All posts tagged 'selection'

The Friday Five: the week's top political stories from Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 14 2014

Welcome to the Friday Five - my view of the week's most interesting stories from around Kent.

1. Education continued to top the political agenda in the county, with the week starting with news of a possible development in the long-running saga of the efforts to open a new satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks. After a series of knock backs, there was better news when The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar School announced it was considering going co-educational so it could become the sponsor school for the annex. An important step forward but as I blogged, there is a long way to go before it becomes a reality.

2. Another long-running saga threw up an interesting twist down in Thanet, where the council continues to pick through the debris of its disastrous secret deal with ferry company Transeuropa, which left it having to write off £3.4m owed by the company. Documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act revealed how council officials worried that potential Italian investors in the company could have Mafia links and might use the company to launder money. You don't often get to write a story with the words 'council' 'mafia' and 'money laundering' in the intro...

3. Back to education and cue a furore caused by the leak of a county council document to The Guardian outlining what could happen to headteachers who presided over failing schools in Kent. In short, KCC said they would be put on gardening leave and eased out. Unsurprisingly, this failed to get much support among heads, who decried the 'hire and fire' policy and compared the authority's approach to the dirty war waged by the military junta in Argentina where activists who opposed it were "disappeared."

4. You just can't can't keep the UKIP leader out of the news. No, we are not talking about certain allegations raised in Brussels about Nigel Farage's use of public allowances for the party but this - the court case involving a protestor who hit him over the head with a placard during a visit to Thanet.

5. The week ended on a sad note with the news of the death of lifelong Socialist Tony Benn. As to be predicted, it drew tributes from across the political divide although I suspect he would have regarded some of it as sentimental tosh. Over-used word in the many tributes was the reference to "left-wing firebrand." Sadly, I never interviewed him but I did go along to one of his theatre events. He talked and talked and talked - and then invited questions from the audience and continued to talk and talk some more. He was a bit like Fide Castro...

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Kent's grammar conundrum - where now?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, December 15 2013

In public at least, Kent County Council has been relatively restrained in its response to the news that the government has rejected the bid for a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks.

Council leader Paul Carter spoke constructively of his desire to "help" Michael Gove find a way to give the scheme the go ahead; education cabinet member Cllr Roger Gough issued an emollient statement expressing regret but acknowledging that the decision was a setback.

Behind these carefully-phrased statements in public, there is real irritation at Mr Gove's apparent reluctance to do what he can to effect the provision of more grammar school places.

But KCC and campaigners knew at the outset that it was a calculated risk to contrive a proposal that could somehow be fitted into the complex and conflicting legal arrangements that surround academies, selection and the ability of schools and LEAs to respond to demographic pressures.

The argument appears to have turned on two key issues: whether the annexe proposal could be considered an extension of an existing school - which would have permitted the proposal - and whether the plan would be consistent with existing admissions arrangements at the two schools bidding to be the sponsor.

It was a sign of the county council's own uncertainty that it sought outside legal advice from specialist education lawyers. This advice was not made public because of the finely balanced arguments involved that the county council feared would - if disclosed - open the door to a possible legal challenge from opponents.

That the DfE was so conclusive in its rejection of KCC's favoured bid - the one involving the Invicta Academy Trust in Maidstone - does rather suggest the county council was perhaps overly optimistic: it is hard to imagine that the advice it received did not set out the fairly obvious grounds in which the DfE could refuse the plan.

Particularly telling is the phrase in the DfE's letter to Invicta that "various assertions clearly indicate that the reason for your proposal is a desire to establish a new school."

Not that the bid might be open to argument but that it "clearly indicates" if not the motive then the consequences of it. Kent County Council would also have known that the plan might founder on the rules around admissions - indeed, this is an area in which the authority has plenty of experience in the context of managing a selective system.

