election

Kent's new grammar takes a step forward

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 10 2014

After being knocked back by Michael Gove late last year, the bid to open a grammar school annex in Kent has taken an important step forward.

The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar School - one of the two original bidders - is consulting parents and staff about becoming co-educational, a move that - if agreed - would remove one of the obstacles to the scheme the Education Funding Agency flagged up in its rejection letter.

This time you get the sense that the school has done its homework and governors believe that if the school does become mixed, there ought not to be much that could stand in the way of the Sevenoaks plan getting the approval of Michael Gove, at least in terms of whether it would be lawful.

Of course, there are caveats. It is difficult to read how parents and staff will respond to the consultation, for one thing. The school has taken the step of underlining that existing pupils will not be affected, which should head off any worries among existing parents but might also mean they won't take much interest in the changes planned.

And once concrete proposals are put forward to the Department for Education, it is highly possible that anti-selection campaigners will try to hold it up through the courts. The timing is potentially awkward politically, with a general election next May meaning that the school will want to get it cleared with the DfE at the earliest opportunity. (If it doesn't, UKIP will no doubt be poised to capitalise on the issue.)

Having said that, there is more logic to the Weald of Kent's plans than there was to that once favoured by Kent County Council, the bid by Maidstone's Invicta Academy Trust.

In hindsight, that was flawed from the outset and it is inconceivable that  education chiefs at County Hall weren't aware that it was a gamble - as, no doubt, the expert lawyers it paid more than £6,000 to had told it.

The latest development has been welcomed by the parental campaign group which has led the call for a Sevenoaks grammar satellite although it was, to put it mildly, rather underwhelmed when the Weald of Kent school announced last year it was putting in a rival bid.

However, the group has pre-empted criticisms of the new plans by saying that in west Kent particularly, parents have not really had the option to choose a mixed co-ed grammar because of the proponderance of single sex grammars in the area.

There is another good analysis of the implications here by Peter Read.

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The decision by Thanet South MP Laura Sandys to stand down at the next election has opened up a potentially interesting selection contest for a key seat. But the Conservative candidate will not, I am told, now be finalised before the European election in May.

There are two ways of looking at this: one is that the local association arguably may have a wider field to draw from after May. The other is that the delay makes it harder for the eventual candidate to establish themselves in the area.

My guess is that when the association does come to choose, it will opt for someone with local roots and connections rather than someone who could be construed as a parachute candidate.

Constituency officials will also be painfully aware of the UKIP factor, with hints from Nigel Farage that he is eyeing up a Kent seat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: election

Kent's headteachers tell us what we all know about the eleven plus

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 8 2013

It ought not to be that much of a shock that headteachers in Kent, notably from primary schools, feel that coaching for the eleven plus is now so prevalent that they are unfairly skewed towards those that can afford private tutors.

Survey reveals mixed response to planned 11+ changes>>>

Nevertheless, comments made by some of those who responded to Kent County Council's recent consultation over possible changes to the exam aimed at countering coaching underline just how serious a problem it is.

The council carried out its consultation shortly before the end of last year, when many schools were pre-occuppied with other matters.

So that fact that 125 headteachers and others took the time to respond indicates the level of interest in the issue.

What is quite clear from the comments made is that while there is broad support for KCC's efforts to come up with a test that is less susceptible to coaching, many feel the authority has, until now, simply turned a blind eye to the fact that children are not just being privately tutored but that extensive preparation goes on in some of its own schools.

If true, it is frankly staggering that one headteacher even allegedly offers private tuition through his wife to parents anxious about getting a grammar school place.

 

READ what Kent headteachers said about the eleven plus here:

11+headteacher comments.pdf (1.43 mb)

 

The comments corroborate the feeling that the race for grammar school places has become so intense that those with the money are at unfair advantage.

Many argued that judgements about whether a child ought to go to a selective school ought to be based on their SATs results or through teacher assessment.

The enduringly divisive nature of the exam was reflected by the fact that there was no clear consensus among headteachers about any of the key proposals put forward by the county council.

In fact, they were pretty evenly split on virtually all of the ideas.

