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Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00

Chatham Grammar Schools Tests: Cancelled on the Instruction of the Schools Adjudicator

UPDATED WITH ADVICE TO AFFECTED FAMILIES, BELOW, 18TH DECEMBER (and again!)

In a dramatic and far reaching determination on Friday, the Schools Adjudicator has ruled that the proposed Chatham Grammar School Tests planned for March 2013 cannot take place, as the two Chatham Grammar Schools failed to follow proper procedures when setting them up and the tests do not fulfil the requirements of the government's School Admissions Code. Both schools have agreed to make the changes immediately, as allowed to meet the requirements of an Adjudicator's decision. You will find the decision here. The two grammar schools introduced the procedures as a consequence of rapidly falling numbers of children in Medway over a number of years, resulting in a reduction of two non-selective schools in the Borough and large numbers of vacancies at Chatham Grammar School for Boys and Chatham Grammar School for Girls. This has been exacerbated for 2013 entry by the failure of the Medway Test procedure to select the full 25% of Medway children for grammar school entry, instead choosing just 23.7% of the cohort, an additional shortfall of 38 children which directly hits the two schools. You will find my original article on the introduction of the new tests here. You will find a letter from the headteachers of the two grammar schools here

The consequences of this decision will be very worrying for many parents and children and the two schools, although I do offer advice on next steps below. However, the fact remains that ........

 

the Adjudicator has used his powers under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998  to require the two schools to cancel both the additional selection tests planned for March, and a final assessment procedure in the summer after SATs results are known, which would inevitably have seen further children being admitted. However, parents will still be able to use the normal appeal procedures, and I anticipate this will see numbers rise again in the summer. That does not of course make up for the dashing of the raised expectations for parents and children, many of whom have been working hard since October to prepare for these tests. 

PARENTAL ADVICE:

If you consider your child suitable for grammar school and still wish to consider one of the two Chatham Grammar Schools, then there are four possible routes as follows:

1) If your child took the Kent Test and passed this, contact the school to confirm that s/he is still eligible - this aspect of the decision is still unclear.

2) If your child took, but did not pass the Medway Test, and you applied for one of the Chatham Grammar Schools, then you have normal rights of appeal and will be sent details of this process on March 1st. Of course if you would like professional advice on appeals, and your daughter's/son's scores are reasonably high, then feel free to contact me to see if I am able to assist you.

3) If your child took, but did not pass the Medway Test, and you have not applied for a place at one of the Chatham Grammar Schools, you have the right to make a late entry after March 1st. It is likely you will not be able to do this until April, but your Local  Authority will confirm the date when you can make the application.  In Medway, if you have not used up all of your six choices of school on the application form, you should simply contact Medway Council Admissions and ask to have the school added to your list. If you have used all your six choices, then you will need to replace one with a Chatham Grammar School.  If outside Medway, contact your own Local Authority and make the same request (in Kent you are allowed just four choices). As your child has not passed the Medway Test, you then have the right of appeal to the school. 

4) If your child has not taken the Medway Test, then you should first follow route 3. Your child will then be invited to take a late sitting of the Medway Test (different questions!).  If s/he passes, then they will be offered a place at the school. If s/he does not pass, then they have the right to appeal for a place at the school (route 2). 

Don;t forget; there will be places at both schools, so this will not be an issue. Quite simply, the onus is on you to show your child has the ability to manage a gramamr school curriculum successfully, drawing on evidence such as closeness of scores to the pass mark, school reports, grades, letters of support from primary schools etc.  

The decision to cancel the Chatham Tests follows a complaint by nine of the eleven non-selective secondary schools in Medway, focusing on the failure to consult about the proposals , who clearly and rightly feared the new  admission procedures would take away some of their brightest pupils, damaging their performance and in the case of at least two non-selective schools threatening their viability by further reducing numbers, although Medway Council appears to have supported the changes.  

Parents of borderline grammar school pupils who were unsuccessful in the Medway Tests will be very unhappy and angry at this removal of an additional opportunity to go to grammar school, at such a late stage, the Adjudicator having exercised his right to consider a complaint submitted nearly four months after the closing date for submission. There were well over a hundred families at the information evening on 22nd October, the offer also attracting  enquiries from many parents outside Medway, living in towns such as Gravesend, Dartford and Maidstone, all attracted by the quality of education on offer. Many of these parents will now use the appeal procedure to the two grammar schools instead, no doubt hoping for a sympathetic ear from the two schools, resulting in some of these children being awarded places in June rather than March. This will once again produce the churning effect in June and July, that I have written of elsewhere as parents take up places in their most favoured schools, freeing up others in schools lower down the pecking order. This churning effect is very unsettling for parents and children and is also destabilising for schools who have planned to admit their expected numbers, employed teachers and are also part way through their induction processes for new students only to see them vanish. 

Meanwhile: In another squeeze of the screw, Rainham Mark Grammar School has decided to increase the pressure on the two Chatham Grammar Schools by increasing its intake for the coming September from 175 to 205. This will take another 30 children away from the two Chatham Grammar Schools. With the non-selective schools also scrapping over falling numbers, it is almost as if civil war is breaking out in Medway over the decreasing number of children to go round. With thirteen of  Medway's seventeen secondary schools now academies (Thomas Aveling being on the way), we are seeing what the unrestrained competition the academy movement stands for is bringing about. 

The Adjudicator's decision also comes at a critical time for Kent grammar schools as they look for improvements in the Kent grammar school selection procedure. There are already two Kent grammar schools offering long established tests additional to the Kent Test which offer an alternative mode of entry for children. These are Dover Grammar Schools for Boys and Girls. However, crucially, these tests are sat and results known before applications for secondary schools are made in October as required by the Code.  The adjudicator has ruled that in the case of the Chatham Grammar Schools, offering an opportunity for a new test in March is not acceptable, and in any case, schools may not contact parents until after March 1st when destination schools are known. This appears to rule out the option of late tests for any other grammar school. 

The adjudicator has also strongly criticised the multi-faceted testing system which does not appear to meet the School Admissions Code requirement for clarity and, in the final stage where additional children were to be selected on the basis of work submitted and SAT results, lack of the required objectivity.

In a sentence whose implications I am not sure of, the Adjudicator notes that "The adoption of the Kent test as an alternative to the Medway test is of benefit to children living near the edge of the council area if it can avoid the requirement for a child to take both the Medway and the Kent sets of tests".  Clearly children maximise their chances of a grammar school place if they take both sets of tests and across the South East, there are many parents inside the M25 ring whose children take four or five tests, a few up to eight. Is the Adjudicator suggesting this practice should be outlawed?

The strength of the opposition to the changes is a clear warning to other grammar schools, seeking to change their admission criteria, of the problems they may encounter. One may well ask why the complaint was submitted so late in the cycle. The complaining schools argue that they were not properly consulted according to the rules of the School Admissions Code. Whilst it appears apparent that some did know what was going on, the fact remains that the grammar schools failed both to follow the rules laid down for consultation, and also properly follow the required procedures to implement the changes. 

Consequently, the Schools Adjudicator has upheld the complaints of the schools, firstly that the Consultation was not carried out properly and other procedures not followed according to the rules. Secondly, and most importantly for families, that the new rules for admission are not acceptable and must be revised to fit the Code as quickly as possible. In reaching this decision the Adjudicator has also laid down a number of rulings that would be binding on other grammar schools seeking to change their admission rules. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 22:42

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