We're told there is no money for education but Theresa May has turned the ESFA upside down, given them a damned good shaking, and found £400m of loose change in their pockets with which she can flog her favourite dead horse – grammar schools. There is a catch however. This money is only for those which have, “ambitious and realistic plans for increasing access for disadvantaged pupils”.
Or is it?
One school with an eye on this pot of gold is Kendrick Girls School in Reading. In 2016 Kendrick changed their admissions policy to "give preference" to PP girls but just 2.1% of Kendrick School’s girls are on PP compared to 31.8% in Reading’s non-selective schools. (DfE data). At a public meeting the school blamed this underrepresentation on the local community’s lack of aspiration! That's rich given that for the last quarter century the school have relentlessly pursued a policy of ‘raising standards’ by maximising the prior attainment of those it admits by attracting from as far afield as they can get away with. Even the Times and BBC have woken up to the fact that there is rather more to a good school than how picky they are at selecting who they admit.
The 11+ is a ranking test in which one additional correct answer might move the applicant up 20 or 30 places. Tutoring skews the results massively, and it’s a fair assumption that families on benefits aren't splashing out £40+/hr on tuition. Any aspiration local families may have once had, has been well and truly flogged out of them by decades of ‘super selection’ which rewards those who can afford tutoring. The only way Kendrick could attract more PP applicants would be to rank their entrance tests as a separate group so I've set up a petition asking them to do just that and set aside all 32 places for disadvantaged girls. If nothing else, it would be interesting for the 'promotes social mobility' mob to put their money where their mouths are. The school have done such a first rate job of crushing any aspiration in the local community that the response to my petition has been underwhelming and the local press can’t be bothered to do any more than regurgitate the school’s press release.
Kendrick provide no projections of where any new places would go, but if they don't change how they choose who to admit it's going to continue to reflect the current demographics. This Interactive map shows that 70% of Kendrick’s pupils come from outside Reading LA, some as far afield as Swindon and Regent’s Park. Projecting those figures, the school's expansion plans will provide 110 places for girls living outside of Reading who can afford both tutoring and the cost of commuting. (A child season ticket from Slough is almost £1,000 per year.) 47 places would go to Reading girls, mostly in the more affluent Caversham and University areas. Just three places would go to local disadvantaged girls who somehow manage to compete in the entrance test without the benefit of costly tutoring.
Theresa May has confirmed she doesn’t actually care about the evidence, and Kendrick’s admissions policy pays lip service to giving preference to disadvantaged girls so I have no doubt their bid will be successful. Sir Michael Wilshaw has already observed grammar schools are “stuffed full of middle class kids”. The price of these three school places for disadvantaged girls is the ability to stuff in another 157 more middle class kids, including no doubt those in May’s own constituency.