A scheme that involved a single sex girls school 19 miles away from its proposed co-educational annexe - and suggest a new boys annex at the Maidstone site to overcome the same-sex issue - may have the merit of inventiveness but would, I suspect, have been fairly comprehensively demolished in the courts.

As to the Weald of Kent and its rival bid, the DfE was a little less harsh but concluded, as it did with the Invicta bid, the proposal was not complaint with the current Admissions Code.

All of which will be of little comfort to campaigners who have sought to address what is the genuine problem in the area - namely, a shortage of selective places in Sevenoaks.

I doubt whether the Invicta Trust will want to engage in a new bid; the Weald of Kent would appear to have greater room for manouvre but would still have to address the issue that it is a single sex school and becoming co-educational might just be more hassle than it is worth.

The DfE says the door remains open to other proposals but warns that they must not be a new school. The Conservative administration at KCC has invested significant time and effort in backing the idea of a new selective annexe but the DfE's explicit judgement on both bids indicate the huge difficulties of devising any scheme that would comply with the law.

Michael Gove could of course take steps to amend the legislation on selection and admissions but I rather doubt he will - even if, on the political front, he is taking a lot of flax for blocking a new grammar school.

The intervention of the chief inspector of Ofsted Michael Wilshaw who has made a scathing attack on grammars will not be encouraging for pro-selection campaigners.

In an interview with The Observer, Mr Wilshaw says the government should reject calls for more grammars, saying they do nothing for social mobility.

"The grammar schools might do well with 10% of the school population, but everyone else does really badly. What we have to do is make sure all schools do well in the areas in which they are located."

KCC may quietly decide that the answer to the shortage of selective places lies somewhere else.

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Gove proceeds with caution over grammar plans

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, November 25 2013

There is some restlessness at County Hall over the length of time it is taking Michael Gove to decide on plans for a 'new' grammar school in Sevenoaks.

Politically, this delay is confounding those who think that if the Conservative party - and indeed Mr Gove - want to improve their stock, this would be a fairly straightforward way of doing so. (Especially as UKIP is making a clear commitment to restore selection).

Behind the scenes, it would appear the issue troubling the Department for Education is the same one that has troubled Kent County Council.

Namely, the question of whether the proposal is legal, given that there is a prohibition on opening new selective schools.

The argument of campaigners and KCC is the scheme represents an extension of an existing school to meet a demand for selective places, caused largely by demographic factors.

But the argument is clearly finely balanced. KCC wanted to assure itself that its case was solid by engaging the services of a specialist education lawyer.

It will not disclose the lawyer's advice. In response to a Freedom of Information request, it said the advice (which cost £6,150) was confidential and it was not in the public interest to release it.

In doing so, however, it implicitly acknowledges the issue of legality is one over which there may be persuasive grounds on both sides.

The reply to our request stated "it would not be in the public interest for privileged legal advice to be revealed to a party who can then use that advice to further his or her own case. Releasing the advice would mean making it available to opponents of the annex scheme - effectively using public money to fund both sides of a potential judicial review, referral to the Secretary of State or to the Schools Adjudicator."

Clearly, the advice provided to KCC was that the case could be argued both ways and it would be a surprise if the advice the DfE is getting did not say the same.

Frustrating as it is for those supporting the plans, you can understand why the DfE is treading carefully.

Given that grammar schools still stir up political controversy, Mr Gove will want to ensure that any decision he takes is watertight and won't trigger any protracted legal wrangling.


The news that Thanet South MP Laura Sandys is to stand down at the next election has come as something of a surprise.

She is a well-regarded MP and judging by the reaction to her decision, considered to be highly diligent on behalf of her constituency.

It presents a tricky situation for the Conservatives, who will be acutely conscious of the speculation that Thanet South has been a seat that UKIP leader Nigel Farage may have his eye on.

Laura Sandys has never made any secret that she is on the pro-European wing of the party. It will be interesting to see whether local Conservatives opt for someone who veers in the other direction.

