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Grammar school inquiry hears that Kent is making slow progress on helping disadvantaged pupils do as well as others

Education chiefs say Kent has made only “minute” progress trying to narrow the achievement gap between poorer pupils and those that are not disadvantaged.

Kent County Council education director Patrick Leeson said that despite the authority’s efforts to close the gap, progress had been slow.

His comments came at the opening meeting of an inquiry examining the social mobility of grammar schools and whether those in Kent could do more to encourage poorer children to take the 11-plus.

KCC education director Patrick Leeson
KCC education director Patrick Leeson

Figures presented to the opening meeting showed that of the 1,435 children on free school meals who sat the eleven plus in 2014, just 292 - about 8% - passed.

The number of children on free school meals attending Kent grammar schools remains chronically low at just under 3%, compared with 13% in non-selective schools.

Three grammar schools have no children on free school meals based on the latest data: Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar,Simon Langton Girls Grammar and Tonbridge Grammar.

However, other figures show that those children from less well-off backgrounds who went to a grammar school did almost as well in their GCSE exams as others, with a gap of just 2%.

Overall in Kent, the number of poorer students securing five or more good GCSE passes was 30%.

Mr Leeson said: “We have seen some movement in narrowing the gap but it is minute. Greater social mobility will only come about if the whole school system does better for children on free school meals.”

There were “real challenges” in changing the aspirations of poorer children to get to a grammar school, he added.

But he rejected suggestions that high-performing grammar schools were “selecting out” children and it would be wrong to blame primaries for “not doing this or that”.

“We have raised the issue with grammar schools and one of the things we have been doing is encouraging grammar schools to work in partnership with primaries. You might say we have not succeeded very far but there are some good examples,” he said.

The investigation is expected to be completed in May.

THERE are wide variations in the number of children who pass the eleven plus across Kent.

The area with the highest proportion of pupils taking and passing the exam is Tunbridge Wells (54.4%) followed by Sevenoaks (50%) then Tonbridge and Malling (47.9%).

At the other end of the scale, Shepway has the fewest (27%), followed by Thanet (32%); Swale (32%) Dover (34.2%).

The remaining areas are: Ashford (42.9%); Canterbury (44.5%); Dartford (40.6%);Gravesham (35.5%).

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