Thousands protest against grammar school plans to prioritise poorer pupils and local children

‘Changes threaten to displace families who assume a grammar school place is their right’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 12 December 2018 20:03
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Nick Gibb on Grammar Schools

Thousands have signed a petition against plans to give greater priority to local children and poorer students in the entry requirements of a group of grammar schools.

The King Edward VI Academy Trust, which runs six selective schools in Birmingham, is hoping to boost the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds by creating catchment areas.

Children from poorer families who live nearby – but who achieve slightly lower entry test scores – would be given priority under the proposals from the group of grammar schools.

However, nearly 3,000 people are opposed to the proposals, which now prioritise all children living close to the grammar schools, as they say a lower pass mark will cause “standards to drop dramatically”.

A petition says: “Grammar schools are designed for academically high achieving children. If entrance is decided on by postcode, what is the point of grammar schools? What is the point of the 11+ test if catchment area is the deciding factor?”

One person who signed the petition said: “All those children who live further away and have spent a lot of time and effort to achieve their goal will be at a loss due to this unfair system.”

The group of grammar schools does not currently consider where applicants live when allocating places – but hopes to prioritise children who achieve a higher score and who live nearby.

The opposition from parents 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.

The King Edward VI grammar school group is aiming to increase the number of places given to children from low income families to 25 per cent through the changes by September 2020.

Another opponent to the plans said increasing the number of pupil premium children, those who have received free school meals, would be a “bad idea” and lead to a fall in standards.

Heath Monk, executive director of King Edward VI Foundation, said he wants to boost the number of disadvantaged children that are admitted to the schools.

He told The Independent: “Currently, we have children coming in from huge distances while children living on the doorstep of the school can’t get in because the ones who are 30 miles away have a higher score.

“So we thought it made sense to give some priority to local children in the same catchment as the pupil premium before we opened to everyone based on score – which is what the current policy is.”

Pupils travel from as far as Leicester, Coventry, Derby and Stoke.

Mr Monk added: “We are saying that if you live in some of these poorer areas of Birmingham but you are not pupil premium eligible then you have got some priority in being able to go to a local grammar school.”

Nuala Burgess, chair of campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “Grammar schools now have a problem. The government is urging them to socially engineer their intake to admit poorer pupils.

“However, this threatens to displace those families who have come to assume a grammar school place as their right. There’s bound to be a backlash.”

She added: “This petition shows how divisive selective schools can be and the harm they can cause to local communities.

“This kind of division simply wouldn’t happen if all families had access to equally good, well-funded local schools: schools where all children, irrespective of their academic attainment and interests, were given an equally high standard of education.”

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