with Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education and Skills on 12th
Richard Avery, Eric Hammond, Anthony Stanton and Keith Williams represented SKS. Mr Clarke was accompanied by a number of his officials.
Eric Hammond opened by outlining the origins of Support Kent Schools and, latterly, its concerns about the various and conflicting reports of the Secretary of State’s attitudes and intentions towards grammar schools. He referred to Mr Frank Dobson’s efforts to include a provision to eliminate grammar schools by direct legislation in Labour’s next Manifesto. Press comment had indicated that the Secretary of State favoured such inclusion.
He ended by asking:-
“So, Secretary of State, what is Kent and Medway’s system including its grammar schools to expect?
As we presently see it there are three possibilities:-
1. Leave it to parents – the existing situation. We have learnt to live with that. It would be more acceptable, fairer and balanced if parents throughout the country, those without a grammar school, could petition and ballot to secure one.
As to your recent Sunday Times’ thoughts, about giving parents petition and voting rights, we do not see them as a threat. In Kent, all parents with children of school age, up to 16, have full rights.
You could be bold and include all Kent’s voters or at least fairer and allow parents of sixth formers, indeed sixth formers themselves, to have a say. After all, they know most about the system.
However you enlarge the potential electorate, we are confident we can win. What measures of opinion that have been taken show overwhelming support for our diverse system.
2. Will you, with Frank Dobson, turn your back on parent power? Rather in the Oscar Wilde manner “the play was a success, the audience a failure”! Will you seek a provision in the next manifesto to eliminate all existing grammar schools? But of course that would be a different ball game and would be greatly regretted in Kent. My view is that it would have a considerable effect on the political map of our county.
Or are we to
Depend on Standards? We are at one with you if our future rests on results. Anthony Stanton can give you just a few more statistics to demonstrate that Kent’s secondary system is producing the goods. Keith Williams can demonstrate the co-operation that is growing throughout Kent and Medway to further improve the standards of all schools, with our grammars taking a leading part.
Mr Secretary, we thus seek your help.
Are we to continue to waste time and energy countering real or phoney petitions?
Are we to transform ourselves into political warriors to combat Labour’s next manifesto commitment to eliminate grammar schools?
Can we partners in raising standards and co-operation throughout Kent? Secretary of State, I assure you we would embrace such a partnership with enthusiasm.”
Keith Williams followed with a detailed account of co-operation and collaboration between schools in Kent and Medway.
Specifically, he gave an example of where grammar schools and high schools are working together for the benefit of all pupils, but stressed that time was needed to measure the benefit being achieved. This collaborative arrangement is between the Walderslade schools and Sir Joseph Williamson’s on the one hand, and between Thomas Aveling and The Rochester Grammar School for Girls on the other.
These schools, in undertaking collaboration, have committed themselves to three general aims:-
Anthony Stanton presented telling statistics and graphs showing the achievements of all Kent’s schools. These are reproduced at Appendix 1. These demonstrate that, on the standards agenda, Kent was coming well up the league table. However, he emphasised that these were averages and that when it came to comparing floor targets for individual schools, it was inappropriate to compare schools in a selective environment with comprehensives. The DfES officials acknowledged that this was recognised.
The Secretary of State listened carefully to all that he was told, and responded by saying that whilst he was not opposed to grammar schools, he personally did not like the 11 Plus tests.
He said that the abolition of grammar schools was not on his list of priorities and he had no plans to change the existing arrangements.
Before any such plans were contemplated, he would meet and talk with Support Kent Schools representatives again.