Anger at plan to expand grammar school system

Kent confirms reputation as Britain's most selective education authority
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The Independent Online

The country's most selective education authority is seeking to expand some of its grammar schools.

The decision by the Conservative- controlled Kent County Council has reignited the controversy over selective education and the future of the 11-plus. Furious teachers' leaders and parents' groups have urged the county to abandon the proposal.

Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, has instructed officials to draw up plans to increase grammar school places in the west of the county because the schools are oversubscribed.

His move follows 11-plus results that show 5,113 pupils passed the test this month but the county's grammar schools only have 4,458 places available for them. Controversially, 993 of those who passed the test live outside the county.

Speaking to The Independent, Mr Carter said: "We have found that grammar schools in the west of the county have been oversubscribed whereas we struggle to fill some places in the east of the county.

"What I'm proposing would involve an expansion in the west with one or two extra forms of entry.

"However, we could keep to around 24 per cent or 25 per cent of pupils going to grammar school by some reduction in the east."

However, the move could face legal difficulties as a government directive giving the green light for popular schools to expand specifically excluded grammar and selective schools from benefiting from the scheme. It is possible for authorities to plead a special case.

Kent is also at loggerheads with Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, who has made it clear he is dissatisfied with the number of low-performing schools in the county and is sending in a team of experts to improve their exam results.

The county has the highest number of schools failing to reach the Government's target of 30 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English.

In all, 22 of its 270 schools face closure or being turned into one of the Government's flagship academies for failing to reach the target.

Mr Balls has made it clear he opposes selection and believes it makes it more difficult for secondary modern schools to succeed. He has warned that some young people entering secondary modern schools "feel on day one that they have already failed".

Kent's move may thrust the question of grammar schools back to the centre of the stage for an incoming Conservative government if it wins the next election.

Mr Carter wants the extra places to be available next September and accepted his own party might look more favourably on the proposal.

Meanwhile, teachers' leaders and parents' groups opposed to selection have attacked Kent's plan.

Marian Darke, south-eastern regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This is a problem of Kent's own making.

"It has stuck rigidly to its idea of having grammar schools. If they didn't have them and were comprehensive like most of the rest of the country, they would have people from neighbouring authorities believing they would be better off in their [own] schools."

Margaret Tulloch, secretary of Comprehensive Future, an anti-selection pressure group, added: "Instead of tinkering with the sizes of grammar schools Kent should be arguing for an end to its selective system which labels most 10-year-olds as failures."

Grammar schools: The future

*There are 164 remaining grammar schools in England, spread over about 30 education authorities.

Kent is among just a handful of authorities whose systems are still completely selective.

At present, if parents want to end selection in their area, there has to be a petition, followed by a ballot and vote.

The Government and the Tories have both made it clear they do not want to see any more selective schools being established.

Ministers have also made it clear they would like to see selective schools excluded from proposals allowing successful schools to expand – so as to cap the number of selective school places within the education system. However, they have acknowledged they are prepared to consider any special cases.