Kent County Council has a “moral responsibility” to do more to help brighter poorer children get to grammar school, a report by a cross-party group of county councillors into social mobility has concluded.
The report follows an inquiry examining ways in which bright children from less well-off families could be encouraged to go to grammar school.
The inquiry was set up amid concerns that the grammar school system was skewed towards more affluent families and that poorer families were disadvantaged when it came to the 11-plus.
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County councillors say in the report, which makes 17 recommendations, that both KCC and primary and secondary schools should do much more than they do now to help disadvantaged families access grammar schools.
The inquiry report said ideally it would like to see the restoration of a scheme that gave free school transport to those whose nearest schools were more than three miles away.
Councillors said that KCC should extend free school transport to all children who were eligible for the pupil premium.
They also suggested that schools consider a transport bursary to pay for “bespoke” bus services in rural areas.
Another recommendation was that the threshold for parents on low incomes to qualify for free transport be increased to £21,000.
"We believe...that KCC, primary and secondary schools have a moral responsibility to work together to support the most academically able children from disadvantaged backgrounds to access grammar school” - Cllr Jenny Whittle
In a foreword to the report, committee chairman Cllr Jenny Whittle (Con) said: “It is clear that children from poorer backgrounds and those in care are under-represented in grammar schools. We believe...that KCC, primary and secondary schools have a moral responsibility to work together to support the most academically able children from disadvantaged backgrounds to access grammar school.”
The report found that at grammar schools, just 2.8% of children were on free school meals compared to 13.4% in non-selective schools.
But it also found there were far fewer children who received pupil premium funding at grammars - 6.3% - than at non-selective schools, where the figure was 27%.
Pupil premium funding is given to schools to narrow the standards gap between poorer children and their peers.
Cllr Whittle said there while there was evidence of good partnerships between primary schools and grammars, it was not the case across the county.
She said: “That just 57% of high ability children in receipt of Pupil Premium in Kent attend a grammar school, compared to 79% of similar ability children not eligible for Pupil Premium, highlights that concerted action needs to be taken to ensure that more academically able children from poorer backgrounds have the same access to selective education as their more affluent peers."
Councillors also call on Kent’s 32 grammar schools to do more to tackle the misconception that they are not there for poorer families.
“All grammar schools should provide more outreach to primary schools including after school clubs in English and maths, mentoring and preparation for the Kent test,” the report says.
In evidence to the committee, one headteacher said there was an impression in some families that grammars were “expensive independent schools."
KCC was also urged to ensure that it did more to explain what options were available to children when they applied for secondary schools.
And the authority was told it should challenge schools over the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds they were accepting.
There was concern among county councillors that “super selective” grammars were not doing enough, with a recommendation they give priority to some children on pupil premium.
Matthew Bartlett, headteacher of Dover Grammar School for Girls, gave evidence to the inquiry.
He said: “This report challenges us all to continue to keep open and to open yet wider, the doors to a grammar school education for all our young people. Grammar school heads will not rest until there is absolute parity of opportunity for all young people regardless of their social and economic background."
He added: "The report is both a challenge and a timely reminder of the ongoing importance of that task. As a grammar school head working daily to ensure social mobility is more than just a slogan but a conspicuous reality, I welcome unreservedly the report and its recommendations."
The inquiry’s findings will now be presented to the county council’s cabinet for discussion.