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THE Prime Minister’s recent announcement of an expansion in grammar school provision has caused ripple across the country. County councillor Jenny Whittle

argues why Kent has got it right…

AS CHAIRMAN of Kent County Council’s select committee on grammar schools and social mobility, I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister’s vision for new grammar schools that would seek to benefit, in particular children from less well-off families across the country. The select committee’s recently- published report outlined 16 recommendations, calling for a targeted approach to ensure that bright children from less affluent families were encouraged and supported by KCC and primary head teachers, following the example of Emma Hickling, the outstanding head teacher of Kingswood, Leeds and Ulcombe Primary Schools, to take the Kent Test and through the appeals process if they missed the pass mark. We also called on all grammar schools in Kent to prioritise children eligible for “pupil premium” (most now already do) in their admissions arrangements, to widen outreach programmes in English and

Maths for children in feeder primary schools, and to ensure that assistance was provided for uniform, schools trips and transport for these children. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was quick to criticise the PM’s policy on grammar schools, declaring their reintroduction to be a “severely retrograde step” and comparing the performance of Kent’s children on free school meals unfavourably with their London counterparts. Sir Michael, who himself benefited from a grammar school education, did not say that the top 10 funded areas for education are all in London – and Kent’s schools receive 50% less funding than those schools. Attacking grammar schools, parental choice and the pursuit of academic excellence is totally misguided. If Sir Michael came to Maidstone, he would see the excellent work of the Valley Invicta Academies’ Trust, and the outstanding education that both schools provide for the pupils

they serve. The proportion of good and outstanding schools in Kent is higher than the national average.

That is not to say that significant barriers remain for children from poorer families to access grammar schools, but these start well in advance of 11. Educational disadvantage can be entrenched for these children from as early as 22 months, and parties across the political spectrum have focussed efforts on reducing the gap. Measures include introduction of the Pupil Premium in 2010, which gives primary schools over £1300 per pupil per year for each child who is currently registered for free school meals or has been at some point within the previous six years. The pupil premium is starting to have an impact, with an increased number of children

from poorer families attending grammar schools across the county. Admittedly from a small base, but an improvement and one that we need to build on. The solution, in my view, is not to abolish our most successful academic schools, but to enable every child of high academic ability, whatever their background, to access a place in one.

I also believe that our education system needs to prioritise the roll- out of vocational education and apprenticeships that enables young people to enrol on courses from the age of 14. The government must enable schools to provide options that meet the preferences and talents of our young people whilst meeting the needs of the UK economy.

Jenny Whittle - County Councillor, Maidstone Rural East Chair, Select Committee, Grammar Schools and Social Mobility, KCC

11+day 11 an ex exc OFSTED TED

Oakwood Park Grammar School Oakwood Park Maidstone Kent

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Maidstone East October 2016


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