Published: 17:00, 05 April 2019
As the grammar school system is branded ‘educational apartheid’ by Canterbury Academy’s former chief, Phil Karnavas, Langton Boys’ head Ken Moffat argues it can still produce centres of excellence
Firstly, it is always a delight to hear from my old friend Phil Karnavas and to learn that sitting on a beach in Greece for the last few months hasn’t improved his mood.
Of course the grammar system isn’t educational apartheid, but, as with everything Phil says, there is an element of truth behind the rhetoric.
Certainly, grammar schools should not take students who have not passed the Kent Test and fill regardless.
To do so is to make a mockery of the system and disregard colleagues in non-selective schools.
And grammar schools should not, as too many do, simply focus on examination results as the sole measure of all that they are and achieve.
But grammar schools can still be centres of excellence and no sensible politician will close excellent schools in the present climate. Better still to raise the standard across the board.
When I joined the Langton, over 30 years ago, I was warned that there were two distinct threats to the school; the abolition of selective education and the opening of a new grammar school on the coast.
Thirty years on, it is not without a wry smile that I view these two issues still in local news.
Grammar schools can and do bring about social mobility. In our last analysis, four years ago, we were pleased to discover that 25% of that year’s leavers going to university came from homes where no-one had previously accessed Higher Education.
Furthermore, as Phil Karnavas knows, for the last six years we have quality-assured a grammar stream at Canterbury Academy which has been welcomed by students, staff and parents.
The first cohort of that stream to take GCSEs scored 98% 5 A*-Cs and we share a common curriculum and teaching across the two sites.
It is an example of national best practice in school collaboration and of a grammar school helping raise achievement for all.
In addition, the old argument of casting children on the scrap heap at the age of 11 no longer holds water.
At The Langton we successfully admit large numbers of students at 11, 14 and 16
The question remains as to whether there should be a new grammar school on the coast? Obviously, for the people of Whitstable, Herne Bay and surrounding areas, the answer has to be yes. They have probably had their fill of bus journeys to and from Canterbury over the years.
But in terms of the wider picture, the answer is probably no.
We know that there are plans to open a five-form entry comprehensive free school on the old Chaucer site.
Despite Canterbury City Council’s pledge for thousands of new homes, I don’t yet see many spades going into the ground and my worry is that opening two new schools in such a relatively short space of time will lead to the closure of one of our current providers.
The closure of The Chaucer showed us all how sad an experience that can be for all involved. We need a joined up vision for the future of the region that combines house-building with necessary community resourcing. I don’t see that clarity of thinking coming from the city council right now.
And I’m also suspicious of schools’ eagerness to expand. The business of schools is to be the best version of themselves they possibly can be and to provide the highest quality experience for all students, staff and parents involved with them.
It is not the business of schools to start building empires. Running one school alone is a challenge enough and I doubt the ability of school leaders to successfully oversee the running of several schools at the same time.
I would not be willing to put all my management and leadership time into chasing an outcome that is, realistically, unlikely to happen.