All posts tagged 'grammar-schools'

Grammars and why Nigel probably won't be sitting down with Al for a pint

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 11 2015

UKIP is not terribly keen on unelected quangos and there is one in particular that it would really like to scrap: the Electoral Commission, an organisation charged with overseeing all elections and ensuring they are properly run.

Why? Well, it is clearly a quango and Ukip's policy appears to be that all such appointed bodies should be wound up to save taxpayers' money. There is, in the case of the scrap to become the next MP for Thanet South, an additional reason.

The commission has just ruled that the FUKP party created by comedian Al Murray can be registered and the name can be used on ballot papers but its logo cannot. This decision turns on the issue of whether voters could confuse FUKP with UKIP. The commission says not - but has said that the acronym won't be allowed on the ballot paper and neither will the party's logo, an inverted version of UKIP's own emblem.

UKIP is irritated because it feels there will be some confusion among voters and Thanet South is likely to be a tight contest which could turn on just a few votes.

This is not to say that Al Murray has any chance of winning. It is about whether the votes he gets, coupled with the votes other minority parties secure, could deprive Nigel Farage of victory.

There are already eight listed candidates for the seat and the possibility that there will be more to come before the deadline of April 8. Add in the fact that Al Murray's FUKP party will appear before UKIP on the ballot paper and you can understand why the party is annoyed.



Still, UKIP has had a small boost with a Survation poll giving Nigel Farage an 11 point lead in Thanet South - and that lead is over Labour rather than the Conservatives. The poll is interesting because respondents were asked not just the party they would support but named the individual candidates.

While Nigel Farage is very much a Marmite politician, he obviously has greater voter recognition than his rivals. As interesting was the fact that Labour leapfrogged the Conservatives in this poll. That is probably a reflection of the efforts its candidate Will Scobie - a genuinely local person - has and continues to put in to the campaign.


Why is David Cameron apparently digging his heels in over a decision about plans for a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks? Reports have suggested that he has ruled no announcement will be made this side of the election.

Many Conservatives are baffled by his reluctance, given that giving the scheme the green light would send a strong signal the party had not turned his back on selection completely as UKIP continues to promise "a grammar in every town."

One explanation may be that the case presented by The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar, which is proposing the scheme, is not so clear cut as some have made out, not least because of the 10-mile distance between the site in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.Would that qualify as an annexe?

Another may be a cold political calculation that however many parents there are who would like more grammars, there is a perception that they are not the agents of social mobility they once were in giving bright children a "good" education they could not otherwise afford.

UKIP says it would give 20% of places to children from poorer backgrounds, although no-one has explained what would happen if fewer than 20% of such children did not pass.

And, at the end of the day, the Conservatives probably believe this is a decision that will have very little impact on the outcome of the election - not least because Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling are about the party's safest seats in the county.










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Categories: Politics

Conservative back-pedalling on grammar school transport.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, February 19 2013

Conservatives at County Hall are acutely sensitive to suggestions that grammar schools are increasingly dominated by children who have got there because they are somehow privileged.

The fact the county council has now acknowledged that the eleven plus is skewed towards those who can afford private coaching - and is trying to do something about it - reflects these sensitivities.

Now the authority has agreed to review its controversial decision to scrap discretionary transport subsidies for children who opt for a selective school - or a denominational school - above others nearer to where they live.

An estimated 4,200 families have lost out under the arrangements because their income means they do not any longer qualify.

Whether KCC would have done had it not been faced with one Conservative - Cllr Andrew Bowles, also the leader of Swale Council - breaking rank and publicly denouncing the policy is a moot point. 

I suspect the ruling administration would have faced down a similar Liberal Democrat call for a rethink but felt propelled to act knowing that Cllr Bowles might not be the only one to decide to speak out.

He made the point that other Conservatives have privately expressed, namely that ending transport support has adversely affected precisely the kind of children that Kent ought to be assisting when it comes to going to grammar schools.

