An education consultant has slammed plans for three single-sex grammar schools to become mixed from September 2024.
A consultation into the plans is due to conclude tomorrow (Sunday) and involves Medway selectives Holcombe, for boys, and Chatham Grammar and Fort Pitt - both for girls.
Medway Council insists it would end an inequity in places which currently exist between boys and girls.
Currently there are more places for girls than the Medway Test - the unitary authority's 11-plus exam to determine grammar school suitability - can deliver. The result being 116 girls from outside the council's borders take up the coveted places.
But Peter Read, a former Gravesend grammar head who runs the acclaimed KentAdvice.co.uk education website, says the plan is flawed.
He insists grammar provision for Medway children is "comfortably OK" and that there is "no problem whatsoever with finding a grammar school place". Adding: "To say there is a shortage of boys' places is simply not true."
Medway Council is conducting the consultation on behalf of the academy trusts which run the schools - Beyond Schools operate Fort Pitt Grammar, Thinking Schools Holcombe Grammar and the University of Kent Academies Trust Chatham Grammar - to "ensure that the full and appropriate processes are followed and to provide transparency and fairness in the process".
The unitary authority does not allocate pupils to schools with the admissions process handled by the schools themselves.
But Mr Read points out that, of Year 7 boy pupils currently attending Medway's grammars - all of whom give priority to local children - there are still 83 boys from outside Medway.
And he fears by changing the schools' entry requirements it will mean upping the percentage of pupils deemed suitable for grammar selection after sitting the Medway Test which, in turn, will potentially have a negative impact on all selective and non-selective schools in the area.
In an earlier document presented to Medway Council's cabinet it talked of upping the intake to grammars from the current 23% to a "maximum of 28%". It added such a move would also "ease the pressure on non-selective schools" in Medway.
Mr Read explains: "My problem is I can find no educational reason whatever that this consultation document puts forward.
"This is a pretty major upheaval. It's changing the character of three schools. Not just a little, but a lot.
"The plan is to increase the selection rate of the Medway Test.
"If they do it by just 3% that means the number of children in each grammar school would increase in number by 8%. That is the bottom of the ability range. Now what is the point of a grammar school?
"For the grammar, the major issue is having pupils who may struggle with what is expected of them.
"The parents of the extra children who go to the grammar schools will be happy; the children who are going to the grammars will find the work inevitably becomes less challenging.
"For non-selectives, they're going to lose the top of their ability range. It will weaken the non-selectives and weaken the grammars.
He adds: "It's unnecessary, it's pointless and its counter productive - and it's going to cost money which could be better spent building another non-selective school to ease any pressures."
But Medway Council, which says costs to adapt the schools "will be carefully considered on an individual basis", insists with an equal number of places for boys and girls, it can then "allocate more of the grammar school places to Medway pupils on offer day" which, in turn, will "reduce the capacity of the schools to take pupils living outside of Medway".
It added the proportion of pupils attending grammar schools across Kent and Medway varies considerably by area, with some areas of Kent, it claims, as high as 40%. It says, in contrast, Medway’s selective cohort at 23-25% currently is comparably low, adding "with the expected increase in pupil numbers over the next few years (it) will continue to decline if we do not create this extra capacity in the system."
It admits that by allowing more Medway pupils to attend grammars it will reduce some short term pressure on non-selectives, but that the increase in pupil numbers in Medway "will negate this".
Cllr Martin Potter, Medway Council’s portfolio holder for education and schools, said: “We want to ensure that, in the future, there are enough grammar school places for children who are assessed as grammar whilst providing the best opportunities for Medway children to attend Medway’s schools. I would encourage residents to take part in the consultation.”
Mr Read is also a long-term critic of the Medway Test - an exam he deems "not fit for purpose" in that, he believes, it is skewed in favour of girls by virtue of a section of the paper being devoted to one piece of written English - a task girls, at that age, are traditionally better at.
"As a consequence," he explains, "the Medway Test is biased towards girls.
"It could be argued boys do better at maths. But this is a single piece of writing. And for whatever reason, girls do considerably better.
"The Kent Test has a maths and English paper that are both balanced. And the results are standardised to a national standard. Boys do a little better than girls.
"In Medway (where the Medway Test currently consists of English, maths and verbal reasoning), they don't standardise it in the same way - just standardise it locally.
"In Kent you have to get a minimum score in every section (currently English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning). In Medway, it's just the total. So if you're useless at maths but excellent at English you get in. So that one piece of English can dominate the whole process."
Medway Council says it is currently in consultation with grammar school heads on adding a non-verbal reasoning test for 2023, adding "this will provide a more rounded grammar ability assessment".
To take part in the consultation, which ends on tomorrow, click here.