmed with appeals last year with just 8 out of 89 successful. Again, many of these will have been girls who have already qualified for grammar school.

Mayfield 1 

Mayfield Grammar School, Gravesend

The girls’ grammar school of Gravesend has not historically benefitted from the London effect and has had vacancies in previous years. It has introduced the Mayfield Test this year to try and select girls suitable for grammar school who have not been identified by the Kent Test – and there are of course plenty of these! Either Test qualifies girls for consideration for admission, according to the oversubscription criteria which does not discriminate between the two tests.

Last year there were vacancies, but it is still unlikely there will be oversubscription for local girls even with the additional test, because of the change of rules for Wilmington Girls.

One oddity: The criteria for success in the Mayfield Test are the most complex I have seen. To be found of grammar school ability, the girl has to take the Kent Test with the option to take  the Mayfield Assessment Test in addition. The latter comprises: A computer based test which will assess verbal ability, numerical reasoning and non-verbal reasoning and which is nationally standardised; together with An English paper to assess Reading and Writing skills and which will be hand marked. (Not computer based or multiple choice ). For admission in 2015, candidates need to either pass the Kent Test, or achieve a weighted score on the Mayfield Test greater than 100.61 with an English score equal to or greater than 10 or else A weighted score from 95.15 to 100.60 inclusive with an English score equal to or greater than 15. The school's oversubscription criteria now provide for priority after local girls, to go to the highest aggregate scorers in the Kent Test.

Conclusion

Many candidates who would succeed at appeal in other parts of Kent are going to be unfortunate in North West Kent and be rejected at appeal, because there is only a finite number of places available and schools are increasingly chasing the highest achievers no matter where they live.

To make matters worse there is also enormous pressure on non-selective places in Dartford, with all three Leigh Academy Trust schools (including Longfield) amongst the most oversubscribed non-selectives in Kent. Apart from these, there is just one secondary school for girls and one other which is not popular, placing a particular pressure on places for boys! Parents in Gravesend and Northfleet are in a far better position, with all schools performing well, and less pressure on places.

Parents may therefore wish to explore further afield at other accessible grammar schools to the south and east of the district. Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone, with an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED, sometimes has vacancies, but has the capacity and willingness to expand if the demand is there; its Independent Appeal Panel usually upholding a good percentage of appeals.

Chatham Grammar School in Medway, has had a chequered past, but we are told informally that its most recent OFSTED will produce a ‘Good’ assessment showing the school has put its troubles behind it. Admission is via either the Medway Test or the Kent Test, with the added twist that one can appeal for a place off an unsuccessful Kent Test result. The school will certainly have vacancies as there are insufficient grammar qualified children in Medway to fill the places available and again, the Independent Panel usually upholds a good percentage of appeals.

Borden Grammar School in Sittingbourne also has vacancies.

In this article, I have neither explored schools across the boundary into the London Boroughs, nor private schools. However, both of these groups of schools benefit from admitting able Kent children squeezed out of grammar schools because of the pressure on places.

Last modified on Saturday, 25 February 2017 22:35

4 comments

  • Comment Link Saturday, 25 October 2014 08:32 posted by Danny

    I agree strongly with William and Peter in this. I can only guess that Patra is representing the occ students or has a super selective child. How would he feel if his son or daughter lived in the community, was able but missed out on the day and space was taken by an outsider with absolutely no connection to anything.

  • Comment Link Friday, 24 October 2014 17:06 posted by wiliam

    Unfortunately because it's a one day test involving multiple choice, the 11+ exam is not a complete and accurate measure of academic ability. The appeal process should be there for individuals to demonstrate they are able with evidence from the school and sats results being considered carefully. Unfortunately panels just go for the highest score irrespective of where you live and any mitigating or supporting evidence. This is wrong and a detriment to local children. PETER: Hear; hear

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 22 October 2014 22:38 posted by Patra

    The 11+ is an exam. Those who "missed by a few marks" means they failed the exam, even if they live next door to the school.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 21 October 2014 08:29 posted by Danny

    This is appalling. Dont be misled by Wilmington Boys statement also. On the outside of the school it says community school but in reality at appeal they offered 9 boys out of county places with the highest scores and neglected local children missing out by a few marks.

    Those poor children have now been pushed out to and are now taking up places of other schools. The whole thing is appalling and needs a serious Government rethink. Does the Govt really think that send children out of borough on a bus or train everyday improves education overall? Let's hope that with a general election next year and the threat of UKIP in these key marginals, that our Kent leadership will respond in a sensible way promoting local schools for local children. PETER:thanks for the additional data to support my concerns. Please note however, this has not been confirmed but I have no reason to think it is untrue.

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