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 replicate, as closely as possible, the conditions under which the 11+ test was taken.
7. The familiarisation sessions challenged the parents’ perception of cost and issues relating to transport. Many parents did not want their child to spend an hour on a bus when he or she could attend a local comprehensive. The King Edward’s Promise provided a free bus pass, £50 towards the cost of school uniform, essential academic equipment and a compulsory school trip in year 7.
8. Comments had been made that the Schools of King Edward VI was offering this support in an effort to get pupil premium money but in reality the support was morally driven as the cost of the programme was far greater than any potential income from the pupil premium.
9. The Foundation was now preparing for a third year of familiarisation visits and at this point, every grammar school had a co-ordinator who appointed internal trainers and was responsible for up to 200 children going through the familiarisation programme.
10. Who pays the costs of co-ordinators and internal trainers?
The Foundation has met costs for the first three years.
11. Are there other grammar schools in Birmingham that do not belong to the Foundation?
Yes. There are three more. Some have embraced the objective of widening access and others do “their own thing”.
12. Do you have to continue to re-educate primary school teachers? Would it be possible for grammar schools to go directly to pupils receiving free school meals and invite them to events and sporting fixtures so that young people would be able to re-educate parents about the opportunities provided by grammar schools?
Involving business in the scheme was important and about eight months ago a partnership was formed with Birmingham Airport resulting in the old viewing area being turned into the Learning hub. Birmingham Airport sees this as a community venture and does not charge. The Learning Hub is used as a venue for teachers’ professional development, activities for children and activities for children and parents. It is also underpinned by a virtual learning environment developed with FROG (a powerful and fully integrated learning platform). At the end of three years it will be important to demonstrate a degree of sustainability and it is hoped that primary schools will make a contribution towards the continuation of the widening access strategy.
13. Having a uniform is less of a barrier than not having a uniform in that it is usually cheaper to buy uniform than branded clothing. How can parents’ concern about the cost of uniform be overcome?
The Foundation is currently in a period of consultation with regard to becoming a multi academy trust.
14. Has the attendance of pupils, entitled to free school meals, increased at the grammar schools since the programme started?
Yes. The number of children entitled to free school meals attending grammar schools has increased from 3-4% three years ago to 25% at Aston, 20% at Camp Hill Boys, 20% at Fiveways, 15% at Handsworth School for Girls and 15% at Camp Hill Girls.
A lower score was set for children on free school meals.
There had been some negative feedback including from a Daily Mail reporter and from angry parents who felt their children had been “robbed of places”. However, as the schools had expanded by 20%, pupils had not been displaced. All those who had taken part in the familiarisation programme, even those who did not succeed in gaining entry to a grammar school, were better prepared for whatever secondary school they attended.
15. How do you ensure that you get pupils who are best able to benefit from a grammar school education rather than those who performed well in a test?
· The changes made had been relatively recent. The need to manage any gaps that might emerge as pupils progress through school is recognised.
· Grammar schools have undergone a significant cultural change and there is now more collegiate working between the five schools
16. Among some ethnic groups, parents and grandparents are often strong drivers for education. How can other parents be persuaded of the value of education?
There are a number of initiatives underway to encourage participation. For example:
· The Foundation encourages primary schools in a specific area to host a roadshow to which the brightest primary pupils in an area are invited.
· Two representatives from the Foundation present to the parents whilst pupils from the 6th Form Leadership Team at King Edward VI Five Ways occupy children with activities. The leadership strategy is seen as a key part in driving messages and opportunities via Saturday and holiday clubs
17. Are the grammars schools in Birmingham oversubscribed?
Yes by 9 to 1.
18. Would it be possible to commission a uniform that would be acceptable to all grammar schools instead of allocating £50 towards its cost?
It is hoped that there would be opportunities of commercial benefit should we come a multi academy trust. It is hoped that the cost of uniforms might be an area in which savings might be made.
19. Do you or your team meet with primary heads to discuss use of pupil premium to support pupils?
No. The Foundation asks head teachers to identify children who would benefit from a grammar school education. Communication with primary schools is difficult. The Foundation does not contact primary schools via their generic “enquiry at” email addresses and the importance of a named contact where possible is recognised.
20. Tell us one or two particularly key items
Do not under-estimate the time and cost of running a Widening Access programme.