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More places could be created at five Kent grammar schools

By Paul Francis

Hundreds of extra grammar school places could be created at five of the county’s selective schools under a government scheme allowing expansions.

They are among 35 across the country to have applied for a share of a £50m government fund to support selective schools who want to admit more pupils.

But campaigners against selection say some bids fail to indicate how they would improve access to poorer bright children - a key requirement of the scheme.

Wilmington Grammar School for Girls has applied
Wilmington Grammar School for Girls has applied

One school has said it could lower the pass mark for the 11-plus to draw in brighter children from poorer backgrounds.

The five schools in Kent are: Cranbrook School; Highworth School, Ashford; Wilmington Grammar School for Boys; Dartford; Wilmington Grammar School for Girls in Dartford; Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar and Skinners School, Tunbridge Wells.

In each case, the five schools have set out plans that, if agreed, would add about 30 extra places to their Year Seven admission numbers.

However, of the five only one is explicit about how it would set aside places for disadvantaged pupils to improve social mobility.

Highworth Girls School in Ashford aims to double the number of places offered to disadvantaged pupils to 18% - the equivalent of 39 out of a planned admission number of 217 Year 7 children.

It says it could offer places to children who achieve a lower pass mark in the 11-plus to meet the target.

Headteacher Paul Danielson said: “We have had no critical comments and parents have been incredibly supportive.

"Changing the pass rate would be controversial, but we are not doing that immediately and will look at it further down the road.”

KMG USE ONLY COPYRIGHT: SUBMITTED BY: Paul Danielsen, head teacher, Highworth, 01233 624910WARNING POOR QUALITY IMAGE WARNING SMALL IMAGE FILESlug: highworth KE 280613Caption: The exterior ofHighworth Grammar School, AshfordCategory: SchoolsCopyright: Paul Danielsen, head teacher, Highworth, 01233 624910 FM2667765 (2945422)
KMG USE ONLY COPYRIGHT: SUBMITTED BY: Paul Danielsen, head teacher, Highworth, 01233 624910WARNING POOR QUALITY IMAGE WARNING SMALL IMAGE FILESlug: highworth KE 280613Caption: The exterior ofHighworth Grammar School, AshfordCategory: SchoolsCopyright: Paul Danielsen, head teacher, Highworth, 01233 624910 FM2667765 (2945422)

The school was already working alongside primary schools, with Highworth pupils helping familiarise children with the tests.

“What we are trying to do is encourage families who may not think a grammar school is for them.

"If you have never seen an exam with non-verbal reasoning questions, it can be a challenge.”

A consultation document says it already plans to give greater priority to disadvantaged pupils who qualify for pupil premium funding in its over-subscription criteria.

“These ‘disadvantaged’ students who have passed the Kent test would have a higher priority in our oversubscription criteria.

"This model will be evaluated and if the 18% target is not met, we will consider the possibility of a reduced pass mark for this cohort of students.

"If this is successful, we will aim to increase it to 20% in subsequent years.”

In the case of the two Dartford grammar schools, the main aim is relocate the joint sixth form.

"Changing the pass rate would be controversial, but we are not doing that immediately and will look at it further down the road...” - Paul Danielson, Highworth Girls School

A consultation paper says: “The viability of schools is very challenging and we will become progressively less viable unless we increase the intake from five form entry to six.

"We can understand that this compromises the whole notion of local grammar schools but without the proposed increase in numbers we fear our financial position will deteriorate.”

Its proposal outlines how more than 300 sixth form students would move to another site, possibly the former Rowhill school site.

Kent County Council is supporting Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar, which wants to expand its Year 7 intake by 30 to 210 under the new Selective Schools Expansion Fund (SSEF).

The school’s consultation document does not refer to what plans it has to increase the number of disadvantaged pupils.

Cllr Roger Gough, the cabinet member for education, said: “Should the application be unsuccessful we will continue to seek external funding to support the completion of a building project at the school by September 2020.”

In the case of the Skinners’ School, one of the highest performing schools in the county, governors want to increase the number of places available by ten each year until 2025.

It says “facilities for pupils who come to the school would be improved by our participation in the Selective School Expansion Funding scheme.”

Melissa Benn, chair of Comprehensive Future, which opposes selection, said: “The government is set on expanding our remaining 163 grammars, directing much needed money, at a time of funding crisis in education, to their plan.”

The Department for Education said bids would be examined after the August deadline.

Until then, claims about numbers were “complete speculation.”

A spokesman said: “We want good schools to expand, to increase further the number of good school places.

"As we have been clear, all applications to the fund must demonstrate how they will increase access for disadvantaged pupils and work with local schools to improve outcomes for all pupils and give more families access to a good school place.”

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