Local grammars are failing poorer pupils

Gatwick Campaigners

Grammar Schools in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge are among the least willing schools in the country to provide places for poor pupils.

The findings come on the back of a BBC investigation which revealed that less than half of all grammars in the UK give priority to children who qualify for free school meals.

An analysis of the 163 grammar schools’ admissions policies found 90 do not take account of the eligibility, which is traditionally used as to define whether an applicant is ‘poor’.

Now one local grammar is bucking the trend. Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys has altered its admission policy for 2017 to encourage more pupils from low-income families.

But four ‘selective’ schools in the area feature among the worst 15 grammars in the country, with Skinners’ in Tunbridge Wells the worst offender.

Unlike most other schools in West Kent, however, it does have a proactive approach to the issue and operates a quota system which favours FSM pupils.

But Skinners only sets aside five places each year for children who are entitled to free school meals (FSM) out of an annual intake of 150.

It currently has a total of 20 FSM pupils out of a capacity of 975 this academic year, which works out as 2 per cent of the entire roll.

So Skinners’ comes 159th out of the 163 in the whole country; Judd is at No 156, Tonbridge Grammar one place above at 155, and Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School is in 150th place.

Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys was already the most inclusive selective local authority school in West Kent, achieving the national average of 6.9 per cent of pupils on FSM in 2015.

In comparison, non-selective secondary schools across the country took in 29.4 per cent of FSM students last year.

And now it is trying to taken even more disadvantaged youngsters.

Like other schools in the area, if the intake was ‘oversubscribed’ TWGSB has until now prioritised applications from children who have been in local authority care, brothers and sisters already in the school, or health and special access criteria, before taking into consideration how close a prospective pupil lives to the school.

But from next year Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys will give priority to those who have ‘pupil premium’ status in each of these oversubscription criteria.

Also known as the ‘Ever 6’ measure, pupil premium applies to children who were eligible for free school meals at any point in the past six years – for which the schools receive extra funding.

The headteacher, John Harrison, believes that grammar schools should be more socially inclusive, as Prime Minister Theresa May insisted when she came to office.

One of her first announcements was that grammars must ‘genuinely reach out across society’ and take in children from a variety of backgrounds.

Mr Harrison says his school has taken a proactive approach in recent years, reaching out to the community as a whole.

“In order to make our school as accessible as we possibly can we try to work with primary schools,” he says.

“We invite children in for events and activities like concerts or science days and send students out as part of their sixth form enrichment to help in primary schools.

“In the past this has included a reading scheme and maths support but also music, science and technology projects,” adds Mr Harrison.

“In addition to being interesting, educational and fun we intend that these activities make us feel less ‘daunting’ to primary school children and their families.

“So they might come along to our open events and see the school as a very real option for their sons.”

Skinners’ Headteacher Ed Wesson defended their low Pupil Premium intake, saying: “It is not many and is as much a reflection of the area in which we live in as the inaccessibility of grammar schools.

“In terms of what we can do to increase that number, we already favour free school meals students in cases of oversubscription in our admissions criteria. We shall continue to do so. Indeed we might increase the number.”

The school operates a similar outreach programme to encourage young students before they take the Kent Test at the age of 11.

“We also work with local primary schools,” says Mr Wesson. “Our sixth-formers go in to help with maths and English – and we welcome primary schools to our Forensics Day in the summer term.

“This is important as evidence suggests that lack of attainment and therefore access to selective education does not just happen at the point of the 11+ but much earlier in primary school careers.”

The grammar schools who have the greatest number of poor pupils tend to be based in areas where there is significant economic deprivation.

Within Kent as a whole, there are seven in the top 14 inclusive grammar schools nationwide, from Chatham, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Folkestone and Dover.

However, this statistic may in turn be skewed by the fact that the county contains more grammar schools than any other local education authority.

Selective education is only available in 36 of England’s 152 LEAs, but Mrs May is keen to end the ban on new grammars which was enforced in 1998.


How Kent’s grammars pick and choose:

All entrants must pass an 11-plus style Kent Test examination.

If there is a lack of available places, or ‘oversubscription’, leads to various criteria being applied to the applicants:

These start with any child who is, or has ever been, in authority care.

The next criterion is ‘family association’, or if the prospective pupil has any brothers and sisters already in the school.

Then comes health and special access, where the mental or physical impairment of a child – or the parents – means they have a ‘demonstrable and significant need’ to attend the school.

Finally, the distance of the entrant’s home from the school is calculated, as the crow flies, using an Ordnance Survey map.


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