By Joanne Bartley
You might have seen plans for a new satellite grammar school between Herne Bay and Whitstable.
Barton Court in Canterbury, and Queen Elizabeth in Faversham, are behind this, prompted into action because they say they care about the education of local children. They have a funny way of showing it.
Turning away 75 per cent of children is hardly the policy of a school that cares.
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Grammar schools are usually rated highly by Ofsted. And people like the idea that “smart” kids are being taught separately.
The issue is that there is no real need for children to be in separate schools. There’s no evidence it even boosts results. A recent study looking at more than 500,000 secondary school pupils found no advantage for grammar school kids. They achieved exactly the results you’d expect based on their level of attainment and background.
If the grammar school children get exactly the same results in schools that everyone can use, why build any new schools that deny entry to local children?
There is another problem to this plan, which the heads of Herne Bay High and Langton Boys have highlighted. They say a new coastal grammar school could result in another school closing.
The heads say the ‘satellite’ opens at the same time as a new school in Canterbury, so there’ll be too many secondary school spaces and it risks the closure of a non-selective school.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Three non-selective schools have closed in Kent in recent years. Grammar schools never worry about empty desks, they regularly expand and drop a need for a Kent Test pass whenever they have space.
This tactic puts non-selective schools at risk. Two local secondary heads are highly critical of Kent County Council’s school place planning. I hope our local councillors are taking note.
So, are we ready to accept going ahead with this plan when the cost to other schools could be so high?
Especially when local non-selective schools, which now have grammar streams, are demonstrating that it’s entirely unnecessary.
Take three non-selective schools in the district.
The Canterbury Academy grammar stream achieved 98% 5 A*-Cs in its first year. That’s better than many selective schools.
Herne Bay High is in the top five in Kent for A-level progress, beating many selective schools.
The Whitstable School’s grammar stream is new but already popular. And, like top independent schools, they plan to offer the International Baccalaureate. The head has set up a program of visiting speakers and debates that rivals anything our grammars offer.
These are great local schools with big ambitions. Just ask parents sending their children there.
A slide in Queen Elizabeth’s recent public meeting boasted about the school’s Russell Group success. I’m sure that impresses most parents, but to me it highlights how ridiculous our selective system has become.
My own daughter was turned down by Queen Elizabeth at age 11. They turned her down again at 14 when the Chaucer school closed. If she hadn’t achieved all As at GCSE they likely would have turned her down again.
But she doesn’t credit the Russell Group university place she started last autumn to the school that had turned her down twice. That credit went to our local school, The Whitstable School, (then CCW) where she worked hard and succeeded.
How many other intelligent kids (who failed an arbitrary test age 10) are missing out, and being given much less local choice by the schools that pick and choose who to teach? And they do this in the name of caring for local children?
Queen Elizabeth and Barton Court are great schools. They have great staff and governors too. But their interest is based on test scores, nothing more. It’s time to value local children regardless of their exam results.
This ‘satellite’ plan risks the schools that do just that.
It means local children being refused entry to a new local school that they deserve a right to choose. It risks schools being forced to close. My daughter and her friends went through this when Chaucer closed, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
My worry, and the reason I set up a ‘Stop the plan for a new ‘satellite’ grammar school between Whitstable and Herne Bay’ petition, is that our great local grammar streams, which give opportunity for all local children to find academic success, may well suffer if this ‘satellite’ goes ahead.
And the blame will be with Queen Elizabeth and Barton Court schools. How much do they really care?
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.