The Mail on Sunday accuses the Goves of giving a lesson showing how parents can cheat the school system

Janet Downs's picture
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens turns on the Goves for selecting the Grey Coat Hospital School for his daughter. He should have chosen Burlington Danes Academy on the grounds that Gove has praised it enough in the past and it’s only a “few minutes’ walk from the Education Secretary’s modest home”, Hitchens writes.

The first is a fair point – Education secretary Michael Gove and PM David Cameron have both poured effusive praise over Burlington Danes several times and its head, Sally Coates, has been made a Dame.

On the second point, Burlington Danes is in Hammersmith and Fulham not in Westminster where Grey Coat Hospital is situated. I’ve no idea where Gove’s “modest home” actually is (I thought he was in Surrey – has he flipped again?). If it’s not in Westminster then he presumably managed to negotiate the admission rules which, as Hitchens rightly points out (I never thought I’d ever write that), are labyrinthine.

Hitchens likes Grey Coat – it provides education that other parents can only dream of. It’s like a grammar school and “defies egalitarian dogma” (that means it can keep the riff-raff out). It doesn't select by ability because "selection by ability in actually illegal", Hitchens writes. (Really? Has he never heard of those areas which still have grammar schools Lincolnshire, Kent, Birmingham, some parts of London…?).

“Why is this sort of filtering allowed, while open, honest, straightforward selection by ability is against the law?”

But it isn’t “allowed”. It’s likely that Grey Coat is flouting the Admission Code in exactly the same way as London Oratory.

Hitchens ends with an accusation levelled at Gove and Cameron:

“Could it be that these salesmen don’t actually want to buy their own product? Could it be that they know in their hearts that their supposed school reforms, which they ceaselessly trumpet to us, are a mass of froth, oversold and boosted by dubious statistics?”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

CORRECTION 27 March 2014. The original article said, "It [Grey Coat school) selects by ability even though selection by ability in England is now illegal, Hitchens writes." Peter Hitchens has pointed out he did not claim Grey Coat selected by ability. I'm happy to make the correction.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Tom's picture
Sun, 09/03/2014 - 20:32

Mr. Gove lives in Barlby Road NW10, which I think is in Kensington and Chelsea. His kid(s) certainly went to the posh state primary St. Mary Abbots in Kensington, as I believe do David Cameron's. My other half went to that school in the late 1970s despite growing up in Hammersmith and the LA boundaries in the area are fairly porous. I think RKBC and LBHF are actually the two boroughs with the lowest % of residents attending an in borough secondary, although some recent data would be interesting.

The other thing about Gove's school choice is that of course Toby Young's twatmadrassa is a short distance away. I'm sure they'd have loved to have a Govelet on the books.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Mon, 17/03/2014 - 18:03

If you read grey coats admissions code you will find this :
53% of places are allocated to those practicing within the Church of England.
The other 47% of places are allocated to other Christian denominations, atheists, Muslims, Sikhs, whoever. This is a small margin between the 53% and 47%. There are 15 places in the grammar stream (the only 'selective' stream of the grey coat hospital) - a mere 9% of the overall intake. All the other places comply with the admissions code regulation that they should take 25% high ability, 50% average ability and 25% low ability. I don't see what they're doing wrong...
I am 16 years old and was lucky enough to get a lifeline by being selected having a language aptitude to enter the selective grammar stream at the grey coat hospital, and I have never been happier. I mixed with some of the kindest girls from all walks of life and some of the most brilliant and inspirational teachers. Personally, I found the schools academic, pastoral and ethos of quality and equality faultless.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 17/03/2014 - 18:59

Maria - I'm pleased you're happy at Grey Coats and I am not surprised you've got brilliant teachers. However, the fact remains that the Schools Adjudicator ruled the school did not adhere to the Schools Admission Code as I explain here.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Mon, 17/03/2014 - 19:35

Ah yes I read that too.

The criteria discriminated against single parents because they were less likely to have been able to attend church as often as two parents.
- My mum is a single mother and weekly attends church with both me and my little brother. We know plenty of single parents with small kids who manage to make it, and the admissions code doesn't discriminate if you've missed a few weeks here and there be it illness, family occasions etc, as we discovered. So I really feel that single parents have and quality chance (may I add the majority of my form lived on council estates with only one parent).