Of particular note were the responses to the question of whether practice papers should be dropped. KCC has spoken of a desire to try somehow to ban their availability commercially, which is probably impossible.

Several rightly pointed out that doing away with practice papers might actually have a perverse effect on those unable to afford private tutors who deserved to have some opportunity to familiarise themselves with the exam.

The county council's belated efforts to tackle the issue of tutoring and coaching are laudable but you get the feeling that whatever alternative education chiefs come up with, it will not ultimately be capable of curtailing the widespread culture of coaching and tuition.

As one headteacher put it: "More affluent parents will continue to pay for extra tutoring and practice papers whatever the nature of the tests."

 

For another analysis of the survey, see this blog post by the Kent education adviser Peter Read who considers the responses to all the questions KCC asked.

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DID Thanet North MP and uncompromising opponent of gay marriage Roger Gale suggest that same-sex marriage could lead to incest or was somehow comparable to incest?

The MP has issued a statement simmering with indignation about certain press reports saying he did indeed tells the House of Commons as much.

The allegation, he asserted, was "what is known in journalism as a 'lie'". Strong words indeed. 

It is unarguably true that the word "incest" was never actually uttered by the MP. It was a word used by others, notably on Twitter. So, on one level you can understand his anger.

It was the interpretation of his remarks which prompted all sorts of unwelcome headlines and Mr Gale felt forced to issue a second clarification (following the first sent out on Tuesday as the debate raged) today. 

In it, he repeats that his comments about replacing civil partnerships with a civil union were nothing to do with incest but about giving protection to siblings who were not provided with the same law and property rights as those who entered into civil partnerships under the legislation.

Mr Gale says: "I appreciate that sections of the find this disappointing but this has nothing whatsoever to do with sex or incest at all."

Perhaps the greatest irony is that the straight-talking MP rarely leaves anyone in any doubt where he stands on any issue.

 

 

 

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Categories: election | Freedom of Information

UP-DATED: The Kent grammar data that shows why David Willetts was probably right

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 27 2012

UP-DATED TUESDAY MAY 1/2012

A couple of developments since we published our original story about the number of private school pupils being offered places at Kent's grammars. First a story in which KCC underlines that coaching is not permitted and emphasising that schools (both independent and state) could face sanctions if they breach its rules.

And here, courtesy of KCC, is an extract from the rules sent to every school each year about the 11+. What intrigues me is that it is very evident from anyone you speak to that coaching and preparation takes place at many schools. Whether they are technically in breach of these rules is anybody's guess but it is hard to imagine, given the intense competition for places, that there aren't some who sail pretty close to the wind.

KCC - what it tells schools they can't do:

Back in 2007, the then Conservative education spokesman David Willetts made a keynote speech in which he had the temerity - some say bravery - to announce that a future Conservative government would not re-introduce selection or the 11-plus. 

Why? Because the party believed that grammars no longer offered a leg up to children from poorer backgrounds and the argument they enhance social mobility was not borne out by the evidence.

He said: "If the evidence were different and if grammar schools could still work as they might once have done, transforming the opportunities of many children from poor backgrounds then we would be obliged to look very seriously at the case for their introduction. But the fact is that grammar schools don't any longer work like that."

It is an argument that is reinforced by data we publish today detailing the impact - significant in many grammars in Kent - that fee-paying schools have in terms of taking up places.

In some senses, the statistics do not come as a surprise. There has always been plenty of anecdotal evidence around that prep schools are seen as a way, for those who can afford it, to secure a place at a top-performing state selective school.

But the figures, coupled with the strikingly low number of children on free school meals at grammars and the intensive private coaching culture used by parents to advance the prospects of their children passing the 11-plus, show David Willetts had a point.

Despite the hue and cry among those in the party who were aghast that the Conservatives were ditching a totemic policy, it is hard to advance an argument that there is a level playing field when it comes to the 11-plus.

Of course, the argument can be made that the way to counter the impact of private schools and improve social mobility would be to have more grammars. 

But unless they could somehow be ring fenced for pupils at state primaries, the likelihood is they would become vulnerable to the same phenomenon - and it will be interesting to see what will happen to the intake of the new satellite grammar school planned for Sevenoaks. I imagine the thriving independent sector in that part of the county will simply see the availibility of more places as something to exploit and there will be nothing anyone - least of all Kent county council - can do to stop it.

