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Friday, 17 January 2014 00:16

Grammar School update:

This article looks primarily at recent activity in provision of grammar school in Kent and Medway. In particular it looks at: the proposed Sevenoaks Satellite Grammar School (last week's development); West Kent; North West Kent; Canterbury; Cranbrook; Maidstone; Medway; Shepway and Thanet......

 

Sevenoaks Satellite

Kent County Council submitted a planning application last week for  the: “Proposed redevelopment of the former Wildernesse School site: proposed demolition of existing school buildings retention and refurbishment of existing Sports Centre, erection of two new secondary schools (a 6 form of entry Sevenoaks Grammar Annexe and a 4 form of entry Trinity School), introduction of new vehicular and pedestrian accesses, rearranged and extended car park to provide 242 car parking spaces and dedicated child drop off/collection and bus zones, relocation of existing tennis courts into two new Multi Use Games Areas and associated detailed landscape works”. You can find the tortuous story so far, here

This confirms KCC’s ambition to press ahead with the proposal for a satellite grammar, in spite of government rejection. To date, the only logical way forward I have heard of given the constraints laid down by Mr Gove, came from David Bower, Chairman of Governors at Weald, in a Radio Kent interview before Christmas which has not been publicly mentioned since. This is a suggestion (no more) to turn Weald co-educational, keep identical intake rules for both Weald and the Satellite, which would disadvantage no local children, and as admission is not gender related allow the gender balance to adjust to meet needs. All problems solved! But would the governors of Weald agree to this dramatic change in its nature? And what about the parents or the girls?

West Kent

The Judd School has increased its intake for a second year, taking  it up to 158 boys for the second year running, although no indication from Skinners of a similar move, so their intake remains at 115, unless there is a late change. Tonbridge Grammar (girls) has again increased its intake by 23 to 173 for entry this summer, keeping the proportion of local children the same, at 133, with the remaining 40 coming from outside the priority area, both groups selected by highest aggregate scores. Its website states that any such decision in future years will be decided annually. Such a decision may well be influenced by the final outcome of the Sevenoaks Satellite saga, but it could be difficult to draw back as Independent Appeal Panels would be influenced by its acknowledgement that it has the capacity. Forecasting of cut off scores for the three super-selective grammars will once again be difficult. Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar is likely to be once again under pressure.

North West Kent

I have earlier discussed the proposed increase in numbers at Dartford Boys to 150, and Dartford Girls is now proposing to follow its lead for entry in 2015, keeping its admission number to 160, but restricting the number of places allocated to local children living in Dartford Borough and its traditional named North Sevenoaks parishes to 80. The remaining places would then go to highest scorers, inevitably seeing some Kent children displaced by high scorers from SE London, as with the boys. If the Sevenoaks Satellite were in place for 2015 entry, this would compensate, but it is looking increasingly unlikely. Sadly, once again a Kent grammar school is winding down its  priority for local Kent children in the chase for a higher place in league tables. 

Meanwhile Mayfield Grammar School in Gravesend, which has seen a falling proportion of girls passing the Kent Test has proposed offering its own test alongside the Kent Test from 2015, as an alternative means of gaining admission. As with the four Folkestone and Dover Grammar Schools, who currently operate their own tests, the pattern will be an assessment of verbal, non-verbal reasoning and mathematics – machine marked, followed by a hand marked literacy test. Whilst KCC might have liked to operate this pattern, it is not realistic as it is very difficult to achieve consistency over handmarking of some 10,000 scripts. The school is also likely to benefit from the fall-out from the Dartford Girls decision, particularly from girls in the Longfield District. As always, the biggest uncertainty focuses on Wilmington Grammar School for Boys. Some years it tries to fix at four forms of entry, in others it is happy to indicate to appeal panels it will go with five. It is always heavily oversubscribed under pressure from boys in SE London, but frequently as second choice to other grammar schools. It always a large number of appeals, several times most in the whole of Kent, with a record 112 in 2012, exactly half of which were successful. Compare this with 2011 when, of the 65 appeals just two were successful. 10% of places are given to high scorers, the cut off last year soaring to 414. Normally there is a significant churning effect, but last year with 30 out of 71 appeals succeeding, and a current Year 7 of 146 boys, it is clear that those boys offered places generally stayed with the school, whose academic performance is climbing steadily.  

Gravesend Grammar also remains unclear. Usually considerably oversubscribed at 150, in recent years they have drifted up towards 180 either by increasing their admission  number sometime in March, or indicating to the appeal panel they are happy to admit more. 

