In 1998, Government passed the Schools Standards
and Framework Act which introduced the possibility of parents petitioning
for ballots to end selective education, i.e. grammar schools. Because
they thought the existing mix of high, grammar and comprehensive schools
was actually working well in Kent, Medway and Bexley, a group of like-minded
parents, school governors and headteachers came together. Support Kent
Schools was formed and quickly gained momentum, with over 6,000 parents
expressing an interest in supporting its aims. SKS has successfully
fought for the continuation of the status quo in secondary education
in the three Local Education Authorities, such that the anti-grammar
school lobby seems to have turned away from using the direct legislation
to achieve their aims.
This does not mean, however, that the threat to the
status quo has gone away. It is known that some activists within the
Labour Party want to have a clause in their Manifesto for the next General
Election about the abolition of selective education. The Secretary of
State for Education and Skills, Mr Charles Clarke, has said that he
does not personally like the 11 Plus tests. And locally we are aware
of the pressure that has been placed on the LEAs, the Schools Adjudicator
and the Secretary of State to change the admission processes so that
this discriminates against those parents who would like to see their
children go to a selective school. Parents and Year 6 pupils in Kent
have this year, again, faced anxiety and stress in expressing their
preferences for secondary places. The turmoil at the start of March
following the advice of places allocated was entirely due to the ridiculous
process that is currently in place.
Support Kent Schools says that, no matter what one’s
view on selective education, it cannot be right to expect preferences
to be nominated without full information. In the case of potential grammar
school pupils, this must include the indication of whether they are
likely to be suited to such a school. In other words, the 11 plus should
take place before preferences for secondary schools are chosen
Annual General Meeting
Members will find notice of this year's
AGM, to be held on 20th May, enclosed with this Newsletter.
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Common Sense Choices Campaign
In recent months there has been a growing clamour
to change the system for choosing secondary places. Most importantly,
the Kent on Sunday has been running a “common sense choices”
campaign, not specifically pro-grammar, but rather seeking to
bring transparency to the transfer to secondary school process.
This campaign concentrated on the need for parents to have full
information before they have to make choices, i.e. mirroring our
message. This appears to have been an extremely successful initiative,
with many schools organising petitions and individual parents
giving pledges of support. Kent on Sunday has now taken these
to the Department for Education and Skills and to the Schools
Adjudicator, but the outcome was not known as these notes went
to press. We congratulate Kent on Sunday and its chief reporter
Shelley Whittaker for running such a successful campaign.
winners (and losers)?
We firmly believe that, whilst there are many
national and international matters that will quite rightly determine
how the electorate votes at the next General Election (in 2005?),
the various parties’ attitudes towards selective education
is an important issue in Kent, Medway and Bexley. As such, we
are pleased that Michael Howard, Leader of the Conservative Party,
has agreed to meet us. We want to learn about his view of the
future of grammar schools. Perhaps we should actually seek to
understand what plans his party has for the future of secondary
education nationally, as it is clear that comprehensive schools
have not been as universally successful as some of his predecessors
parents say “hands off our Grammar Schools”
The result of a public consultation exercise
carried out in Gloucester surprised Councillors who wanted to
reduce the number of places at the grammar schools in the authority.
Almost 82% of parents polled wanted to keep the status quo, with
only 9% voting to end selection, with even the majority of parents
of children at comprehensives wanting to retain selection. All
four options for reorganising schools in Gloucester were rejected.
The dumb-founded Council has decided to carry out a further review
– what a waste of money!
Nationally, figures provided to Parliament recently
indicate that there has been an increase in the number of pupils
attending grammar schools, with 35% more in 2003 than 1993, although
the number of schools remained the same. Clearly, the existing
schools are seen by many to fulfil an educational need.
LEA admits their process has failed parents and pupils
Following the first allocation of secondary places
at the start of March, Kent LEA was inundated with enquiries and
appeals from parents. As this Newsletter was prepared, it seemed
that there were still many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pupils
uncertain about their place for September. Perhaps this has caused
the LEA to look more carefully at their processes, as they have
now indicated that they want the Government to allow parents to
apply to schools after they know the outcome of the 11 plus. They
went on to say that, in the long term, they will consider scrapping
the 11 Plus altogether and move instead to a system of continuous
assessment to end the annual turmoil facing thousands of parents.
It seems, however, that the LEA is still committed to selective
visit to Charles Clarke
In last spring’s newsletter, we said that
we had been trying to see the Secretary of State for Education
to clarify his attitude towards selective education, as various
quotes in the press seemed to indicate that he had an ambivalent
attitude towards grammar schools. In the event, after a number
of cancellations, your representatives did manage to talk to Mr
Clarke last summer. A full report of that meeting is on our website.
It is worth noting here that whilst Mr Clarke
did say that he was not personally opposed to grammar schools
per se, he was not keen on seeing children tested and then placed
in different secondary schools as a result. Importantly, he said
the abolition of grammar schools was not on his list of priorities
and he had no plans to change the existing arrangements. He promised
to meet and talk with Support Kent Schools representatives again
before any such plans were contemplated. We can but hope!
unnecessary public expenditure
SKS has been saying for a long time that the
existing legislation allowing parental ballots is unwieldy and
that the attempts by abolitionists to trigger votes had cost the
tax-payer huge sums of money. This has recently been announced
at £1.7million even though only one ballot has been held
under the process. Those with a long memory will recall that this
was in 2000 in Ripon, where parents voted overwhelmingly in favour
of retaining the selective system.
Now, the Kent Messenger group has called on the
Government to change the petition and ballot regulations to stop
more public money being wasted. Interestingly, this is about the
one area where SKS and its opponents agree!
by Support Kent Schools, P O Box 921, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 5WZ
- telephone 01622 734098
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