When is a grammar school not a grammar school?

Francis Gilbert's picture
These are my reflections upon a recent question that Comprehensive Future asked.

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 04/05/2012 - 09:55


There is a world of difference between expanding grammar school provision in local authorities where grammar schools already exist and starting new grammar schools in counties where they don't exist.

In Kent, the people have voted time and again for local politicians pledged to keep the grammar school system.

We should respect that democratic decision.

And if a demand for grammar school places in rising in those areas, we should provide them.

You seem to be implying that doing so is just the thin end of a wedge whose fat end would entail the complete restoration of the grammar/secondary modern system across the land.

That just ain't so.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 04/05/2012 - 11:24

Ricky - your reply raises an interesting point about elections. You are correct in saying that the people in Kent have voted for local politicians supportive of selection. However, according to the 2001 census*, "Kent's population profile is changing. The number of young and middle aged people is forecast to decline in future years, whereas the number of older people is forecast to significantly increase. Our population is ageing."


In other words, education policy is being determined by a large number of people who will not be affected by it. Perhaps if all Kent parents of children aged 0-19 were balloted on whether to retain selection then the alleged support for grammar schools might diminish. Parents of the 75% of children not chosen to attend grammar schools might wish for a more equitable system.

According to the Education Endowment Fund (2011) Kent had the largest number of under-performing schools of any English local authority.


*2011 results not expected until later in 2012

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 06/05/2012 - 15:42

Ricky -

I think the public would be reassured that "satellite grammars" were not covert grammar school expansion if they still had faith in a government that, two years into their term, have demonstrated time and and time again that they lied over a wide number of policies, from the economy to schools, from the NHS to welfare. This is why the Tories did so badly in the local elections - people are tired of the false promises, of the deterioration of public services and their living standards as the wealthiest enjoy tax cuts and benefits.

Gove's eduction policy is all about achieving selection and reversing social cohesion. He was just too reluctant to be come clean about grammar schools from the outset, so he uses the convenience of saying "well, we have grammar schools anyway; we can't get rid of them but as we are talking choice, choice, choice, why not let existing ones open branches of themselves, in much the same way as I am allowing Academy chain operators free rein to open identikit supermarket schools up and down the country"

Grammar school expansion is just another example of the Tories' tendency towards widening the gap between rich and poor and between master and servant. No one seriously believes the propaganda that grammar schools enable the poor to better themselves:-

A Sutton Trust study published in 2008 found that grammars take a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than other state schools, a difference which is "not adequately explained" by the pupils' higher academic ability or the location of the schools.

The Guardian report here http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/apr/27/kent-grammar-schools-int... revealed that more one in 10 grammar school places in Kent are offered to prep school pupils from the county, with some schools offering more than a third of their places to privately educated children

Two grammar schools in Kent offered more than 40% of places to children from fee-paying schools. Less than 6% of primary age children in Kent are privately educated.

Democratic decisions should be respected across the board, Ricky. I see no respect here afforded to the parents and community of Downhills Primary, once an improving school, suddenly a failed one because Michael Gove dictatorially decided so. And there is certainly no respect for the vast majority of the people in Kent who's children have no hope of getting in a grammar schoo. There is no "choice" when you are not selected through the hallowed gates. Democracy when it comes to grammar schools is afforded only to the minority of the elite who have the financial wherewithal and advantage to tutor their offspring around an 11+ exam.

The reason we should fear the mushrooming of grammars is that their existence in boroughts and counties do absolutely nothing to raise standards across the county. Statistics from a Centre Forum research shows that those areas with significant numbers of grammar schools perform. Here are some examples beginning with Kent and Lincolnshire, with the highest concentration of grammar schools.

Kent ranks 109, with -2% achievement
Lincolnshire ranks 91, with -1% achievement

Other areas of significant numbers of grammars schools include:-

Medway ranks 110, with -2% achievement
Warwickshire ranks 76, with 0% achievement
Gloucestershire ranks 50, with 2% achievement
Essex ranks 116, with -3% achievement

What is happening in Kent shines a very bright light on the underlying education apartheid being enforced by a right wing government intent on implementing a general policy of favouring the already advantaged at a rising cost to the disadvantaged.

That just ain't so? Well, it is so and until this secretive, incompetent government which has been caught out trying to conceal a warehouse full of secret deals with press barons, police and assorted cronies has been totally cleared of the charges of incompetence, corruption and complicity we have every reason to be suspicious of its every move and utterance.

Kent teacher's picture
Fri, 04/05/2012 - 12:34

Don't worry too much about this issue, Francis.
Kent County Council are having problems finding grammar schools who want to have an annexe at Sevenoaks. And it has to be an annexe, it can't be a new school. Many of these schools are academies and are not going to be swayed by the opinions of KCC councillors.

