Currently the super-selectives are: Dartford Grammar School; The Judd School (Tonbridge); Maidstone Grammar School; & The Skinners School (Tunbridge Wells) - all for boys; and Tonbridge Grammar School (for girls).
By requiring most or all of their students to achieve high scores in the Kent Test for grammar school entrance, they expect to: offer an education tailored to ensure these high achievers are appropriately academically stretched; gain high places in school league tables; persuade parents that they are 'better' than other grammar schools; and see their popularity increase.
However, these gains come at a cost. The problems in West Kent are well documented, as these school attract children from outside the locality and county, displacing West Kent children, especially those who live in the more rural areas, whose needs are mainly met by appeals procedures that impose more and more children on the overstretched Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys and Weald of Kent Grammar School (for Girls). However, most years there are children of grammar school ability who are unable to take up a grammar school place.
In North West Kent, Dartford has rapidly become the second most selective boys' grammar school in Kent (and closing rapidly on The Judd) as it recruits the highest scoring boys across the area, and more significantly through South East London to Greenwich and Lewisham (as well as all selective boys in Dartford town). This influx of out county boys has put increasing pressure on Gravesend and Wilmington Grammar Schools, so that boys in the Longfield area are now denied grammar school places in increasing numbers.
Maidstone Grammar School, which appears to be the model on which the SLGSB proposals are based, gives priority to boys who score more than 390 in the Kent test, but in this case living in named parishes, which bizarrely include Tenterden (omitting several other parishes on a direct line between here and the school). This proposal was expected to damage the other boys' grammar school in the town, Oakwood Park, but they have fought back to the extent that they have been awarded an 'Outstanding' classification this week after an OFSTED Inspection that reported: "It fulfils its aim of offering students ‘an exceptional learning experience’".
So what would happen in Canterbury. The school is clearly aiming to attract the ablest boys from the recruitment areas of: Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Faversham- 9.0 miles distant; The Norton Knatchbull School, Ashford - 11.5 miles; The Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone - 12.5 miles away; and Dover Grammar School for Boys - 12.8 miles. It can only do this if its geographical circle for other boys qualified for grammar school shrinks, I suspect dramatically within a couple of years, soon denying boys living close to Canterbury places at the school. Where will they they go? As well as Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls, there is a third grammar school in town, Barton Court which is mixed, but is also oversubscribed. This will absorb some of the boys displaced by boys from outside the locality, but at the inevitable expense of both boys and girls who live in the more rural villages around Canterbury who will have no grammar school to go to, especially to the East. If, however, they live towards Dover or Folkestone, the only two of these schools likely to see vacancies, they may be able to travel in the opposite direction to those recruited by SLGSB. Oddly the school most likely to come under pressure from this displacement is Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls, already the most oversubscribed grammar school in town.
Within the nine mile radius, but further than five miles, are just three significant centres of population, the largest being Faversham (nearly all of the town including Queen Elizabeth Grammar School itself), but also including Whitstable and Herne Bay. The last two certainly could do with more grammar school provision as, although technically in a 'selective area' (i.e should be able to gain access to a grammar school), children who have passed the Kent Test rarely qualify for places at any grammar school on distance grounds. This is because the three grammar schools in Canterbury and QE in Faversham are all oversubscribed, and so children will only secure a place if an appeal is successful. The Simon Langton proposal may allow a few extra boys with high scores to win places directly from these two towns, but makes the task of the majority even more difficult.
The reality is that in 2011, just 34 boys who passed the Kent Test and put Simon Langton Boys in first place were turned down for places (on distance grounds), in spite of the school's excellent science reputation, the grounds on which it is pursuing this proposal. Some of these disappointed applicants, especially the ones with excellent science records, will have secured places on appeal, and so currently the school is able to meet the needs of nearly all of the potential scientists who wish to come there. Will we now see Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, with its mathematics and ICT specialisation strike back by raising its academic requirement, although it approached the problem of heavy oversubscription last year by increasing its intake by 15, surely a better solution for Simon Langton which would then offer equal opportunity by matching the current intake number of Simon Langton Girls. Or will Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls, always the most popular grammar school in the area, solve its problems of oversubscription by increasing the cut off score, arguing that it wishes to attract the most able girls because of its superb record of entry to Oxford and Cambridge, and the best musicians - its own specialism?
What we do know, is that the consultation is just that. Whatever the outcomes, the Governors of Simon Langton have the right to introduce this proposal for entry in 2013 without further check. you may have heard my views and those of Simon Langton on Radio Kent earlier today (Thursday). When asked about coaching, the SLGSB representative gave what I thought was rather a naive answer. His view was that as the school did not want boys who had been coached, rather those able to think for themselves, this was not the school for boys who were coached and they should look elsewhere. The reality is that by raising the academic bar in this way, the margin for failure has narrowed sharply and the coaching industry in Canterbury and district would receive an enormous boost. The proposal was supported by a Canterbury Primary Head, who confirmed that he expected some of his children to lose out on a Canterbury grammar school place as a result but they could travel to Thanet where there were vacancies (actually only for girls!).
It was only a few years ago that Kent County Council buried its commitment to offer every child with a grammar school assessment a place in a Kent grammar school; but now that schools have the freedom to choose their own own oversubscription criteria, we can expect to see others following the example set here, in a competition to attract the best children, whilst the remainder are left to fend for themselves. Sadly, this trend will see the break down of any attempt to maintain a system of provision of grammar school places serving their local communities that (whilst creaking of late) has operated in the county for some 60 years. Such grammar schools are certainly not the only type of school that looks to themselves first rather than the children of their community, as we see the loss of any realistic chance of planning provision in the county and country arising from current education policy.
The one ray of hope from this proposal, if it goes ahead, is for the grammar schools listed above who primarily serve their local communities, to follow the example of Oakwood Park Grammar, and Simon Langton Girls Grammar, and work for their own Outstanding OFSTED assessment to show they are able to compete successfully. That way, no one is a loser!