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Categories: Precept

Can the eleven plus really ever be tutor proof?

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


PROPOSALS for a shake-up of Kent's often divisive 11-plus came under the spotlight today (Tuesday) when county councillors discussed the outcome of a review by headteachers designed to get a consensus around possible changes.

The review was set up primarily to see if anything can be done to counter the widespread coaching culture that everyone - even the Conservative administration at KCC - now generally acknowledges is far too prevalent in Kent and has skewed the system so much in parts of west Kent that it can seem that only those who actually do have some kind of  private tuition are guaranteed a place.

KCC outlines changes to the eleven plus test>>>

Perhaps we should not be surprised that county councillors were a little pessimistic about the odds of countering the coaching culture, although most commended Kent County Council's efforts to try and level the playing field.

Education director Patrick Leeson said the reforms were not about a "new" test but a "better, more fit for purpose set of assessment materials." 

Cllr Mike Whiting explained that KCC recognised no test could be immune from coaching but "it was the right thing to do to make the test fairer for everyone."

Those most sceptical were the opposition parties. For Labour, Cllr Les Christie said he sympathised with the aims but said the idea that those with the means would find a way to improve the chances of their child passing. "People with the means will find a way round it."


Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Trudy Dean said "unfortunately, there is no holy grail here" and quoted our stroy about the number of places being allocated to children from fee-paying schools (40% in some cases) saying "that is going backwards, not forwards."

At first glance, the proposals are rather modest. In fact, there is very little on the paper setting out KCC's thoughts that deals directly with the issue of coaching.

There are  reasons for this. The most obvious is that whatever else KCC might do with the exam, the idea that it can really be completely tutor proof is a non-starter. KCC has shifted its language slightly on this over recent months, perhaps recognising that it was rather over-optimistic at the outset.

It started off by saying it wanted a test  immune from coaching - to the extent that it was suggested that shops like W H Smith could be banned from selling practice papers - and edged towards a position where it aid it wanted a test that was less susceptible to coaching.

You won't get anything specific in the report about exactly how this objective will be achieved. However, Cllr Mike Whiting, the Conservative cabinet member for education, says the general aim will be to align the test more closely to what primary school children learn on the curriculum as part of the Sats. 

That reflects the valid concern that some elements of the test - noticeably non-verbal reasoning - are not ordinarily taught at state primary schools and an advantage can be secured by those that can afford tutors to instruct them on the techniques and familiarise themselves with the questions that come up.

So, adjusting the test in ways that mean you should not require coaching - which, it should be noted, is explicitly ruled out by KCC - ought to level the playing field a little.

But I suspect not by much.

Such is the determination of some parents to secure grammar places for their children, it is hard to see how this modest change will diminish the thriving commercial coaching industry.

Tutors will simply shift the emphasis of their servics  - and indeed, some already advertise that they also are able to coach children to improve their SATs results.

Fine-tuning the 11-plus to bring it more into line to reflect Sats begs the obvious question: why not rely on the Sats results in the first place - a thought advanced by quite a few headteachers in Kent who took part in the review? The answer, apparently, is that we now have admissions that are governed by a national timetable and it would be impossible to devise a system of offering places not knowing how well pupils had performed in their Sats (not a problem for university allocations though).

The additional problem is that the Sats would become the same kind of focus for pressure on pupils and schools.

 It is hard to see how the problem many grammars now complain about - namely, that pupils who have been over-coached struggle once they get to grammar school  - would necessarily be moderated by any of the changes being suggested.

KCC does deserve some credit for trying to do something about the eleven plus and its belated recognition that far from improving social mobility, the Kent system militates against it.

But it has rather tip-toed timidly around the edges of the issue, which in a way is about all it might have been expected to. 

It is worth remembering that this is KCC's third review of the 11-plus in the last few years.

The first two saw no changes at all, as those wrestling with the seemingly intractable problems of how to create a level playing field for children realised that the only option was the nuclear one – in other words, scrapping it altogether.


