I am writing this article in response to a large number of enquiries from parents of boys, and to a lesser extent of girls, looking for places at the Dartford, Wilmington and Gravesend Grammar Schools, who have just missed the selective standard and are looking to appeal.
Last year, between them, there were 183 appeals lodged at Dartford and Wilmington Boys Grammar Schools, of which just 14 were successful, nearly all of these being made up of boys who had already passed but were initially excluded on distance grounds in the case of Wilmington, and not high enough scores in the Kent Test in Dartford.
The problem is created predominantly through pressure from children in London Boroughs, notably those on the railway lines from London Bridge through Bexley and Bromley, looking for grammar school places in Kent. Boys who live in Dartford itself who passed the Kent Test, whatever their school, are able to access either grammar school without difficulty. Other indications of the pressure on these two schools is that upon allocation back in March the two schools between them turned away 174 grammar qualified first preferences from the total of 1358 preferences expressed for the two schools. 419 of these applications were second preferences, although just 48 of these boys received offers. 110 of the 300 places available at the two schools were taken up by out of county boys on allocation in March although, as with the other figures, these proportions will have changed slightly by the time of admission in September, and I am not able to track the direction of any change.
The article explores the issues in more detail, and also looks at the growing problems in Gravesend and in the local grammar schools for girls.
In summary the difficulty of winning an appeal at one of these two schools for a boy who missed the pass mark, for whatever reason, was and will remain immense. As a result most parents will need to consider alternatives, several of which are spelled out below. .......
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has ruled on a number of complaints about decisions made by Dartford Grammar School (DGS) and Dartford Grammar School for Girls (DGSG) to award more of their places to high scoring pupils in the Kent Test at the possible expense of local children. He also considered complaints about sixth form admission policies and also about failures in consultation about the proposals. The complaints were submitted submitted by parents and governors of neighbouring grammar schools in Bexley. You will find the determination (decision) here.
In the biggest area of complaint, the Adjudicator does not find fault in the changes in priority at the expense of local children.
With regard to the sixth forms, the main faults in the admission process and criteria at the two schools are also applicable to many other secondary schools in the county, a regular issue raised with me by parents whose children have been denied entry, further details here.
Both schools failed to consult properly on their changes, although the Adjudicator oddly argues that as there were few responses (not surprising if few knew about them), there appears to be no need to find a remedy.
A key and surely controversial section not directly related to the complaints arises from the provision of the ‘unique’ International Baccalaureate Curriculum beginning in year 7 at DGS. The Adjudicator notes that the nature of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum is seen by both the school and the Local Authority as not being suitable for all qualified applicants “and for this reason the school has “ …attracted pupils from a wider reaching catchment area, as a result of this niche which they have created in the education market”, to quote the LA”. To me this is a remarkable statement, for surely, if the IB is not suitable for some local children then the admission arrangements should be changed to reflect this rather than allowing them to enter and struggle. Alternatively, and highly preferable for me, would be to amend the curriculum arrangements so that all children admitted could access the curriculum.
I expand on all these issues below:........
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......
Recent correspondence between Michael Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks and Michael Gove, Secretary of State, appears to suggest that any decision on the proposed satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks is far from clear cut.
Meanwhile, grammar school provision at Dartford Grammar looks set to increase, targeted at the ablest pupils from South East London.
Proposed Satellite Grammar School in Sevenoaks
The letter from Michael Fallon, dated 7th October, once more makes the case for the satellite, but finishes “I urge you to make a speedy decision”. Quite rightly, as time is passing, and the target date of opening in September 2015 relies on the building being mainly completed within the next 19 months. Planning permission may be working through, but not a brick can be laid until the decision is made, and any legal challenges resolved.
Mr Gove replied on 24th October: “Thank you for your letter of 7 October, about the provision of school places. I understand the difficulty pupils and families face in securing a suitable school place, and the distance many have to travel. Primary legislation prohibits the introduction of new selective schools and we must judge the proposals carefully to test whether they represent new schools or expansions.The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is assessing the proposals and will present its findings to ministers shortly. We will notify each school in writing as soon as a decision has been reached. In reaching our decision, we will consider all the evidence that has been presented through the process, and in correspondence with each academy trust. Thank you for writing to me on this important matter”.
Clearly, the central issue holding up proceedings is the one picked out by Mr Gove’s underlining: is the proposal for a new school or an expansion? ........