Agenda and draft minutes

Select Committee - Grammar Schools and Social Mobility - Monday, 22nd February, 2016 10.30 am

Venue: Medway Room, Sessions House, County Hall, Maidstone. View directions

Contact: Denise Fitch/David Firth/Serine Annan-Veitch  03000 416090/416089/415782

Note No. Item




Apologies were received from Mr Truelove and Mr Vye.  Mr Vye was substituted by Mr Bird with the agreement of the Select Committee.

10.00 - 10.45am


Conor Ryan, Director - Research and Communications, Sutton Trust pdf icon PDF 62 KB

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2.         Conor Ryan, Director - Research and Communications, Sutton Trust

(Item 2)


1.            Conor advised that he was the Director of Research and Communications at the Sutton   Trust.   The Sutton Trust commissioned 15 pieces of work per year, to influence Government education policy for Early Years to university.  The report “Poor Grammar: Entry Into Grammar Schools Disadvantaged Pupils In England” was commissioned three years ago as Grammar schools were considered an important agent for social mobility.


2.            Conor was senior education adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2005-2007 and was David Blunkett’s special adviser from 1993-2001, covering education policy and media relations in government and opposition. Conor is a trustee of the National Foundation for Educational Research and a director of a multi-academy trust. In 2015-16, he is a member of the Scottish Commission on Widening Access.  Before joining the Trust, Conor was an independent writer and consultant, working with many education organisations, writing for national newspapers and advising senior education figures.


3.            Why do you think children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are currently underrepresented in grammar schools?

Conor considered the following reasons that needed to be addressed:

o   The attainment levels for FSM in Primary schools

o   The extent FSM were encouraged by the school and parents to sit the Kent Test

o   Perceptions of fitting in a grammar school environment

o   There was a challenge around private tuition  for the Kent Test

Conor advised that there was evidence to show that four times more prep school children were going to grammar school than FSM children. 


4.            A common thread that the Select Committee had heard in many of its meetings was the role that the primary schools play.  The Sutton Trust research also refers to the primary schools playing a role.  What could Primary schools do?  Are there good examples?

Conor advised that the King Edward Foundation had been working with schools and Outreach to engage with Primary schools actively for them to put forward their children showing them that they would fit in at a grammar school.  Conor gave the example of Parkfield Community School, Birmingham, which was awarded with the National Pupil Premium Award.  The school had provided the following through the Pupil Premium:

o   Two mathematics Specialist Teachers

o   Developed computer applications in mathematics

o   Mathematics focused breakfast club

This extra tuition resulted in good results at Key Stage 5.  Conor considered that this could only have been achieved in partnership with primary schools and the grammar schools. 

Children needed to have familiarity of the Kent Test that included tests on spatial awareness and Non-verbal reasoning.


5.            Did Birmingham City Council make a political decision to change its Policy or did the school do this on its own?

Conor advised that this was a decision taken by King Edwards Foundation and as far as he was aware Birmingham Council was not involved.  Nationally there had been a change to the Policy on the Admissions Code which allows schools to give preference  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

12.00 - 12.45pm


Denis Ramplin - Director of Marketing & Communications, The Schools of King Edward VI Birmingham pdf icon PDF 61 KB


1.         Mrs Whittle invited Mr Ramplin to introduce himself.


Mr Ramplin said that he had joined the Schools of King Edward VI Birmingham three years ago in response to research into the perception of grammar and independent schools in Birmingham.  The organisation he worked for was a charity which supported eight schools across the city: two independent schools; five grammar schools; and an all-ability academy at Sheldon Heath.  Research had indicated that the general perception among parents was that the city’s five grammar schools were fee-paying, they were not affordable and “were not for their children”.


