Sarah Vine (better half of Michael Gove) supports comprehensive education

Nigel Ford's picture
As a journalist for the Daily Mail, she details her past schooling which took place for the most part in the state sector, explains her reasons for sending her daughter to a London comp, Grey Coat Hospital (Westminster), and why she believes comprehensive education is better than private.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/03/2014 - 15:32

Nigel - I thought for a moment I was reading a slightly-longer version of the Private Eye column "Sarah Vain".

Vine says she loves comprehensive education but at the same time says her "rickety" state education left her with few facts such as being unable to recite the Kings and Queens of England.

Vine implies she was expelled from the private school she briefly attended - some prank involving a milk train, a night club and Penguin biscuits. Perhaps she won't find it quite so funny when her daughter stays out all night and she doesn't know where she is.

And Vine didn't excel in maths. There's schools minister Liz Truss doing her damnedest to up the profile of maths and quite rightly saying English people should stop boasting they can't do sums. But it's rather undermined when Mrs Gove tells the world she's no good at it.

And she never handed in an essay on time.

The Grey Coat must really be looking forward to parents' evening if they need to complain her daughter doesn't hand work in by the deadline:

"Oh, neither did I! And she's such a scatterbrain! You know, the dog really did eat her homework once!"

But the irony - in the section following Vine's schooldays she mocked Liza Minnelli at the Oscars because she lacked a "talent for effortless self-promotion".

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/03/2014 - 16:06

The Grey Coat Hospital school describes itself as comprehensive but still manages to have an intake skewed towards the top end. The 2013 GCSE cohort had 56% previously high attainers and only 9% previously low attainers (13 girls in total).

Westminster LA has 42.1% FSM pupils of secondary age. Grey Coat had the lowest proportion in the LA: 14.3%.

Westminster LA has 17.% SEN secondary age pupils. Grey Coat has 5.3% - that's the second lowest (the lowest is Westminster City with 3.7%).

Westminster LA has 61% of secondary pupils with English not a first language. Grey Coat has 14.3%.

Nigel Ford's picture
Thu, 06/03/2014 - 19:21

Thankyou Janet.

I normally find Sarah Vine an irritating columnist and together with her husband, Michael Gove, she's following a similar path to the Blairs, Harman/Dromey and Nick Clegg/Miriam in securing a top comprehensive school for her offspring which may or may not within her catchment area. This contrasts with many parents on this forum who opt for their local state school which are probably not riding high in the league tables, but through our efforts along with others, manage to make improvements so that others like those mentioned above can subsequently buy into the success story.

But it's a start.

Back in the Thatcher era, as far as I'm aware, all Conservative politicians sent their children to private schools despite the abundance of those now much lamented grammar schools, and even Labour politicians of the Wilson era chose private education until Tony/Susan Crosland and Melissa's parents broke the mould.

So one and a half cheers.

Martin Richardson's picture
Fri, 07/03/2014 - 00:32

Grey Coat School is a school with a relatively high-scoring intake. It also does well on a rating of intake vs results (GCSE only best 8 capped score relative to intake).

I note the Standard has run an article on London's top 'super state' 10 schools including Grey Coat Some deserve the accolade, some don't really.

I like Sir Peter Newsam's assessment that schools should be considered by intake. From super selective, to, er, 'sub-secondary modern'

But ratings of Super Selective, Selective, Comp+, Comp, Comp- and Low Prior Attainment is easy enough to derive from the KS2 intake average score. To my mind, if a school has a high KS2 intake (more than 29 on average, so 4A at KS2) it is selective, whether by policy, by location, or by reputation. If average KS2 score is over 31 (5 at KS2) then a school is super selective.

So, on my ratings, the Grey Coat School is Selective. The London Oratory qualifies for Super Selective (a remarkable feat for a 'comprehensive').

All of these 'top ten' schools are effective. Only one (Mossbourne) is comprehensive. Ashmole and Holland Park are Comp+. Grey Coat, Camden School for Girls, St. Marylebone and Waldegrave are all selective. West London Free School has no data yet.

The thing is, only one of these 'top ten' schools falls into the top 100 of London schools when comparing results with results that might be predicted from intake. So well done Mossbourne (no, not the top scoring but in the top 10), but well done all the other 99 schools who outperformed the other Evening Standard 'top ten'.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 07/03/2014 - 09:46

Nigel - you're right that it's a step in the right direction but Gove knows he would have been pilloried unmercifully if he'd sent his eldest to a private secondary school. So, knowing he really had no choice he's chosen one which is as near to a grammar school as you can find in a non-selective area.

In order to qualify as a Tory SoS sending children to state secondary schools while in office you must have children of secondary school age. Most Tory SoSs since 1970 (except Margaret Thatcher age 45 and John Patten age 47) were 50+ when taking office. Sir Keith Joseph was 63. Gove was 43 when he became SoS - the youngest Tory SoS in 40 years so the odds were in his favour of becoming the first Tory SoS to send a child to a state secondary school.

Nigel Ford's picture
Fri, 07/03/2014 - 13:10

Thanks Martin, an interesting development on the added value.