A review, of course, is just that and there has been no commitment to a U-turn. The fact there will be an-party working group indicates that the Conservatives want to tie in the other parties to any changes that might be made.

And a review will help neutralise the opposition from contending that nothing is being done, even if it seems unlikely that it will report before the May election, which won't unduly worry the Conservatives.

The issue is complicated by the fact that KCC will also have to address the issue of whether it should bring back some kind of discretionary subsidy for children who choose a church school above others nearer to where they live.

And it is worth noting that in an environment where parents are sold the idea they can choose a school, some may question why discretionary support for transport costs should not available for those who choose a non-selective school above others nearer to where they live.

This anomaly was actually a factor when KCC originally determined that it would end most subsidies and it was suggested it could be legally challenged.


Even the most fervent believers in transparency and accountability would have to question whether Kent County Council's annual budget meeting represents open democracy at its best. 

The gruelling day-long meeting was singularly lacking in political drama - with the one exception of the debate on grammar school transport - and enlightening debate and there was a distinct impression that county councillors were simply going through the motions.

There was an awful lot of Conservative councillors standing up to say what a good job KCC was doing and equally, a lot of opposition contributions saying they weren't.

Perhaps the format might also benefit from an all-party review.


After hints that he might enjoy another run against the incumbent MP Helen Grant in Maidstone and Weald, it seems the former Liberal Democrat candidate Peter Carroll, who is now working for the Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes, is to give it a miss.

The constituency party will select its candidate this weekend from a shortlist of three - all men but Mr Carroll is not among them.

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Categories: KCC | Local Politics

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.


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

Why Kent's decision to back grammar expansion won't spark a return to selection

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 30 2012

If the eyes of the nation weren't exactly turned towards County Hall, as one over-excited Conservative county councillor claimed, Kent County Council's decision to back new grammar school places is an undeniably significant one.

Kent to get 'new' grammar>>>

There was, to be frank, never that much doubt that the plan would receive the backing of the council, given the huge Conservative majority at KCC and especially in view of the wriggle room created by Michael Gove's decsion to allow the expansion of schools to meet demand for places where population growth creates the need.

KCC had been careful to emphasise that it was considering the case on these grounds alone and was not being driven by an ideological zeal to see the return of selection - which the Conservative party has banned.

Nevertheless, the debate at County Hall gave a vivid illustration of just how totemic the issue remains for many in the party. Some county councillors were clearly delighted to have the unexpected chance to actually do something to demonstrate that whatever David Cameron might have said, many believe the cornerstone of the party's education policy ought to be a commitment to restore the 11-plus.

The rhetoric showed the debate had not, for politicians on both sides, really moved on. In fact, I half expected to step out of County Hall to be confronted by people wearing flared trousers and tank tops and billboard posters encouraging me to go to work on an egg.

There was plenty of old-fahioned rhetoric from the Conservative backbenches about how Labour's abolition of the 11-plus had kicked away the ladder of opportunity from the working class and how anyone who dared vote against the plan would be depriving them of that chance - although there was no reference to the fact that these days, in many parts of Kent and especially the west, grammar schools are not really giving many from this 'leg up' because of the intense coaching culture that has evolved.

Cllr Jim Wedgebury (Con) told the meeting how KCC would be opening the floodgates for a host of new grammar schools across the country - fundamentally inaccurate as such expansion can only take place in pre-existing selective areas - but it gives you the sense of feeling that some felt the best thing KCC Conservatives could do would be to organise a march on the citadels of comprehensive areas and tear them down.

His colleague Andrew Bowles, also the leader of Swale council, made a pitch to head the crusade in a speech in which he declared that it was not just Sevenoaks that should have a new grammar but every town the length and breadth of the county - conjuring up images of an army of grammar school freedom fighters marching through the Garden of England with spades and forks, digging the foundations for new schools and handing out pamphlets extolling the virtues of selection.

Labour sought to deflect these attacks by adopting the political ruse of asking for a review of admissions and the 11-plus and suggesting that County Hall Conservatives were engaging in the educational equivalent of tax evasion - a tactic which didn't work out too well.