2.         The King Edward VI grammar schools in Birmingham generally reflected the ethnic diversity of the city but their intake did not reflect economic disadvantage.  The governing body of the Schools of King Edward VI wanted to return to their original mission of providing education for all in the city and to do that the following actions had been taken:

·                     The capacity of the grammar schools had been increased by 20%

·                     Their admissions policies had been changed to encourage pupils receiving free school meals to apply

·                     Agreement was reached with the five grammar schools to lower the score required in the 11+ test for pupils that qualified for the pupil premium

·                     Significant engagement with primary schools and the parents of primary school children to dispel myths about grammar school. 


3.         Primary schools were willing to engage. 


4.         Primary head teachers had found that, in some instances, when parents were advised that their children had the ability to benefit from a grammar school education, they still chose a local comprehensive and often failed to see the opportunity offered by a grammar school education.  This was a particular issue among white working class parents, who often lacked awareness of the opportunity and considered transport, uniform and other expenses to be unaffordable.


5.         The Opening Doors Strategy was developed to increase awareness of opportunity and address issues of access and affordability.  A familiarisation programme aimed at primary school children had been developed consisting of five 2-hour sessions (four of which took place at grammar schools during the week and the fifth on a Saturday).  These sessions included a tour of the grammar school, a talk by the head teacher and activities for primary school children as well as an opportunity to meet students attending the grammar school. Pupils participating in the familiarisation programme also received a non-verbal reasoning booklet from a range of publishers.


6.         Invitations to attend a familiarisation session were sent to primary school head teachers.  The head teachers were asked to select pupils who would benefit by attending.  Some schools used the pupil premium to provide transport for the children to the mid-week sessions which were very well attended. In addition, if asked, the Foundation paid for transport.  There was a fall-off in attendance for the Saturday sessions as children might have been busy with clubs and attendance had not been prioritised. However a decision had been made to continue with these sessions to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.

11.00 - 11.45am


Peter Read, Kent Independent Education Advice pdf icon PDF 65 KB

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Mr Hotson was not in attendance for this session.

Mrs Whittle, Chairman of the Committee welcomed the witness for the session, Mr Peter Read of Kent Independent Education Advice and asked members and officers present to introduce themselves.

1.            Please give us some background on your experiences around grammar school access and working with disadvantaged pupils who are considering applying to grammar schools?

Mr Read reported that his website currently had 1000 subscribers and over 100,000 visitors annually, many of whom were seeking advice and guidance in relation to grammar school applications and appeals.  He also worked directly with schools, making visits to give advice to parents and had been successful in attracting many families that otherwise may not have accessed his or other services as part of this work, particularly in areas with a lower grammar school uptake such as Swale and Dover. 

He felt that internet forums populated by parents in West Kent were misleading for those in the East of the County and may actually discourage parents from pursuing grammar school places for their children.  

In addition to the services described, Mr Read reported that he also ran a telephone counselling service which provided low cost advice for parents wishing to appeal school place allocations.  He reported that many of  the calls relating to grammar school issues were from parents from an ethnic minority.  He commented on the obvious aspirations of the parents who contacted him for their children to achieve and the positive and determined attitude of both the parents and the children.  This was borne out by the figures in North West Kent where the number of Sikh children attending grammar school was higher than would be expected when set against the statistics for the general population.

He explained for committee members the three ways by which a pupil might obtain a place at a Grammar School in Kent.  The majority of pupils would be offered places based on the results of the Kent Test.  A further smaller percentage would be recommended by the Head Teacher assessment route and a finally a percentage would be allowed via the appeals system.  Of the three methods, the debate around the Kent Test was well established and had been widely discussed, instead Mr Read focused on the Head Teacher assessments which he believed were skewed against children receiving free school meals.  He was concerned that the attributes that Head teachers would look for were less obvious in those children from low income families and in particular the aspirational qualities mentioned previously.  Even at the independent appeal panel stage there might still be unintended bias against those children receiving free school meals and as an example he referred to the often mentioned ‘widely read child’ who, he felt, was not likely to be in receipt of free school meals.

2.            Supplementary and alternative testing was conducted in some areas of the County, what do you consider to be the impact of this?

Mr Read reported that in Folkestone and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.