Parent2's picture
Fri, 07/03/2014 - 14:45

Very interesting and some good points. But what do you make of the 'similar schools' rankings on the performance table website? St Marylebone, Grey Coat, Waldegrave, Holland Park and Mossbourne are all ranked 1-4 out of 55 similar schools, which takes intake into account. London Oratory is 50 out of 55.

And please say what table you are looking at for top 100 of London schools comparing results and intake. Comparing them on the a 'pupil progress, VA best 8 GCSEs' measure, Holland Park is the only school featured for 'low attainers', joined by St Marylebone, Mossbourne, Waldegrave and Grey Coat for 'middle', and 'high attainers' include all of those except St Marylebone but including Camden Girls and Ashmole.

There are, as you say, 90+ other schools worthy of praise.

Martin Richardson's picture
Fri, 07/03/2014 - 20:42

Thanks Nigel, and thanks to Parent2. Good questions and comments. To explain, I have used an analysis of KS2 average score at intake plotted against best 8 GCSE-only score as my starting point. I used the 2013 results data, and it only works if the performance data has those 2 figures, so no independent schools. There is, as you would expect, a strong positive correlation. I then got Excel to plot a line of best fit, and used that formula to calculate the difference between 'expected average best 8 GCSE score' and the actual score. The difference between the two can then be calculated and schools ranked. The number (e.g. Mossbourne has +81.4, Grey Coat +46.6, London Oratory +3.7) indicates the GCSE points score difference a school makes, compared to the national average, based on the initial intake. There were 106 London schools (inner and outer) with a score above Grey Coat, the second highest scoring of the Standard's 'top ten'.

Translated into GCSE terms, 6 pts per grade per subject, Mossbourne students get GCSEs 2 grades above expected in 6 subjects, and 1 grade above expected in the other 2 of their best 8. London Oratory students achieve just a little (half a grade in one subject) above what might be expected given their KS2 scores.

I like the addition of the 'similar schools' measure in the tables. I plan to check out just how many London schools are in the top 4/5 out of 55. I suspect quite a few. However, let me make it clear that I am not knocking any of the schools on the Standard's list. Just frustrated that so many other schools are performing really well and getting little credit.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 08:34

Martin - I share your annoyance that certain schools are picked out as exemplary while others which do as well or better are ignored. Michael Gove constantly does this. Here he praises a Lambeth primary academy but didn't bother with other Lambeth primaries which did equally as well or better:

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 08:44

One way supposedly all-ability state schools can ensure a more advantaged intake is through the cost of school uniform. And so it is with Grey Coat Hospital. The official supplier is John Lewis. There are two blazers: top of the range £65-£85 or a more economical version £44-£64.

The blazer is one item of compulsory uniform which must be bought from the official supplier, the website says.

But isn't it DfE guidance that schools don't insist on one supplier because it can deter parents who would prefer to buy uniform from a cheaper high street chain?

The message is clear - polyester blazers from Tesco aren't welcome.

Martin Richardson's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 09:46

Janet, the uniform cost will certainly affect some potential applicants, but the whole admissions procedure definitely ensures that the intake is well above the national average.

Of the 151 places available each year, 80 are for those active in the Church of England, 28 for those active in other religions, 28 places are open regardless of religion. A further 15 places are available on a 'Language College' place. Not sure exactly what this means, but given that "no previous knowledge of a foreign language is expected or required" I suspect those getting in on this basis will be from the high ability range. With the other places, the intake is spread across 3 bands, based on the assessment test, so I assume these 135 places are allocated across the ability range of those who apply.

The church places need to be supported by a reference from the clergy, and to score maximum points both parent and child would have to be regular attenders, and also highly involved (e.g. elected office in the church/having a role in public worship for the parent, or attending Sunday school for the child).

The net result is that only 9% of the intake had low prior attainment, 39% medium prior attainment, and 52% high prior attainment. In my book, that's selective.

Full details of the admissions policy here:

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 10:05

Martin - you're right that it's not just the high cost of uniform at Grey Coat. It's the admission criteria. There are other requirements as well - such as the girls being required to join church services at the Abbey. This would deter children from other faiths or none.

What annoys me is this school is supposed to be a church school. It should be expected, then, that it adheres to Christian ethics - being a "broad church", open to all, not discriminating against the disadvantaged and so on.

Martin Richardson's picture
Sat, 08/03/2014 - 15:24

I have now reviewed the 'similar schools' KS4 ranking for each of the 417 inner and outer London secondary schools for which all the data is published. 108 (an impressive 25.9%) of them are ranked from 1-5 out of 55, so in the top 10% of English schools with similar KS2 intake scores. 29 of these are ranked number 1.

As Parent2 points out, 5 of the schools in the Standard's top ten are ranked 1-5, so justifiably in the top 100 on the similar schools measure. That measure is based on the percentage achieving 5A*-C GCSEs or equivalents, so somewhat different from the best 8 GCSE only score calculation I made.

It would be good if some of the other really effective schools in London received more coverage, rather than the press focusing on those which have the best reputations.

Add new comment

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