Parents were given a score for “regular practical involvement by a parent in the church”. It wasn’t clear what regular practical involvement meant. It also contravened the Code by taking into account parent’s or children’s hobbies.
- well regular practical involvement in a church is a big deal - it's shows that you're not just trying to cheat the code by weekly attending church but that you're a genuine Christian who does Christian things, like help out within the church community or do charity fundraising or is it sick congregation members. These are important within the Christian community.
The Supplementary Information Form which parents had to complete was not available on the school’s website at the time of investigation.
- at the time of the investigation applications weren't open, so of course the supplementary information form had been taken down.

Parents were asked to give practical demonstrations of support for the school’s Christian ethos by attending church services. Such practical demonstration is not allowed.
- again this shows a genuine Christian faith and commitment.
I do understand that it is unfair that certain schools favour certain religions and that everyone should be entitled to an outstanding education - religious or not - but then again I do believe that I have a right to be somewhere that encourages and nurtures my faith, but at the same time allows me to mix and learn about and with people of other religions and cultures. I am honestly not trying to be offensive or misunderstanding - would just like to point out how I feel :) my school is very important to me!

Maria Lourdes's picture
Mon, 17/03/2014 - 19:36

Whoops sorry, * so I really feel that single parents have an equal chance

Maria Lourdes's picture
Mon, 17/03/2014 - 19:38

And you mention dubious statistics so i shall write :
80 places go to CoE girls
15 go to those with an aptitude for languages
71 places for churches together and 'open places' (for those of any religion or ability)

Chris Manners's picture
Mon, 17/03/2014 - 21:41

Maria, those conditions allow CofE girls to apply for 151 places, and non-CofE girls to apply for only 71.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 13:25

There are only 151 places given overall for the whole intake of that year and a maximum of 80 can go to CofE girls. After all, it is a CofE school. Afterthought hat the other 71 are not selective on whether you are CofE or not,

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 13:30

If we are going to be considering it wrong for a Church of England school to take majority Church of England girls then surely we must do the same for all Muslim, Jewish and other religious schools that only take followers of their religion?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 13:48

Maria - you may be interested in the Fair Admissions Campaign which wants all state funded schools to open its doors to all children and not to discriminate against pupils of a particular faith or none.

Two years ago, the message from Synod was, "Don't divide the children". Surely if Christian schools are truly Christian they should open their doors to all children not just to those who profess the faith?

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 13:58

And they do - they take in children of all faiths. Just what is a christian school if it has no Christians?

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:00

Also there are some very good state schools with no religion :)

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:02

And if we're going to say its unfair that religious people shouldn't have priority of a good education at a religious school, then hopefully you are equally mad at wealthy people possibly getting a better education and larger choice of where to go at private schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:04

Maria - it's irrelevant whether your parent managed to attend church regularly. The Schools Adjudicator ruled it was less likely for a parent on his/her own to attend church weekly than two parents (twice the opportunity - one could attend one week, and one the next).

I agree helping the church can be a rewarding part of commitment. But, again, the Schools Adjudicator felt such activities (other than those with religious significance) discriminated against those who wished to show their commitment in other ways or who were unable to do so.

Practical demonstration (apart from those with religious significance) can be manipulated by those who are not really believers but want to benefit from their hypocrisy. I write about this here.

The Supplementary Information Form should be available on a school's website in the same way as the Admissions Criteria/Oversubscription Criteria.

Expecting parents to attend Anglican church services might make non-Anglicans, non-Christians or atheists uncomfortable. Such a requirement could be seen as discriminatory.

If your faith is strong it doesn't need nurturing within school. There is plenty of space to mix with those who share your faith outside school. That's not to say the Grey Coats isn't giving you a good education - you are obviously passionate about it. It's a pity that education appears to discriminate against non-Anglicans, other faiths and especially those with no faith.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:11

Maria - Voluntary Controlled CofE schools take all comers. But Voluntary Aided schools, Foundation schools and academies can set their own Admission Criteria. These have to adhere to the Schools Admission Code. Several schools, including Grey Coat, were found to flout the Code.

The Code was written to ensure fairness. This was the sentiment behind Synod's message - the church has a responsibility to ALL especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

"Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not". That means all children not just those from a particular group.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:16

Maria - I'm sure you didn't mean to write such an unChristian message ie that religious people should have priority for a good education.

ALL children have a right to a good education not just those who profess a religion.