Ricky, if you expand grammar schools in Kent that are not super selective, these schools will not be taking the top 30%, instead they will be taking the top 40 or 50% - so instead you will create comprehensive schools without the bottom sets. The fact that you say that there is demand for more grammar school places in areas like Kent is irrelevant, it is not up to the parents whether their children get into grammar school. Parental choice does not exist here. The grammar schools decide who they want. Parents say that they want more grammar schools without fully grasping the point that their children have to pass to get in and they are often not willing to consider the secondary moderns. The real question is do they support selective education that means that at the age of 10, their child will be labelled as pass or fail. So if their child fails, they will be content with the fail label and not spend May and June appealing to the grammar schools with spaces. East Kent grammars are not full on March 1st.
Expanding grammar schools would mean that they would no longer be schools that aimed to cater for the top quarter of the population. Remember as well that the whole issue is underpinned by endemic tutoring which means that it is not the brightest kids from each year 6 class that go to grammar school. Some children are tutored from year 3. Since KCC moved the test from Jan to Sept of year 6, it has become even more difficult for untutored children to pass the maths paper, they will not have covered the work in year 5. To get around this problems, those with means will tutor.

Private primary schools exist here with the sole aim of tutoring for the test, http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/april/27/grammar_school...

Janet - I hadn't realised about Kent's changing population, it's rather disheartening. However I do think that you are right about current parents in Kent not all being happy with the system. Only 55% of year 6 took the Kent test this year. On the plus side, some of the secondary moderns in Kent are really achieving and are having far more impact on children's lives than the grammars eg, Bennett Memorial, Hillview, Archbishops, St Anselm's, St Simon Stock.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 04/05/2012 - 16:59

Thanks, Kent teacher, it helps to have a local view. I noted that the petition for the Sevenoaks grammar school attracted over 2,500 signatures but these were not all parents as the Sevenoaks grammar school website admits: "Our supporters are mostly parents from the Sevenoaks area, together with some grandparents and also a number of local residents who believe that a grammar school is the right thing for the town."


So, not all parents of school-aged children then.

I'm glad to hear that there are secondary moderns in Kent which are achieving well. However, the fact that they are secondary moderns mean that many people will regard them as second tier schools. The same attitude is displayed in Lincolnshire.

Kent teacher's picture
Sun, 06/05/2012 - 17:14

Is there really a growing demand for grammar school places in Kent? As the following information shows, grammar schools in East Kent are not full on March 1st. 45% of Kent's year 6 didn't even sit the test - Ricky, why do you think that happens?

Grammar School Vacancies

At the other end of the scale there are 9 grammar schools, nearly all in East Kent, with 10 or more vacancies before appeals: largest being the Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone with 73; followed by Folkestone School for Girls; Highworth Grammar School for Girls, Ashford; Clarendon House Grammar, Ramsgate; Barton Court Grammar School, Canterbury; Mayfield Grammar School, Gravesend; Borden Grammar School, Sittingbourne; Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate; and Highsted Grammar School, Sittingbourne. Three others, Invicta Grammar School and Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone, and Wilmington Grammar School for Girls are full because KCC have allocated children there, who were unsuccessful elsewhere. Two Medway Grammar Schools, Chatham Boys and Chatham girls have over a hundred spaces between them, as numbers of children in Medway drops sharply.

It is not that the number of able children in East Kent is declining, more to the point, the eleven plus is failing them, and it will surely not be long before these schools look to different methods of assessing children, as already happens in the two Dover Grammar School, both full as a result (see below). As it is, one can expect to see higher than normal success rates at appeal at many of these schools, as the balance is righted.

pasted from http://www.kentadvice.co.uk/what-i-offer/peter-read

Verity12's picture
Wed, 11/09/2013 - 09:38

My grandson WAS NOT tutored in order to pass the Kent Test! He is now in Year 10 in a grammar school where he is studying for the Baccalaureate, progressing well and working hard. Furthermore, he is the recipient of free school meals as he lives with his divorced father, who is unemployed. His achievement across the board in all subjects, (12 of them), is thus far excellent and I cannot fault the school in any way. Why must you constantly engage in these sweeping generalities, engendered by your own narrow political agenda? I have lived in Kent since 1968 and I assure you people here, regardless of age, DO want to retain the grammar schools, which do provide a way to the top for children from poorer backgrounds. Many people move here in the express hope that their children will be accepted. If you are dissatisfied with the success of grammar schools, turn your energies toward improving all schools and save your criticism for those that fail their children. Destroying excellent schools merely because you consider them socially devisive, which is a ridiculous argument and untrue in my family's experience, is not the answer.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/09/2013 - 10:19

Verity12 - your clever grandson is likely to have done just as well in a comprehensive school. Unfortunately, Kent's system divides schools into grammars (for the top 25%) and secondary moderns (for the rest).

That said, grammar school status is not automatically a sign of excellence. Chatham Grammar School for Boys has just been placed in special measures by Ofsted.


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