Conservative back-pedalling on grammar school transport.

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.

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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.

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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

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Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster.

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