Secondary Modern school produces exam results to match those of nearby public schools

Nigel Ford's picture
A recent remark made by Fiona where she said some schools are penalised by working “in fully selective areas with highly skewed intakes, yet they are being expected to compete on a level playing field with schools that either have grammar or more comprehensive intakes” got me thinking.

I would like to flag up the Secondary Modern school, Hillview For Girls, Tonbridge, the town where my nieces live. They are fraternal twins currently attending a local primary school and they have differing academic abilities so it is possible that one, or even both, could attend this school depending on the 11+ outcome. They have the misfortune to be born right at the end of August which makes them the youngest in the school year and at a slight academic disadvantage.

Their parents are not unsupportive of the grammar school system which I’m sure is influenced by having such an excellent secondary modern as an insurance against 11+ failure. Whether their tolerance of the arrangement would be as strong if they lived in the more deprived Medway or Thanet towns in the county where there is a big disparity in the exam performance of the different types of state secondary schools is more doubtful. Their situation is further complicated because, unlike most Kent towns, nearby Sevenoaks has no grammar school.

So when Fiona goes on to say that “many of these (default) schools do an outstanding job in ensuring their pupils make good progress which is often better than their neighbouring grammars” I would like to also add “and public schools.” Hillview has a 65% pass rate for 5 or more GCSE (inc English and Maths) and also has a 6th form which admits boys where students can take vocational courses, BTEC and A’levels including Maths Physics and Languages, where the average pupil entry score is over 200.

These indicators either come close to or even beating half a dozen mainstream public schools in the county where the iGCSE is not on their curriculum (so we’re not talking about the Premier League, highly selective institutions like Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Kings Canterbury). Bearing in mind that although these public schools probably do take a proportion of 11+ failures they also offer scholarships and bursaries to more talented pupils as well as admitting pupils who didn’t take the 11+ having come straight from prep schools or continue to enrol those who joined at an earlier age. Facing this uphill playing field I think Hillview has done an excellent job in maximising their pupils potential including the 10% with special needs, in view of their earlier exam disappointment and the lack of resources that are available to their private school counterparts.

Despite their relative affluence my brother and his wife will not be digging into their savings for private education in the event that one or both of their daughters don’t secure a grammar school place.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Helen Flynn's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 12:37

I think that is part of the problem with the mystique that surrounds the private sector. There is an assumption that it always gets better results--but it is a mixed picture. It is just the the lens (particularly the media lens) is always firmly focussed on high-achieving academic private schools, rather than on the sector in its entirety. If the private sector had the same level of accountability as the state sector, a different level of take-up may occur, with the state sector becoming a beneficiary because of having a greater mix of children from all types of household.

Nigel Ford's picture
Tue, 18/01/2011 - 10:32

There were at least 7 mainstream public schools where Hillview had a better rating on either the 5 or more GCSE passes, the e bacc, 2 or more sciences or on the average A'level entry score.

What was just as remarkable was that Hillview's A'level scores beat one of the county's grammar schools on all measurable criteria. Paradoxically it means that a student at that grammar school would be statistically better off leaving after GCSEs and taking his A'levels at the secondary modern (which takes boys).

With having an 11+ system to determine grammar school entry, it has to be asked how many private schools are in business to cash in on the system where parents feel bound to pay out on fees so their children can steal a march on others? And how many private schools remain in business because parents don't want to condemn their kids to a secondary modern education where they may feel stigmatised by failure?

How many other parents who don't go down the private route still feel the need to pay for private tuition to facilitate their childrens success at passing the 11+ while there are others that can't afford it? Then there are the "aspirational" parents who move into an area to get their children into a grammar school and avoid paying private school fees.

I've read that some children are so crammed by the time they take the exam, although they make the starting line up they fail to keep pace with the standards required. What about the disparity between boys and girls so a borderline girl who just fails would have passed had she been a boy? Then there are the families where one sibling has passed and the other hasn't.

Most of these issues would have been avoided with a comprehensive school system which would also give a far better socioeconomic balance of pupils. Yet there is still a strong body of opinion that wants to see a return to grammar schools thinking that it is a successful escape route for working class children and a panacea for the problems that exist in the system.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.