Canterbury

Barton Court Grammar School has now produced a Consultation Document about its proposed move to the Herne Bay Campus for September 2017. I have previously published an article outlining the implications of this move. One new piece of data is that 56% of current students live nearer Herne Bay than the current site, most of the rest coming from the north of the City. The consultation acknowledges the difficulties for those who would find daily travel difficult and parents will anxiously await answers if the proposal goes through. To me it has the feel of a logical move that can and probably will happen (although my initial forecasting for Sevenoaks proved I am not infallible!). What will surely happen is the balance of applications in Canterbury will surely change from this year onwards, with children living in and around Whitstable and Herne Bay being more tempted to apply to Barton Court, those in the south of Canterbury and the villages south of the city looking to the Langtons. Unfortunately, with Langton Boys having gone its own way and giving priority to boys with a minimum aggregate of 385 in the Kent Test, those boys living too far away will have more difficult decisions to make.

Cranbrook

I have written two previous articles on the decision by the Governors of Cranbrook School to change from admission at 13+ to admission at 11+ in principle, and the background to the issue.  The school has now published an update confirming the intention to go to the Department for Education for the required funding, with plans to use the Kent Test for admissions, priority being given to children living in the catchment area, and presumably on distance grounds outside this. The school still faces a strong lobby against the proposals coming mainly from those who like its private school ethos without the burden of paying fees. The current 13+ intake see the school's students being drawn primarily from the private sector, notably the three local schools: Dulwich College Prep School; Marlborough House; and St Ronan’s Prep which provided nearly half its current Year 9 intake. These schools will be badly hit by the change. In total some 115 of Cranbrook's 146 Year 9 day and boarding intake came from the private sector, a further 12 from Kent grammar schools, presumably having sought a grammar education for two years rather than local non-selective schools. The starting date for transfer at 11 has now slipped to 2016 at the earliest, quite possibly the resistance having contributed to the delay.

Maidstone

In 2013, Maidstone Grammar Boys was the only local grammar to be full, and just three boys were turned away here, with only 13 appeals for places. There is unlikely to be additional pressure this year, so the arrival of a Sevenoaks Satellite taking away children from between the two towns, would have a negative effect on numbers.

Medway

The big question here is what will happen at Chatham Grammar Boys since its OFSTED failure last year, and subsequent take over by the Rochester Grammar School Trust. Last year, numbers were damaged by the decision of Rainham Mark Grammar School to take in an additional form, but this did not become public until allocation day in March and we don't yet know what will happen this year. Medway pupil rolls in Year Seven have now passed the bottom of a very sharp decline and there is a small increase in numbers which accelerates over the coming years, so with the only two other grammar schools admitting boys likely to be full, there may be some respite to see if the changes implemented at the school have a positive effect. However, the repeated low intakes will have damaged the school financially, and it will take some time to recover from this.  

Shepway

It is reported that there has been significant take up of places by additional children successful at the new Shepway Test. This will mean far fewer places at appeal, although there should be far fewer appellants of grammar school ability.

Thanet

It is difficult to predict the effect of the full amalgamation of Chatham House and Clarendon House Grammar Schools to become the unfortunately named Chatham and Clarendon Grammar School (not to be confused as it already has been many times with the Chatham Grammar Schools in Medway). Last year just 54 of Clarendon’s places were offered out of a total of 99, whilst Chatham House which has been much more popular offered 85. The departure of an unpopular headteacher, the merger of the boys and girls, admission offers to become gender free, and the whole effect of becoming co-educational all have the potential for change. Thanet now just has two grammar schools, both co-educational so no opportunity to choose a single sex grammar. 

Conclusion

 

Last year a number of grammar schools made decisions to admit more children, several of these not being known until March, so pressure on grammar school places eased considerably over 2012. Whilst understandably, schools appreciate the new flexibility to be able to mange applications to best effect, and chances of gaining a place in one’s first choice school increase,  it does make choice of schools more uncertain, which is against the spirit of the Government Code of Practice for Admissions.  The big unknown is what will happen in Sevenoaks in 2015, or more likely now in 2016, if at all. A mixed satellite there, accompanied by the changes in Dartford admission rules is likely to have knock on effects  for many miles away, as patterns of choice and availability of places change. 

In spite of loud protests, I don't believe that scaling back of the generous Kent Freedom Pass will cause people to turn down grammar school places except sadly, for a few in rural areas mainly in East Kent, who will struggle to find the fares. 

I believe I have covered the main pressure points in the coming allocations, but feel free to contact me if you feel I have missed something out. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 22:01

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