And those who go to private schools don't necessarily get a "better education". Money may buy better facilities (but it doesn't always follow) but the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which runs the PISA tests taken by a sample of 15 year-olds in many countries every three years, found that when socio-economic background was taken into account, UK state schools outperformed private ones.

Increasingly, research (eg Sutton Trust) finds state schools pupils outperform their equally-qualified peers from private schools when at university.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:19

Well the code being flouted is very minor. Those mentioned criteria only affect CofE families - for attending church, doing practical demonstrations within the church, and attending the one Anglican service a year. This is there to make sure that all parents are included in the school community - the service is more a concert and celebration of the academic year rather than a mandatory profession of faith. I do understand that Christians should embrace all people, but is it fair for a christian school to turn away a. Christian family for a non Christian child who wouldn't benefit from the religious environment?

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:26

No I meant that is what you are saying, that religious people are being offered chances to go to better schools because they are religious. That religious schools are discriminating against the non religious and whilst there are many other non religious schools, the fact that you are so intent that non religious children should have the chance to get in to religious schools implies that you don't feel non religious schools are good enough or that there are enough. This is not an issue to not be raised with the church, not the government.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:28

*this is an issue not to be raised with the church, but with the government

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:37

Maria - a school is first-and-foremost an educational environment not a religious one. Other countries have strict separation between the church and state - schools are not allowed to promote a particular religion. This is usually because there's a history of the church having too much power and using it unfairly and sometimes violently.

In England we have a compromise - we allow state schools to have a religious ethos. That could mean the school embraces universal human values which apply to ALL humans. Or it could be the school goes out of its way to deter any child not of the same faith perhaps because the school fears the "contamination" that might occur if children from the faith came across other ways of thinking.

Access to any state-funded school should be fair. It should not depend on whether one professes, or pretends to profess, a particular faith.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 14:44

This is why we have both religious and non religious schools. It is up to the government to ensure they have equal education standards and enough places to go round. And I can ensure you contamination is of no worry - it is more largely atheists fearing the conversion of their child. After all, all religions are based on similar beliefs.

Maria Lourdes's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 15:16

Anyway, I am more fussed that you believe grey coat selects on ability - which is complete rubbish.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 18/03/2014 - 17:26

Maria - if you read what I wrote carefully you will see:

"It selects by ability even though selection by ability in England is now illegal, Hitchens writes."

I made it clear that Peter Hitchens of the Sunday Mail claimed Grey Coat selected by ability. I did not. And of course Hitchens is incorrect that selection by ability is illegal - it flourishes in counties like Kent and Lincolnshire.

According to School Performance Tables, Grey Coat is a comprehensive girls' academy. But the 2013 GCSE cohort had an intake skewed to the top end which might be why Hitchens thought Grey Coat selected by ability. In 2013, the GCSE cohort had 56% previously high-attaining pupils, 39% previously middle-attaining pupils and only 9% previously low-attaining pupils.

That is not a fully comprehensive intake. Somewhere along the line it appears that low-ability pupils are discouraged. That explains the interest in its Admission Criteria.

Peter Hitchens's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 14:35

I did not 'claim' that Grey Coat Hospital selects by ability. I stated that it is selective, which I think is undeniable. I wish it did select by ability, which would be far better than the current arrangement. I am well aware that about 160 grammar schools still exist in England, and I know where most of them are. Grammar schools also survive in Northern Ireland. There are none in Scotland or Wales. But it would be illegal to open a new one in England, under an Act of Parliament passed during the Blair government.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 15:22

Thanks, Peter, for pointing out the error. I'll put it right and issue a correction. You're right something's going on at Greycoat (probably those tortuous admission criteria you rightly criticised and which have been censured by the Schools Adjudicator) because the 2013 GCSE cohort had 52% previously high-attaining pupils and only 9% previously low-attaining ones according to the school's performance table.

However, the statement that selection is illegal is incorrect. Selection is still legal in some English counties and in Northern Ireland.

You and I are never going to see eye-to-eye over selection. The downside of grammar schools is, of course, the secondary modern school.

The OECD found the best-performing school systems in the world tended not to select pupils academically. Poland has reformed its system so selection takes place later. Germany, according to OECD's Andreas Schleicher, is moving away from selection.

Your sister paper, the Daily Mail, recently published findings which showed selection diminished the effect of social background for those pupils selected which would appear to support your view. However, the same research found selection widened the gap between schools and exacerbated the effect of social background on those not selected. The Mail missed that bit.

Add new comment

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