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Parent’s anger as Hartley schoolboy misses out on grammar school place despite passing Kent Test

A primary school pupil who passed the 11-plus with “flying colours” has been left heart-broken after being denied a place at grammar school.

Joshua Shergill is one of 61 children across Dartford, Gravesham and Sevenoaks to have passed the Kent Test and named a selective school as their first choice but was instead offered a non selective.

The 10-year-old had applied for a spot at Wilmington Grammar School for Boys followed by Gravesend Grammar School and Dartford Grammar School for Boys. But the youngster was instead offered a place at Ebbsfleet Academy, a comprehensive school.

Joshua, who currently attends Steephill Independent School in Hartley village, said: “I worked extra hard and I tried my hardest. I got my results back and I had passed with flying colours. I was over the moon and very happy about that.

“But when I found out I had not got in, it was very disappointing.”

Dad Mandip Shergill added: “He was completely devastated. He was crying that he did not get any of his school choices. We never thought we would be in this position.

“We have done everything we can to educate our son but the system has let him down by not offering him a place in a selective school. He will be a fish out of water in another school.

From left: Mum Raj Binder, son Joshua Shergill and dad Mandip Shergill
From left: Mum Raj Binder, son Joshua Shergill and dad Mandip Shergill

“The students have passed the test, they have trusted in the system and the system has let them down.

“It is an awful situation to be in. Our children are not going to be pushed to their full potential in a non-selective school.”

Kent County Council (KCC) says it recognises this will be “upsetting” for the 61 not afforded places but it is working in the first stage of a “three-stage process of school place allocation” which “may ease” the current situation.

Year 6 children have the opportunity to take the Kent Test, which is made up of an English and Maths paper and a reasoning paper, if they want to.

A total score of 332 or more is need to pass and if successful they are eligible to apply for a place at one of Kent’s often “oversubscribed” grammar schools.

Although, as KCC warns, a space is not guaranteed as “they receive more applications than there are available places”.

Schools often use their admission criteria to rank all applications in priority order and this is different for each school.

Mr Shergill himself attended Gravesend Grammar School when studying for his A-Levels but before that was at a non-selective secondary in Gravesend.

The 46-year-old said: “I truly believe in the system and I want my son to follow in my footsteps and he has been denied this chance.

Joshua said he put in a lot of hard work to pass the test
Joshua said he put in a lot of hard work to pass the test

“I am a product of a grammar school. This was monumental to me. I left my comprehensive school and I completely excelled in comparison to how I did there.

“It was the stepping stone for me into higher education. We want our son to have the same opportunity and it is going to be these schools that create that.

“Gravesend Grammar School helped me and I have never looked back. I want the same for Joshua.”

According to a freedom of Information report from KCC obtained by educational expert Peter Read and shared with KentOnline, 61 children from Gravesham, Dartford and Sevenoaks, who were eligible to attend a grammar school, have instead been given a place at a non-selective school.

This comes despite putting a selective one as their first choice.

Of these, 18 children requested to attend Dartford Grammar School (for boys), six for Dartford Grammar School for Girls, 18 for Gravesend Grammar School, eight for Wilmington Grammar School for Boys and 11 for Wilmington Grammar School for Girls.

They have now all instead been offered a place at non-selectives Ebbsfleet Academy, Longfield Academy and Inspiration Leigh UTC among other schools.

Dad Mandip was a former student of Gravesend Grammar School. Picture: Nick Johnson
Dad Mandip was a former student of Gravesend Grammar School. Picture: Nick Johnson

In 2022, the total number of children in this position was 28 – less than half.

Mr Shergill, of Church Road, Hartley, added: “It is such a critical issue. We are trying to overrule this decision but I know there are 60 other children also appealing this. The chances are very, very low, but that is the only choice we have.

“Joshua has done everything he can possibly do and there are 60 children out there who have done the same. There is a fundamental issue here.”

The dad believes there are multiple factors that have caused this. One being the lack of space at these schools and the growing population of the district with the development of Ebbsfleet Garden City.

“These schools just do not have the capacity,” he added. “KCC are fully aware this is an issue and I am convinced it will be more than 100 children next year.

“Something needs to give. The fundamental issue is they are not increasing the capacity at these schools. Every year they have a set number of pupils they can admit. This needs to change.”

He also blames KCC for failing to address the problem and says the school’s individual admissions criteria often sees places go to students who do not live in Kent.

Educational expert Peter Read, pictured in 2020, says there is a problem. Picture: Peter Read
Educational expert Peter Read, pictured in 2020, says there is a problem. Picture: Peter Read

Hundreds more children took the 11-plus this year - with more than 5,000 youngsters from outside the county trying to get into the county’s grammar schools.

About 17,000 pupils sat the test, compared to 16,000 in 2021.

In total, 5,500 of the children were from areas outside the county. There are 5,566 places available at grammars in Kent.

However, Peter Read, a former headteacher at Gravesend Grammar, says he has long been “warning of this situation for years”.

Mr Read, who runs the KentAdvicewebsite, said: “We knew this was going to be a major problem.

“Until a couple of years ago, there was an expectation that if you passed the test you got a place.

“For 61 children to not get one, I think it should have been unacceptable. We can expect there to be 60 children next year too unless something is done.”

Mr Read added a possible solution could be to open annexes in Ebbsfleet, as has been done in West Kent with the expansion of Weald of Kent and Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar into Sevenoaks.

Children will find out later today whether they are on the school’s waiting list for a place.

A spokesperson for KCC said: “Kent has an excellent record for providing grammar school places for the vast majority of children who pass the Kent Test.

“Despite nearly 80% of this year’s 22,620 secondary school pupils receiving their first-preference schools, we recognise that it will be upsetting for the 61 grammar-eligible children in North West Kent not to receive an offer for a grammar school place.

“We are currently only at the first stage of a three-stage process of school place allocation. The current situation may ease when the process for this year is completed. KCC will reallocate places from schools’ waiting lists by sending out a second round of offers on Tuesday (25 April).

“After that date, parents and carers can still apply to schools directly to ask to be placed on their waiting list.

“Some parents will also have lodged an appeal to seek a place at their preferred school.”

He added: “Since 2015, we have worked hard to increase the number of Year 7 grammar school places in Gravesham and Dartford by 270 [each year], but the schools there have no further room to expand.”

KCC says it is seeking to commission a further 180 additional grammar places in this area for 2026.

The building of a new grammar school is not allowed under current legislation.

But KCC says it is working with two established grammar schools on a “satellite” solution in areas such as Sevenoaks to free up teaching space for additional places.

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