It's worth making the point that independent schools, unlike state primaries, are not encumbered by the key stage one and two tests meaning they have a further advantage.

So, given that the selective system is not going to go away in Kent, is there a solution? KCC has asked headteachers to examine whether there could be changes to the tests that would make them less susceptible to the coaching culture.

It is a conundrum that no-one has yet been able to resolve - the existing tests were said to be immune from coaching but that has long been acknowledged as a fallacy.  

It is hard to disagree, in the face of the evidence, with David Willetts' conclusion that "the uncomfortable truth is that our schools are not still spreading educational opportunities, they are entrenching social advantage."

Kent has plenty of challenges on the education front.

But if our politicians are to tackle the disadvantages faced by children from poorer backgrounds and wish to be able to claim that grammars do act as agents of social mobility, they will have to do much more to tackle the disparity between the intakes of selective and non-selective schools.

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Ever wondered what county councillors might do if they were forced by the public to debate a plan to reduce their numbers and cut the amount of money they cost the taxpayer?

Well, a petition demanding just that has appeared on KCC's website for e-petitions. It has a bit of a way to go before reaching the threshold for a debate but here's a thought: if our elected representatives are so sure of their value for money, surely the best thing to do would be for them to sign it so we can all hear their arguments?

Read the petition here:

https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?ID=192&RPID=4216050&HPID=4216050&TPID=4216052

 

testsrules.doc (20.50 kb)

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Categories: election | Freedom of Information

Is a hike in care charges a cut? Plus: Why some are privately pleased to have lost the council elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 10 2011

We've known for a while that KCC was planning to increase charges for some aspects of its domiciliary care services and now we have some flesh on the bone.

KCC plans hike in care charges>>>

It's worth noting that the council has conceded that it has not consulted about whether there should be increases but is consulting about how they should be implemented - a subtle difference. So, even if you disagree with the principle it won't count for much in this particular consultation.

But the proposals raise something else. Like a lot of councils, KCC has made much of the fact that its spending plans for the year have preserved "frontline" services. In the main, I'd probably agree. But there are an increasing number of policy decisions and reviews about policy that indicate that KCC is clearly banking on raising more income from service users than it previously has to plug the gap caused by cuts in government grants, a freeze on the council tax and a rising demand for some services.

This proposal for care charges to rise is  a classic example. No services are being cut but several thousand face paying more for them. It was the same for the Freedom Pass - the scheme remains in place for free bus travel for teenagers but the administration costs are rising to £100 from £50.

Looking ahead, I expect KCC will be examining other ways of raising cash - including the use of its waste tips. All these could quite legitimately be characterised as extra taxes - people are having to pay more for services, whether it be for parking, a bus pass, a planning application fee or, as in this case, essential home care.

Some may wonder whether a freeze on their council tax bill has that much to commend it if, as is increasingly apparent, they are getting hit in their pockets by all sorts of other charges.

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Not everyone who got ousted at the local elections - especially defeated Lib Dems and Labour candidates and former councillors - is unhappy.

Over the next four years, town halls will be inflicting some pretty serious cuts on residents as they deal with a 28 per cent cut in government grants as part of the austerity drive.

By the time 2015 comes around, those running our town halls may well have a fairly lacklustre record to defend and many will find that voters who were prepared to tolerate a degree of hardship in the national interest in 2011 won't be quite so content to do so when they next go to the polls.

As one defeated candidate put it: These were good elections to lose. 

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Categories: election

Kent's political map: the real story of the election results so far

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 6 2011

Ed Miliband urged voters ahead of the polls to use their vote to register their dissatisfaction with the government - a tactical ploy commonly used by parties in opposition. So what did they do in Kent? So far, the messages are rather mixed. Ed, who is heading to Gravesham this morning to congratulate his party's candidates on their success in north Kent, has not in truth really made a huge breakthrough in the county.

Kent's election results - read all our up-to-date coverage here>>

Yes, it has won Gravesham but not because it wiped out a huge majority - it grabbed a handful of seats that were enough to tip the balance of power their way. Labour also made enough gains in Thanet to claim a sort of victory even if the council is hung.