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Categories: Education

Kent's 'new' grammar school testing the Tories

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 11 2013

Whatever else the Conservative-run Kent County Council does this year, one thing is clear: it will be moving heaven and earth to ensure that its plan to open a grammar school annexe in west Kent come to fruition.

Of course, on one level, the argument is simply about the authority responding to a genuine grievance held by many parents about the lack of provision of selective places in Sevenoaks.

Kent sets its sights on new grammar annexe>>>

But the politics - and politicking - involved goes to the heart of a debate about grammar schools that has simmered and occasionally come to the boil within the Conservative party ever since David Cameron, in something of an educational Clause Four moment, decided that his party would not support any further selection and the idea of more grammars.

Kent Tories have never made much effort to conceal their unhappiness with this U-turn, believing fervently that many parents actually want more selection, rather than less.

For many, selective schooling is something of an article of faith and have been aghast at the party turning its back on the policy.

So, the possibility of adding more grammar school places, through new arrangements allowing the expansion of popular schools and where there is a proven shortage of available places, has been seized on with something approaching Messianic zeal in Kent.

Which goes a little way to account for the fanfare surrounding the announcement that Kent County Council has identified a potential site for its new annexe. 

A press release unveiling the news was about as overtly political as you could get without breaching the protocols on local government publicity that are designed to prevent councils from issuing anything that might be construed as seeking to solicit support for a particular party.

Education cabinet member Cllr Mike Whiting was even quoted as saying that parents not just in Kent "but across the country" were relying on "Conservative administrations across the country to champion and provide" more selective schooling. How that got cleared for release is anybody's guess.

The release was crammed with supportive statements from various Sevenoaks county councillors (all Conservative) and the Conservative MP Michael Fallon. The only surprise was that they obviously could not prevail on Michael Gove to provide a suitable soundbite - but I daresay that will come in due course.

I understand there has been some tensions behind the scenes about how this was all handled. The ruling Conservative administration at County Hall won't be especially bothered, even if it is lacking a rather vital piece of the jigsaw - namely which existing grammar schools are going to partner or sponsor the annexe.

What matters from the political, rather than the educational perspective, is that Kent Conservatives can go into this May's council election campaign being able to underline - unlike the national party - that they stand firmly behind selection and grammars and are actually doing something about it.

Not just so they can bolster support from within their own ranks but so they can back the other parties into a corner - not least UKIP, who I am told, are fielding candidates in every single division and have been scornful of the Conservative's decision to abandon support for selection.



The omission of any details about would-be sponsors for the grammar annexe is intriguing. The line from KCC is that it is making sure everything is watertight before going public on who might be involved.

There will have to be two partner schools but quite who they may be is anyone's guess. There have been rumours that the council has found it hard to get anyone interested.

One interesting aspect of the announcement was the apparent support of the Knole Academy, which is currently using part of the Wildernesse School site, for the masterplan.

Could it become one of the sponsors in some way or have some other involvement, perhaps in helping provide additional support for those who do end up attending the grammar annexe?


With most council decisions, there is some kind of process - consistent with the authority's constitution - by which the decision is considered, sometimes consulted on and agreed.

It is a process that generally speaking happens in the public domain, with supporting reports and other documents that anyone can access.

And on occasion, decisions might get called in by backbenchers so they can chew it over and ask questions. Indeed, KCC is so keen on ensuring that councillors do this before decisions happen that it has set up an entirely new system of cabinet "pre-scrutiny" committees.

However, the decision-making process involved in identifying a site for its new grammar school has gone through no such process. The "decision" was announced via, as I've pointed out, a triumphantly worded press release.

It's precisely the sort of thing that makes people like me rather cynical and suspicious that KCC can often be more interested in the political PR value of its activities above anything else.

Next week, we will get the judgement from Ofsted about how well Kent's most vulnerable children are looked after, following the damning assessment two years ago. It will be interesting to see how this may be spun.

