Grammar schools set to prioritise poorer pupils and local children despite hostility from parents and alumni

Exclusive: Nearly three in four consultation respondents expressed concerns about the plans, documents show

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
@Eleanor_Busby
Friday 05 April 2019 18:24
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A group of grammar schools is pushing ahead with plans to give greater priority to local children and poorer students despite overwhelming hostility from parents and alumni.

The King Edward VI Academy Trust, which runs six selective state schools in Birmingham, will prioritise giving places to poorer children who live nearby – even if they achieve slightly lower entry test scores than required.

The changes will come into effect next year despite the fact that only 27 per cent of parents, alumni and local residents were fully in favour of the new entry requirements.

In internal documents on the public consultation seen by The Independent, some respondents warned that the elite grammar schools risked being “downgraded” into comprehensive schools.

Meanwhile one parent, who opposed the changes, argued that pupils on free school meals already had more than their peers, adding the move would affect her own daughter’s “self-esteem”.

Another parent said her son, who had worked tirelessly to achieve his “dream” of attending the grammar school, would be “devastated” to see his school’s elite status removed.

The opposition comes after the government has called on existing grammar schools to alter their admissions policies in a bid to admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last year, the Department for Education announced a £50m expansion fund for selective schools which committed to improving access for poorer children following concerns about social mobility.

The King Edward VI grammar school group will increase the number of pupil premium children, those who have received free school meals, to 25 per cent under the changes for September 2020.

Many of the concerns raised in the consultation, which had nearly 1,000 responses, were over the trust’s plans to prioritise children through new catchment areas, rather than on high test scores.

Currently pupils travel from as far as Derby and Leicester to attend the schools, and the trust wants to reduce the number of children travelling long distances every day.

Just under half (45 per cent) of the respondents who opposed the changes wanted the admission of pupils to stay based on 11-plus test scores.

Meanwhile, 28 per cent were concerned about being out of the proposed catchment areas – including many from the affluent area of Solihull.

Other concerns were that siblings could miss out on places and children from disadvantaged areas just outside of Birmingham city centre, like Sandwell, would struggle to be admitted to the schools.

Some residents are also worried that the houses prices in the new catchment areas will rise and poorer families will eventually be priced out.

Andrew, whose children recently attended the grammar schools, said: “Catchment areas have perverse consequences. People will move into catchment areas to get into schools they want to.”

He added: “The consultation was quite strongly against the proposals but the trust have ignored that. It does seem a bit perverse that they have done so.”

The trust has now extended the catchment areas to include disadvantaged wards in Sandwell and north Solihull following concerns. But the priority of local children and poorer students will remain.

Children who achieve higher exam scores and who also live in the catchment area of their local selective school will be prioritised. Remaining places will go to those living further afield.

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The move comes despite thousands signing a petition against the changes to the entry policy.

Parent Kaja Fawthrop, who launched the Save Birmingham Grammar Schools campaign group, is now fundraising to challenge the admissions policy. She has raised nearly £2,000 to begin action.

Heath Monk, executive director of King Edward VI Foundation, said the opposition has built up on a “misapprehension” that all children who live outside the catchment areas would miss out.

He said: “We will always have places for people coming further afield. We might have more pupil premium children coming in but I am very clear that is our moral purpose as a group of grammar schools in a city where well over 40 per cent of children are disadvantaged.

“Grammar schools have got to be more socially inclusive and they have got to do more to reach out to disadvantaged children and that inevitably means some fear of displacement.”

Mr Monk added: “What we are doing it is in line with government policy and where government wants grammar schools to go in terms of accessibility and access of disadvantaged children.”

Dr Nuala Burgess, chair of campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “The strength of feeling against King Edward VI Academy Trust’s plans to admit more disadvantaged students shows the ugly truth of the social divisions caused by grammar schools.

“It needs to be pointed out there is something intrinsically wrong with the monopolisation of state-funded grammar school places by the middle classes.

“The fact that a group of Birmingham parents can see fit to take legal action to maintain that monopoly exposes still further their sense of entitlement, and makes ever clearer the lengths to which some parents are prepared to go to preserve grammar schools as institutions for the middle classes.”

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