Kent County Council has “avoided education democracy since 1944”

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Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury

By Joanne Bartley

Kent County Council (KCC) wants to build a ‘satellite’ grammar school between Herne Bay and Whitstable, and the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Faversham and Barton Court in Canterbury are consulting on plans for a new coastal school.

Neither the council nor the schools mention that new grammar schools are actually unlawful.

The 1998 School Standards and Framework Act and the Academies Act 2010 says new schools must be for everyone in their community – without any test for entry.

Our council hopes to get around these inconvenient laws by pretending the school is an extension of an existing grammar school. The Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge did this, though the schools minister at the time was told there was a 70% chance it would be found illegal if there’d been a judicial review.  

The two buildings nine miles apart are clearly not one school. It’s like the Land’s End Academy creating an extension in John o’ Groats and saying it’s the same place!

So the first lesson this new school will teach our kids is that politicians dodge laws when it suits them. But rule-dodging is never the route to great policy.

Just look at the Kent Test. Is it honestly a level playing field? Does our ‘fiscally responsible’ Tory council know how many families feel pressured to pay £40 a week for extra tuition?

In 1944, the British government decided various types of children should get differing education to suit their different needs. A report said those who didn’t pass the 11-Plus “deal more easily with concrete things than ideas.”

“The mind is essentially practical, it may be incapable of a long series of connected steps…  abstractions mean little to them.”

The 1944 plan is just awful, but the truth was it was designed to offer something beneficial to each of its two ‘varieties’ of children.

Nowadays selective education only advantages the quarter who pass the Kent Test. What benefit is there for the rest? None. It just means less choice of local schools, and fewer schools likely to be rated ‘outstanding’.

Our council plans for the 25% of children called ‘selective’ types, without defining why they actually exist. This percentage was decided in another era, based on university entrance rates from around seventy years ago.

Nowadays 45% of children go to university, yet many of these kids aren’t welcome in Kent’s selective schools. Isn’t it odd that they may find themselves in exactly the same university lectures as the grammar school kids three years later?

Perhaps I’m being overly logical, but surely it’s time to review the system. Sadly I imagine our councillors will commission Kent Test papers in 2089 when the rest of the country has advanced to education implants and robot teachers.

So, in one last ditch attempt to convince you that our council’s ‘selective’ and ‘not selective’ thing is just weird, here are some actual children’s scores in the Kent Test (the names have been changed)

Ben
English ……… 12 / 25
Maths ……… 19 / 25
Reasoning ……… 49 / 80
Total ……… 80 out of 130

Emily
English ……… 20 / 25
Maths ……… 10 / 25
Reasoning ……… 47 / 80
Total ……… 77 out of 130

Rebecca
English ……… 14 / 25
Maths ……… 12 / 25
Reasoning ……… 36 / 89
Total ……… 62 out of 130

Which one of the children is “suitable” for our great new coastal grammar school, and which two are “unsuitable?”  If you look at this and can’t tell who passed or who failed, you’re probably not alone.

Ben failed the Kent Test after getting one question wrong in English (he didn’t sleep the night before). Emily failed by one mark in maths (she’d had no extra tuition).

Rebecca had the lower overall mark, but passed each paper. So she was classed ‘selective’.

Our kids cannot be divided fairly into two binary ‘types’ of learner. These three are individuals, best friends, and much more complex than score numbers. They went to primary school together. Why must they be split up at secondary level?

I’d like KCC to run a proper review and consultation on their school system. But for now, all that’s within my power is a chance to have a say on this new school.

I’m going to make three points when I respond to the consultation.

  • This school looks like a new grammar school. I don’t want a rule-breaking education establishment on my doorstop.
  • The council argues that it is under-resourced to provide grammar school education for 25% of kids, but this makes no sense because the actual proportions haven’t been reviewed or debated for more than fifty years.
  • I’d rather we built an absolutely amazing lets-be-proud-of-it new secondary school that works for every amazing child in our town, not only the lucky ones who pass a test.

Whatever, you think please respond to the school consultations, here and  here, and tell the authorities what you think.

Joanne Bartley is a writer and education campaigner. She lives in Whitstable with her family, and founded the Kent Education Network in 2016 to question the need for Kent’s 11-plus school system.

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