Why is Kent’s education system on nobody’s agenda?

maths-cover-mediumI have spoken to plenty of people who dislike the grammar school system. Most feel disgruntled, but decide there’s nothing they can do. They are right I suppose. It’s not an election issue, so we have no power to vote for any change. And the grammar school ballot is given an ‘unwinnable’ review by the government’s own education committee. A few protest groups tried it and then they faded away.

Kent is a Conservative county, and even though selective education is not Conservative policy there is a feeling that it is supported by the right. Perhaps this is way we believe nothing will change, or why no one makes a fuss? Perhaps we should just grin and bear it and accept that we will never have a say? That doesn’t feel like good democracy.

I’m actually a Conservative voter and one of the reasons I support the government is because I like policies that empower local people. I believe our government supports communities, and encourages people to take responsibility for their local area. In general this philosophy shapes education policy. Communities can open free schools, and parents are treated as education consumers. But I don’t think this applies to Kent, where there is a lack of influence for parents on either side of the selective education debate.

Parents who favour grammar schools can’t get new schools build because the government allows no new secondary schools.

Parents who dislike grammar schools have no way to change the system because there is no procedure  for a long term switch to comprehensive education.

So we are in limbo, with neither side happy.

It is disappointing for left, right, and indifferent voters, and for those who love grammar schools or hate them; but here in Kent we have no say in something as important as our school system.

I don’t believe there is apathy in Kent about selective education. It is debated by every parent who makes a decision on their child’s eleven plus entry. Parents have a right to choose whether to enter their child for the exam, but they have no say in secondary education beyond that, or for the county as a whole.

I think there is a feeling that nothing can be done, and that nothing will change. I think people feel they have no influence to change this. This makes me sad.

I am not a radical grammar school hater, I do not want to abolish good schools overnight, change the system, and upset children and parents with my view of the ‘right way’. I do prefer comprehensive education, but I would like to look for a way for all views to be considered, and a chance of slow change not a quick fix. This is why I would never support the unsubtle approach of a grammar school ballot, this forced hand approach is confrontational and parents are bound to vote against it.

I believe there should be a fair school system, and choice in the education method used in Kent. I think it even goes beyond parents, our county is defined by this education system and our children are our community of the future. So I’d like future parents to have a right to share their education philosophy, and former pupils to share views on how the selective system shaped them too. My ideal solution would be an education referendum in Kent. Though I think we may be a long way away from that when selective education isn’t even on people’s radar!

I am upset by the lack of influence the people of Kent have over something so important. Education effects everyone, it shapes the communities of Kent and it’s bigger than a ballot at any one school. I hope there is some way to start a debate about education in our county,  and find a way to give people a say in our school system.


One thought on “Why is Kent’s education system on nobody’s agenda?

  1. From a member of CASE.

    You refer I think to the Ripon grammar school ballot where CASE was active in the ballot on selective education. Since that time CASE has been involved in coordinating the campaign against academic selection at 11 years. The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Comprehensive Future, Forum, Information for School and College Governors, New Visions Group, and the Socialist Educational Association continue to campaign together demanding “selection tests must end“.

    Some years ago I was teaching in Kent. We were so concerned about the damaging division in Kent schools that we made arrangements to move to Conservative Leicestershire so that our children could take advantage of a well developed comprehensive school system. We were not disappointed.
    Under Stewart Mason, the visionary Director of Education, Conservative Leicestershire planned a fully comprehensive system back in the 1940s and by the end of the 1950s Mason’s vision of comprehensive community education allowed Leicestershire Conservative County Council to fund schools to serve the whole community. Leicestershire villages and market towns have benefitted greatly.
    From debates and news items it seems to me that most Conservative elected politicians who did not attend grammar schools and who do not represent areas of academic selection now support the Leicestershire comprehensive vision.

    Conservative Leicestershire’s vision of comprehensive education contrasts with the Conservative Kent and LIncolnshire vision of selective education. In recent years the campaign for state education (CASE) has been contacted by a small stream of Kent and Lincolnshire residents – parents governors and headteachers – angry and concerned about academic selection.
    I suspect that young families who are free to move will do so. Families like ours will wish to continue to avoid the 11 plus trap. Take GPs for example. There appears to be great difficulty filling GP posts in Lincolnshire. The NHS adverts for GPs now refer to Lincolnshire’s “fantastic free schooling”.
    But CASE members in Lincolnshire tell CASE how divisive the drive for grammar schools has become. Grammar schools are pushing for free school transport at the expense of secondary modern and comprehensive school children. Lincolnshire school travel arrangements make clear that there is discrimination (apparently quite legal) against secondary modern school children from the same village on the same school bus traveling to the same school. Many Lincolnshire grammar stream children are apparently entitled to free transport (and Lincolnshire grammar school parents are seeking to extend this discrimination). The frequently repeated National Health Service staff adverts seem to indicate that some doctors are feeling that Lincolnshire is not a good place to live. The peevish transport demands of the Lincolnshire grammar schools perhaps illustrate why people like me will always be looking out for the potential of unified community support for schooling that comes with comprehensive education.
    Peter Thomson


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