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Kent grammar schools at risk

Seaton Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education says, that despite huge demand, grammar school places in Kent are being cut rather than increased due to the seduction of BSF money.

How good it was on New Year's day to see Bob McCartney's suggestion, that councils should be allowed to open more grammar schools, was listed among the top policy ideas in 2008.  And no dissenters either!

So looking forward to 2009, may we hope perennial Conservative values, such as competition, choice, enterprise and reward for effort are not yet dead – at least at grassroots level?

Let's consider Kent County Council (KCC).

Not a bad local authority. Conservative controlled and one of the largest in England with more high-performing grammar schools than any other area. But some bad points too.

When education secretary Ed Balls' published his list of 638 failing secondary schools last summer, Kent had 33, none of them grammars, of course. Even so, this was top grade ammunition for haters of choice,
and grammar schools.

But no-one should be fooled by socialist propaganda suggesting that Kent's failing schools are due to the existence of grammar schools. Evidence on the effects of selective educational systems by Robert Coe
et al (Durham University, October 2008), stated: "We have failed to find any evidence of collateral harm to any other schools, arising from the existence of grammar schools. Overall, schools are just as
likely to be performing well, whether or not they are 'creamed' by a grammar school."

Yet KCC does seem to have been drawn into Labour's plans for levelling down, not up. Pupils in schools across Kent are being disrupted by the actions of politicians and their officials, who have been seduced by
millions of pounds from central government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Just before Christmas, the National Grammar Schools Association, whose primary purpose is the defence and promotion of grammar schools, used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain some disturbing figures from KCC.

They show that many Kent pupils don't even take the voluntary 11-plus for a place in a grammar school – presumably because there are no grammar schools nearby, or because they are discouraged by their
primary schools.

However, the number of children from aspirational families from outside Kent, who choose to take the voluntary test to compete for a place in a grammar school, is growing exponentially: 1,232 in 2007,
1,511 in 2008, and 1,810 in 2009.  Saddest of all, in 2008, only 291 of the 743  from outside Kent who 'passed' the test were offered a place in the schools of their choice.

These figures clearly show the massive popularity of grammar schools. And that aspirational families are voting with their feet.

Yet politicians, in Kent and elsewhere, are working with compliant headteachers to reduce the number of grammar schools, and the number of places in those that remain.  This means that hundreds of
youngsters who voluntarily take, and pass, the 11-plus are unfairly deprived of a place in a grammar school.

Almost a third of the grammar schools in Kent are putting themselves at risk: some are 'federating' or merging with other grammars if they are single sex, so two schools become one; some are linking up with
non-grammar schools into what will almost certainly become a comprehensive school; several are simply reducing the number of 11-year-olds they admit each year, which means a slow death by shortage of funds and loss of qualified teachers.

This is a socialist-inspired, double-edged squeeze on some of the best schools in the state system, and it's not just grammar schools. Nor could it happen without Conservative co-operation.

Where, it should be asked, is the fairness, or promotion of social mobility, in that?  Where  are the votes in removing choice and, far worse,  the ladder of opportunity, which is already much too narrow


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