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Categories: Precept

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


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.


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:


testsrules.doc (20.50 kb)


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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

Does Kent's east-west split stack the odds against some schools making the grade?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 28 2012

Two education stories involving Kent may, at first glance, appear unrelated.

The first involves parents in Sevenoaks petitioning Kent County Council for more grammar school places; the second involves Ofsted failing Kent's first secondary school academy and placing it in special measures. Seven years after it first opened its doors, the Marlowe Academy in Ramsage has been deemed to be offering students an unacceptable education.

Marlowe Academy failed by Ofsted>>>

Nothing could better illustrate just how stark the differences are in Kent when it comes to schooling. In one of the most prosperous and least disadvantaged areas of the county, parents are making the case for more selective places while in another - the county's economic blackspot where nearly 15% of 18-24-year-olds are out of work, the life chances and prospects for hundreds of children are being undermined because a school that cost £30m is, according to inspectors, failing.

The failures of the Marlowe cannot, of course, be laid at the door of those in Sevenoaks - which has the lowest unemployment rate in Kent and fewer 18-to-24-year-olds out of work than anywhere in the county -  where parents say they are simply arguing for increased capacity in the area to avoid children having to travel out of the area.

But the impact of selection on some schools in many areas cannot - and should not - be underestimated when it comes to making judgements about their achievements. Imagine being in a 100-metre sprint against Usain Bolt and just as you line up ,the marshal instructs you to move 25m behind the start line.

That is how many non-selective schools feel about the impact that grammars, which top slice the 25% of the most academically able children,  have. To their credit, many choose not to offer that as an excuse and are justifiably proud of what, in many cases, are outcomes that are - given their starting point - arguably better than some schools which select.

Roger De Haan, the chairman of governors at the Marlowe, says selection hasn't helped the challenge of improving the prospects of its pupils but you won't ever find Ofsted acknowledging - or even taking into account -  the potential impact that a selective system has on a non-selective school's performance.

It is often said by those in charge at County Hall that the "diversity" of Kent's schooling system is one of its strengths, and that such diversity affords parents the kind of choice not available elsewhere. Except, of course, that presumes a system in which all schools are doing equally as well - which is patently not the case.

To its credit, KCC has sought to bridge the gap between selective and non-selective schools in some ares through federations and partnerships and has set up the Kent Challenge to address the shortcomings of under-performing schools.

But the fact remains that there is a wide - some suggest widening gap - between the outcomes of pupils that is not being adequately addressed. Indeed, KCC's own director of education Patrick Leeson has been candid enough to say that there is less social mobility achieved in Kent through its schools than elsewhere and that the gap between the achievements of less well-off pupils and the more affluent is "extremely unacceptable."    

The damning Ofsted inspection of the Marlowe Academy is a striking reminder for both KCC and the government - which is ultimately accountable for academies - of just how far things still have to go before there is a genuine level playing field in Kent when it comes to schools and the outcomes and prospects for all children.


IT is now more than two years since an audit inquiry into Kent County Council’s extensive commercial trading operations cleared the authority of competing unfairly with private business.
The probe followed well-publicised complaints from the private sector about KCC having an unfair competitive advantage over others and allegations of cross-subsidies.
The Audit Commission cleared KCC of this but noted in a report that to allay concerns it needed to be more transparent about the activiites of its companies like Kent Top Temps and Kent Top Travel.
In response, the council set up a committee to oversee the various companies that together have a turnover of £400m a year, called the Governance and Audit Trading Activities Sub Group. Given the extent of KCC’s commercial trading companies, and in the face of an on-going trial involving fraud allegations, it is something of a surprise to discover that this committee has not met since May 2010

Are we to believe that there has been nothing of note to record about any aspect of commercial trading at KCC? Nothing like a high level independent review of the way they are governed, for example?


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Categories: Precept

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

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