So, in political terms, there will be ripples from this decision and it certainly will give ballast to the large section of the Conservative party who think Cameron was mistaken at the outset to rule out more grammars. But it does not presage a full-scale restoration of grammars up and down the country whatever county councillors in Kent might believe and hope.

Parents in Sevenoaks mobilised a well-organised campaign which was based around their view that if they lived in a selective area, then it was wrong for their children to have to travel miles away to attend a school and that was entirely reasonable.

I never once heard any of them argue publicly that this was based around a view that selective schools were somehow 'better' and that is to their credit. And to be fair to KCC's cabinet member Cllr Mike Whiting, he has been scrupulous in sticking to the line that this is all about meeting a legitimate demand for places.

But it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds. There are any number of practical hurdles to overcome - the money, the site and the possible challenges that may come from other schools in the area who are concerned they may be adversely affected. One option that is apparently under consideration is for an academy chain to be invited to run the school - something Michael Gove would no doubt find acceptable.


One interesting thing that came out of yesterday's debate was the news that KCC has asked a group of headteachers to carry out a review of the 11+plus test. The authority is concerned that the the extensive coaching that some children get to take the 11+ has effectively disproved the accepted notion that children cannot be 'taught' to pass it.

And because coaching costs money, the argument that grammars improve social mobility is if not blown out of the water, badly under-mined - especially in view of the heightened competition caused by the emergence of a group of super-selective schools.


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Categories: Politics

Why KCC may tread carefully over 'new' grammar school.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, January 11 2012

When David Cameron ruled out the expansion of grammar schools in 2007, he said they were "unpopular with parents, who do not want children divided into successes and failures at the age of 11."

The comments - along with some rather barbed criticism about supporters of selection being people who "held on to out-dated mantras that bear no relation to reality" had party activists and councillors in Kent frothing with indignation.

Now it looks like a door has opened on to the possibility of Mr Cameron's veto being overturned in Kent, which - with 33 grammars - is regarded as the torch bearer for supporters of the 11-plus.

The irony is that parents urging a new grammar school for Sevenoaks are doing so on the basis of the government's own new policy of permitting popular, over-subscribed schools to expand to meet demand for places. (Actually, several grammars have expanded their intake in recent years incrementally through admitting extra pupils via the appeals process).

Plenty of Conservatives will be looking to see how Kent County Council responds. To date, it appears to be treading cautiously around the issue, saying that it needs to assess a range of issues before deciding what to do.

It certainly throws up some difficulties, notwithstanding the fact that there has been a long-standing issue in Sevenoaks about the fact that there are no grammar schools in the borough.

A key issue is that there can be no entirely new grammar school. The legislation only permits the expansion of existing schools - and there are none directly in Sevenoaks.

However, the government would sanction a "satellite" school, affiliated to an existing one and it is that idea which is gaining some traction at County Hall. But there is a further issue, which is that the legislation requires the ethos of any such satellite schools to reflect the ethos of the sponsoring school - described colourfully by one politician as "the mothership".

The schools that are discussing becoming involved are, like all but five of the 33 grammars in Kent, single sex - meaning that the satellite school could have to be, too.

It is unclear who would pay for such a satellite and KCC will be wary about committing significant sums to a capital project when other schools in Kent expecting major redevelopment have been left in the lurch after Michael Gove's abrupt cancellation of the Building Schools for The Future programme last year (which KCC challenged in court).

And if KCC doesn't have the money, will the government step in? I can't help thinking that might be something of a hostage to fortune if it does.

Then there is the problem of what to do if other popular and over-subscribed schools seek support to expand their numbers and whether, in opting to increase grammar school places in one area, there could be a detrimental impact on other schools.

Underlying all this is the political desire among Kent Conservatives - and others - to offer some tangible evidence that the party has not completely turned its back on selection, regardless of what their Prime Minister may have said in the past.  

KCC managed to alienate some county MPs when in a cost-cutting measure, it ended a scheme offering help with transport costs for grammar school pupils last year.