But Mr Miliband will need to ask himself why it was that voters in Gravesham appeared to hear his plea while those in neighbouring Dartford were deaf to it, as they were in Medway. If voters were prepared to back the ruling Conservative administrations at some town halls in Kent, why not in others?

In fact, the results in Medway strike me as particularly concerning for Labour. I'd expected them to make some significant gains at the expense of the Tories but they failed to do so - the Conservative vote held up strongly and Labour's inroads were largely at the expense of the Lib Dems, who look to be imploding in Kent and will have hardly any councillors here by the end of  the day.

Medway has become totemic for both the Labour party and the Conservatives. In the endless battle to win over the squeezed middle, both know that at a general election that unless they win seats there, they are unlikely to form the next government. Of coures, we are only one year into the coalition government and the impact of the spending cuts are still filtering through, so voters may have been disinclined to give the Conservatives a bloody nose.

But even so, not to claim any scalps from the Conservatives will be a major disappointment.

It is not a good day to be a Lib Dem in Kent. They are clearly paying a price for the unpopularity of the national party and its role in the coalition and their desperate efforts to distance themselves from national policies have proved a failure. It will take some time for them to regroup - look at the wipeout of their councillors in Shepway. I expect something similar could be on the cards in Canterbury where traditionally, the city has been something of a stronghold for the party.

Conservative activists will be pretty happy with how things are going so far. I doubt they'll be troubled too much elsewhere in Kent, with the possible exception of Dover. They will hold sway in the bulk of town halls for the next four years - which, if things are going to get as bad as everyone expects in the public sector, may prove to be something of a mixed blessing.

The map of Kent may no longer completely blue but there needs to be rather more shades of red if Labour is to claim that it is back as a political force in the county.



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Categories: election

N-Dubz for president in Egypt?

by The What's On blog, with Chris Price Thursday, February 3 2011

Preaching about the wrongs of the world can often make a rock star look like a bit of a tool.

Morrissey is viewed as a whining idiot by many, Bob Geldof for all his wonderful charity work comes across as a right moany (insert expletive) and as much as I love his band, U2's Bono has not done himself any favours by jumping on his soapbox over the years.

Yet in some cases it can be noble. When Wyclef Jean ran for the presidency of earthquake ravaged Haiti last year, it came across as a genuine bid to help his homeland in its hour of need.

So make what you will of these comments made to me yesterday by Richard "Fazer" Rawson of Camden hip hop group N-Dubz, pictured left, about the anti-government protestors in Egypt who want the president of 30 years Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately.

"To be honest with you I think the last time I watched TV was a month and a half ago man but I heard something about riots and people getting killed.

"People have got to see we are on the brink of a revolution.

"Look at what David Cameron did with cutting money to universities and the riots that happened in London. Things are about to change.

"People are not going to stand for it man. We are in a different society. Things could get dangerous."

The musings of a philosopher on modern society or the rantings of an out-of-touch pop star who doesn't know any better? For once, I am not making any judgements.

For anyone interested, N-Dubz are playing Margate's Winter Gardens on Monday, April 11 and London's O2 Arena on Saturday, April 30. Tickets on 0844 811 0051.

The full interview with Fazer will be in What's On in April.

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Talk about striking while the iron is hot! No sooner had the news broke that Jessie J's new single Price Tag had hit No1 on the iTunes chart than she announced she was bringing forward the release date of her debut album Who We Are.

Price Tag was released a little over 48 hours ago but has already raced to the top of the midweek charts. Her debut single Do It Like A Dude is still lodged in the top 10 after peaking at No2, which certainly makes the move understandable.

But the speed and scale is pretty impressive. She is bringing the release date a whole month forward to Monday, February 28. Bringing a release date forward is pretty rare in the music business. The last act to do so were Take That with their latest album Progress but it was only moved a week ahead of schedule.

“Stomp Stomp, I’ve arrived” was Jessie’s battle cry on Do It Like A Dude. Whatever you make of her music, you wouldn't want to bet against the Critics Choice Brit Award and BBC Sound Of 2011 Poll winner sticking around for a long time to come.

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