has seen an even wider variation in secondary school appeal outcomes and school admission practices, partly because many independent appeal panels appear to be following school expectations more closely. So, for example at Weald of Kent Grammar, where last year there were 48 successful appeals out of 69 possibly because the school was preparing for the Sevenoaks annex expansion, this year it has fallen to five (two of them clients of mine) out of 55, the school arguing vigorously it could not cater for an additional class again. Invicta Girls Grammar is going the other way having seen its number of appeals rocket from 51 to 90, and encouraging the appeal panel to look for another two forms of entry which saw its number of successful appeals rise coincidentally to 60 (or exactly two classes more!). The new Kent Test has seen a large increase in grammar school appeals this year, as I forecast back in November, with many families having seen their child apparently narrowly miss the pass mark, although I had no great expectation of a wide increase in success numbers across the county. However, the fact remains that after appeals in 2014, the proportion of children in Year Seven in Kent grammar schools is 30.7% of the total, which falls to around 29.6% when children coming from out of county are discounted, considerably higher than the 25% target for grammar school admission.
A number of grammar schools are heavily oversubscribed with a small number of appeals successful – Dartford Grammar, 127 qualified first choices turned away, just six successful appeals, including only one who had not passed (another of my clients!). This is the same as in 2014, when the other three Dartford grammars were next with 8 successful appeals each, out of a total of 235, a success rate of 10%. Other grammars had plenty of places before appeals, as identified elsewhere and so the likelihood is that it would be far easier to win an appeal at these. I no longer believe there is such a thing as a common grammar school admission standard, with the wide range in expectation at appeal together with extra places being created at some schools, even where there is no pressure. Parents are certainly wise to shop around if they really believe their child will thrive at grammar school. Chatham and Clarendon Grammar in Ramsgate surely set an all-time record with 139 appeals, but it is clear from enquiries I have had, that a number of these are simply families desperately trying to avoid the corpse of the Marlowe Academy or its successor. There were quite a few other grammars with more than 90 appeals.
Then there are the non-selective schools. Over the years, I have acquired a wide experience of what to expect which can vary widely from school to school and year to year. Schools such as Bennett Memorial or Wilmington Academy in recent years apparently aim to attract no successful appeals – in 2013, a client of mine had the only successful appeal at the former, whilst in 2014 there were just three, with Wilmington none. In that year, the Leigh Academy Trust, including Longfield and Wilmington, attracted 30% of all the 466 non-selective appeals in the county. Some schools such as Westlands traditionally see all their appeals fade away before a hearing as they somehow absorb the children. Others such as Rainham Girls have had a group appeal this year before individual hearings, only to decide all children can be accommodated.
A dedicated group of people who rarely get thanked are the two hundred or so appeal panellists across the county who give up considerable time on a voluntary basis every year and throughout the year to enable the appeals process to happen. This year several appeal panels have operated for two weeks or more for a single school, a gruelling task, especially with so many appeals being rejected at some schools. Last year there were just 5 infant appeals upheld from the 537 appeals registered where infant class legislation applied, surely a dispiriting task for the panellists who will turn down nearly every case that comes before them. I have had my disagreements over the years but the overwhelming number of appeal panellists I have encountered have been fair, knowledgeable, courteous and patient to an astonishing degree given the wide range of issues thrown at them. It will be a sad day if we lose this valuable independent service, although looking at recent developments in education, I fear this may well be a possibility, as has already happened with the abolition of independent school exclusion panels.
I don’t intend to waste what I have learned, some of it being incorporated into the Individual Schools section of this website which will be expanded as time allows to incorporate more of this information, and so I plan to continue providing my admissions telephone advisory service which reaches its peak in October. However, I have enjoyed meeting and working with so many interesting people over the years, and thank you for the many enjoyable experiences I have had as a result..