Opening a new satellite grammar in west Kent would send a signal that it hasn't completely abandoned its support for a totemic article of faith for many in the party.


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Categories: Education | Kent Village of the Year

Kent MPs anger over County Hall's grammar 'attack'

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, June 17 2011

There is no denying that Conservative Kent MPs are pretty miffed by County Hall's Conservative leadership and its plans to scrap transport subsidies for pupils going to grammar schools.

MPs' backlash over grammar transport cut>>>

I gather that virtually every MP opposed the plans when they were first outlined  and left KCC in no doubt that they regarded it as a wrong move. Some have now broken cover to denounce the plan in public; others are keeping their powder dry.

One MP told me: "If this was a Labour run council, everyone would be seeing this as an attack on grammars." Another said KCC was "schizophrenic" over grammars and couldn't decide whether it liked them or not.

Either way, KCC has contrived to make a lot of people unhappy and I sense that relations are somewhat strained between MPs and the powers that be at County Hall.

The continued survival of grammars is totemic to many Conservatives, who feel David Cameron was fundamentally wrong to rule out the creation of new grammars and wish the party would be much bolder in support of selection. In Kent, these feelings run high and MPs feel rather let down that the area with the greatest concentration of selective schools appears set on penalising those who go to them and strive to go to them.


It's about 18 months since Kent was treated to a whirlwind visit by KCC leader Paul Carter and architectural guru Sir Terry Farrell as the pair unveiled a masterplan setting out a vision of Kent as the UK's "super region".

But what has happened to "21st Century Kent - Unlocking Kent's Potential" that bold document that moved the council leader to say that it could herald an era that echoed the achievements of the Victorians?

Bold vision for Kent...>>>

The answer is, it seems, not a great deal. A report to a committee next week sets out how after various consultations and the commissioning of various - jargon alert - "workstreams" a series of "emerging actions are being mapped to produce an outcome-focussed performance and delivery framework."

And all this will be set out in a "high level" report (no low level reports at KCC) which will be used to take a "high-level strategic view of progress" and be used to further the "21st century brand."

So, that's alright then.



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KCC risks the ire of the squeezed middle as grammar pupils hit by spending squeeze

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 14 2011

FOR a Conservative education authority with the largest number of grammar schools in  the country, it can't have been easy deciding to end transport subsidies for those attending selective schools.

KCC to scrap transport costs help for grammar and church school pupils>>>

While KCC has been at pains to emphasise that it will look to offer support to children in care and those on low incomes who get a place at grammars, it risks antagonising those who fall the wrong side of this line and may well be on modest incomes and see - rightly or wrongly - that grammars offer their children a chance to get on.  The "squeezed middle" takes another hit.

And let's be clear - there are plenty of them: an estimated 4,199 pupils who currently get support for their transport wouldn't under the new arrangements coming in in 2012.

As education chiefs admit: "A significant minority are likely to be from families on low incomes surviving on low limited means."

But on balance, KCC is right to end these discretionary subsidies. There is an inherent unfairness in the current arrangements which could be  said to adversely impact on those parents who pro-actively choose a non-selective school for their children. (Hard for some to believe, but yes, they do exist).

There is no such support for children who attend a non-selective school which they may have opted for which is not the nearest to their home in the same way. So KCC could well have been legally challenged. The only way in which it might have preserved subsidies for grammar and church school pupils would have been to have extended the same right to those attending any other type of school.

Given the potential costs, that would have been a non-starter. More importantly, there is the principle of equity - why should only parents of church or selective schools enjoy this kind of support? It is true that the spread of these schools means they may be further afield than others. But we have been sold the idea that when it comes to schools, we have choice.

And it is this political obsession with the illusory concept of school choice - and the attendant pursuit of "diversity" within the school system - that can be blamed. Parents told they can exercise choice will inevitably look further afield than the nearest school down the end of the road if they think it might be better for their children.

And believe it or not, sometimes they opt for schools that are neither selective or denominational and which are also more than three miles away from their nearest appropriate school.


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