The Education and Adoption Bill is currently passing through parliament and is a new law aiming to convert failing schools to academies. The government believes academies are the best way to improve under-performing schools, so schools that fail to maximise pupils potential may be managed outside local authority control. There’s a good article defining what an academy is here.
This new bill has a couple of issues for Kent and the selective education debate.
1) Grammar Schools are unlikely to be defined as coasting
The definition for ‘coasting‘ has just been published, and is not based on Ofsted ratings but instead looks at a number of other factors. There seems to be no provision for the differing academic intake of grammar schools in selective regions like Kent. The intake of a grammar schools and good exam results, means it’s unlikely that this type of school will ever fit this ‘coasting’ criteria.
However if the desire of the bill is to raise standards, then it would seem better to set the academic bar higher with a grammar school. Surely it should look at whether grammar pupils are progressing as they should, but based on higher grades? Looking at whether 60% of pupils fail to achieve 5 GCSE grades A*to C exam results is not a good measure in a selective school where good grades are the norm.
Secondary moderns in our selective region perform poorly and are more likely to be converted into academies. It is a rather sad state of affairs that selective region secondary moderns are more likely to be ‘coasting’ than schools in comprehensive areas. 13% of schools in comprehensive regions get the underachievement definition, but it’s up to 18% in selective regions like Kent. Selective regions have more failing schools than non-selective regions. See more on this here.
None of the 122 grammar schools in selective areas would be classed as coasting under the new definition.
If the idea of the law is to push schools to improve then the definition of ‘coasting’ needs to be different in a grammar school. I think it would make sense if the government tweaks the definition to take account of these differences. Without this it will lead to yet more inequality between the two school types.
Academies admission policy can not be changed by a grammar school ballot
The fact that academies are outside council control has put grammar schools in a flutter. A grammar school could convert to an academy then decide to make its own rules and stop being selective. I am not sure that many would do so in practice. If they judge success by exam results then it seems likely they will stay selective.
But this causes more concern for those who dislike selective education..! My concern is that grammar schools will convert to academies and stay selective. The grammar school ballot can not change an academy’s selective admissions policy, but this is currently the only way for comprehensive education campaigners to change things. So if many grammar schools in Kent convert to academies no one in the community would be able to petition for comprehensive education.
At present there is a rather bad law that allows parents to appeal to change selective schools, but with these law changes we might end up with more academies, and less power to campaign against selective education.
There is much debate about whether academies are a good thing or a bad thing, I’m honestly not sure. This law is going to go through though, and it is certain that there will be many more academies in Kent. My daughter’s school is one of those likely to get the ‘coasting’ definition. Like all parents I want schools to improve, but I’m also concerned that this law’s ‘one size fits all’ policy doesn’t work in our region. I am not sure the government has fully considered the implications for selective counties like Kent.