Yesterday a Commons Parliamentary Committee debate was held on the expansion of grammar schools at which the Labour party Shadow Schools Minister, Kevin Brennan (MP for Cardiff West), said the following*:-
“Moving on to some of those who are affected by selective systems, I shall refer to the comments of Ian Bauckham, the head of Bennett Diocesan Memorial school, a very successful all-ability school in west Kent which operates in an almost exclusively selective environment. I will not quote him verbatim, but I am happy to supply the full text to the Minister if he wants it.
Mr Bauckham says that it is critical to understand that uncontrolled expansion of popular schools has a particularly damaging effect in areas where 11-plus selection persists. In his area, where some 40% of children take and pass the 11-plus, there is continued parental pressure to get children into grammar schools….He argues that if grammar schools are allowed to expand their rolls and intakes, fewer children from aspirational backgrounds will go to the local non-selective schools, meaning that those schools will become more exclusively the preserve of children from less aspirational backgrounds…By consigning these children to what are widely regarded as schools for failures—condemning them to failure at the age of 11—their already fragile expectations will be depressed still further and they will be less likely to succeed.”
It therefore appears that the Head of Bennett Memorial (a Christian secondary school in Tunbridge Wells) may have been in contact with a national Labour (and anti-grammar school) politician to object to grammar school expansion in West Kent.
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Bennett Memorial is itself a highly selective school by only admitting children from Anglican Christian families, many people will want to understand why Mr Bauckham feels the need to involve a national politician who does not fully understand the educational needs of the people of West Kent.
Mr Bauckham’s arguments against the expansion of West Kent grammar schools because they are socially exclusive brings to mind an old saying, “Those in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Schools that select on the basis of faith like Bennett Memorial (the qualifying criteria being church attendance 3 times per month for 3 years) consider themselves as all ability non-selective schools that are open to all, but the figures show that this is very far from the truth. In fact, the true position is that Bennett Memorial only has 3% of its children on free school meals, whereas the nearby Tunbridge Wells non-selective school, Skinners’ Academy, has 34% on free school meals, meaning that Bennett Memorial admits very few disadvantaged children.
The Sevenoaks grammar school will not be a socially exclusive instituion as we are seeking to establish a community grammar school that operates a catchment area based admissions policy, and not super-selection. This will mean that all children within the catchment area who pass the 11 plus test will be admitted, thus greatly reducing the need for private tutors to coach children to achieve the high marks needed for the super-selective grammar schools. This should go some way to levelling the playing field between middle class children and disadvantaged children.
Furthermore, we are exploring other ways to level the playing field between middle class children and disadvantaged children, and to encourage greater numbers of disadvantaged children to apply for, and achieve, grammar school places. Ideas that we are examining include grammar school teachers visiting local primary schools to provide special language and science classes to inspire learning in young people. We are also considering providing after-school and summer holiday tuition classes to primary school children (which will be free and open to all) to teach the skills they need to pass the 11 plus test.
Our over-riding ambition is to create a grammar school in Sevenoaks that is socially inclusive, as this will provide the best possible education for the young people of the town from every background.