The school has been struggling for some years in the twin grip of dramatically falling numbers of children in Medway in recent years, combined with a Medway grammar school test that discriminates sharply against boys. This year just 297 Medway boys were found selective, only two thirds the number of girls. As a result, only half its places were filled in March. The only other boys’ grammar school, Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, blessed with superb facilities just managed to fill (oversubscribed by 3 first choices). The school was further squeezed this year when the mixed grammar, Rainham Mark, decided to offer an additional 30 places. Such a dramatic fall in numbers from being Medway’s most oversubscribed grammar school less than a decade ago, carries with it a large drop in funding which has to be met somehow.
The real tragedy of Chatham Grammar School is that carries out what I regard as an important function of grammar schools; it serves a socially mixed community and offers bright boys from all backgrounds the opportunity to make the best of themselves (together with girls in the Sixth Form). Its examination results are sound, with 100% of boys achieving 5GCSEs including English and maths in 2012. Additionally 50% of its boys qualified for Mr Gove’s measure of the English baccalaureate, placing it squarely in the middle of Medway grammar schools and above many in Kent. At A Level, the school’s failing is that it deliberately admits a large intake of boys and girls from local non-selective schools, providing them with opportunities at A Level, as distinct from many grammar schools who chase the highest performers to improve their own grades. As a result A Level grade results are flattened at Chatham. The OFSTED Report makes no acknowledgement of this but makes clear it compares Chatham Grammar's academic performance with 'other high performing schools'. Nearly all other Kent and Medway grammar schools require higher entry grades for the sixth form and, sadly, this Report will further discourage them from admitting students capable of only moderate success at A Level, as defined by lower GCSE entry grades.
I must confess, I am a fan of the school. I talk to many parents in Medway from a variety of backgrounds, both with boys at the school and those aspiring to go there. Without exception, all talk about a happy school, one that encourages children to get on and succeed. Few mention the contrast in resources with some other grammar schools. 64 of the 74 places offered in March went to children who placed it first choice.
It Is rumoured that Mr Marshall's retirement was forced by Medway Council, If so It would be very ironic, given that the Council is surely itself awaiting a critical OFSTED review, having secured just 40% of its primary school OFSTED Reports as 'good or outstanding this year, a dramatic fall of 16% from last year's 54%, lower than last year's lowest performing Local Authority, and in a year when national OFSTED grades have improved markedly. Further, its Children' Services (which Includes Education) Department has already failed two OFSTED Inspections this year in different aspects of its work, surely a record. However, the bottom line is that where a school fails its OFSTED, more often than not the head, sometimes together with the governing body (who are legally responsible for the school's performance, and who are also strongly criticised in the Report) resigns or is forced out.
The school Is implicitly criticised for its failure to use Medway Council's School Improvement service. However, given the failure of Medway to improve its own schools, this decision appears sensible. Rochester Grammar brings in its own successful package for improving other schools which appears a far better option!
It is clear that the school is partially a victim of its own philosophy of serving its community rather than chasing government targets and league tables and sadly it has failed not just because of this but by its failure to address identified weaknesses.
I have already been contacted by a number of concerned parents who have been happy with the education provided for their sons so far, but now worry what the future holds. All I can observe is that Ms Shepherd and Mr Gardner have been very successful at The Rochester Grammar and elsewhere, and am confident that where there are issues these will be addressed, as is indicated by Ms Shepherd's conduct of the Parents Forum.