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Soaring rate of Kent grammar school offers to private pupils

By Danny Boyle
Teacher in a classroom. Stock picture
Teacher in a classroom. Stock picture

by political editor Paul Francis

Nearly 500 children from more than 80 fee-paying independent schools were offered places at grammar schools in Kent this year, according to figures obtained by the KM Group.

In some cases, pupils from private schools accounted for more than a third of the offers while at others, places were offered to pupils at schools in East Sussex, Surrey and London.

The startling figures, revealed for the first time under the Freedom of Information Act, underline the impact schools in the private sector have on the competition for places at some of the county’s highest-performing state schools.

They will also raise questions about the extent to which grammars in some parts of the county help the less well-off and if pupils at state primaries are disadvantaged by the 'coaching’ and preparation for the test widely practiced in the private sector.

Kent County Council has set up an urgent review of the 11-plus tests amid concerns they are seen as disadvantaging some children.

It has asked a group of headteachers to investigate whether or not there could be changes to the exams.

Grammar schools graphic
Grammar schools graphic

Many of the private school offers this year were made to the small number of "super selective" grammars - meaning only those who achieve the highest marks secure places.

The figures show that a total of 489 offers were made to children from more than 80 different independent schools - the highest number in three years. In 2011, it was 456 and in 2010, 477.

That equates to one in nine of all places available at the county’s 32 grammar schools this year.

However, there was a clear split between schools in the east of Kent and those in the west, where the proportion of offers was significantly higher.

Tonbridge Grammar School saw the greatest number, with 62 children from private schools offered places - more than a third of those available.

Click here for a full list of Kent grammar school offers in 2012 to private pupils

Next highest was The Judd School, also in Tonbridge, where 53 offers were made - accounting for more than one in three available.

At Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar, 30 offers were made - equating to about one in four available places, while at Tunbridge Wells Boys School, 38 offers were made - one in five of the 150 available.

The impact on schools in Maidstone was less acute, with the four schools between them seeing 66 offers made to pupils from the private sector - Invicta Girls School being the highest, with 21 offers made.

The figures suggest grammar schools in north Kent are also affected. At Dartford Boys Grammar, 23 places were offered to private school pupils but at the girls' grammar it was just 10.

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Elsewhere, the impact of private schools was less pronounced, especially in the east of Kent.

Thanet’s three grammar schools saw just 15 offers made to pupils from private schools, while in Canterbury, the three schools saw offers made to 43 pupils - of which half were made for places at the Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School.

KCC recently confirmed plans to provide more grammar school places at a satellite campus in Sevenoaks.

It comes after parents petitioned the authority, saying there was a drastic shortage of places in the area and children in some cases had to travel miles to get to a selective school.

What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below
What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below

Cllr Martin Vye, KCC Liberal Democrat spokesman for education, said the data reinforced the case for dramatic changes to the 11-plus.

He said: "We need a dramatic change in the way the assessment is done at 10 and 11 to take into account potential for achievement but how you devise that system I don’t know. The emphasis has to be on how we improve performance in our primary schools."

County education chiefs have acknowledge the widespread coaching has raised questions about the 11-plus tests sat by thousands of Year Six pupils each year.

A working party of head teachers has been asked to consider if changes could be made.

Cllr Mike Whiting (Con), KCC cabinet member for education, said: "A number of people have said to me that the Kent test is not fit for purpose and could be improved, specifically because there is a sense you can coach for it and if people are willing to devote money to something, they can get an unfair advantage when it comes to getting a grammar school place."

He added there was some evidence that children were being "over coached" and despite passing the 11-plus, often fell behind and needed help when they got to grammar school.

"All grammar schools I speak to really see social mobility as important to what they do and want to work within a framework that encourages social mobility.

"The test is one of those areas we need to look at urgently to make sure that it is not disadvantaging any particular sector of society."

But he ruled out the concept of quotas, where grammar schools would be required to take pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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