National Grammar Schools Association
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November 2010

Newsletter of the National Grammar Schools Association

A big thank you

Many thanks again to everyone who has written and emailed their support for the NGSA’s campaign to preserve and expand our existing grammar schools. Many thanks, too, to those who have kindly sent donations.  We are immensely grateful. 

Please keep up the pressure on your local politicians.  If you need factual information to support grammar schools, the NGSA has published a 5-page briefing paper at – see ‘NGSA briefing’ under Articles on the website. 

Questions remain over academy status

Although much of the detail regarding academy status has still not been published, several grammar schools have already embarked on this change.  The attractions are obvious:  freedom from local authority control, increased funding directly from Whitehall including the  proportion of cash previously creamed off by the local authority for central services; and, of course, the possibility of  much increased salaries for headteachers - academy schools are not bound by national pay scales. 

Nevertheless, there are dangers.  Before the Academies Act went through Parliament in July, it was clear that if a grammar school became an academy, it could lose the ability to select its pupils on the grounds of high academic ability without the need of a parental ballot, which is currently required by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.  NGSA chairman Robert McCartney QC immediately urged grammar schools to be cautious before committing themselves to something that may place their existence in jeopardy. 

Following the NGSA’s warning, which was reported in the national press and widely quoted,  Graham Brady MP drew attention to the danger by seeking an amendment to the Bill during its passage through Parliament.  Ministers sidestepped the issue by persuading Mr Brady to drop his amendment in return for a promise to ensure that grammar schools that became academies would receive similar protection in Academy Funding Agreements. 

In September, Annex 2 to the Supplemental Funding Agreement for academies appeared on the Department for Education’s website.  It is headed ‘Removal of selection at wholly selective academies’.  It is difficult to see how any government purporting to care about grammar schools could have issued such a document, especially when ministers are relying on grammar schools to help them to raise standards in other types of school.  Crude party politics, it seems, have been allowed to take priority over the future security of some of the best state schools in the country. 

This 9-page Annex offers several ways of destroying grammar schools. For example, the ‘Company’ controlling the academy can unilaterally call a ballot to end the grammar school’s selective admission arrangements,  though the ‘Company’ may have only 2 or 3 directors.  If the ‘Company’ wins the ballot, that is the end of the grammar school.  Also, a grammar school that, before it became an academy required a ‘whole area’ ballot because it was geographically in a grammar school area, will, as an academy, only  require a ‘stand alone’ ballot.  Nevertheless, if there is an ‘area ballot’ which goes against selection, any academy/grammar school in the area must abide by the result and go comprehensive.  Nor is the Annex exactly clear about who will, and will not, be allowed to vote in parental ballots. In any event, how can a mere ‘funding agreement’ (which lasts for 7 years at most) between an education secretary and a ‘company’  give grammar schools the same protection as they previously enjoyed under primary Parliamentary legislation? 

It is unfortunate that the Grammar Schools Heads Association felt that the NGSA’s legitimate concerns over these matters warranted criticism, rather than support. While the GHSA may represent the professional interests of headteachers, the role of the NGSA is much more extensive – our primary concern being the strategic future of the grammar school ideal, its expansion, and the preservation of the right of parents to choose.

The dangers which the NGSA has warned  about are highlighted in a recent article by Mike Ion (Guardian, 2 November 2010) advocating methods which would make it easier to end selection.  These are changes which headteachers of selective grammar schools would do well to take note of.

The NGSA makes another point here: if a grammar school that becomes an academy is threatened,  it will be easy for the education secretary (whether it is Michael  Gove or anyone else)  to  avoid all responsibility, simply by claiming neither he, nor the Department for Education,  has direct control  of an academy.  

Meanwhile,  it is reported that academy status has already been granted, or soon will be, to several grammar schools. How they will fare remains to be seen.

Grammar school admissions questioned in Sutton

Spencer Cullen, a parent of 3 children under 9 years-old and a former pupil of Wallington County Grammar School, has complained to the schools adjudicator over the admissions policies of Sutton Grammar School for Boys, Wallington Grammar School  and Wilson’s Grammar School.  He says the schools’ combination of infinite catchment areas and highest rank order selection mean local children are in unfair competition for places with highly tutored, privately educated children from across London.  The adjudicator, however, has ruled in the schools’ favour.  

Of course, the simple answer to this problem is to allow existing grammar schools to offer more places;  and to allow new grammar schools to open in areas where there are none.  But despite the demand,  these simple solutions have so far been banned by prime minister David Cameron and education secretary Michael Gove.

There are, however, glimmers of hope.  Mr Gove now says he is leaning towards the idea of allowing grammar schools to expand.  His foot is ‘hovering over the pedal’, he says, but he will have to see what his [anti-grammar school] co-driver Nick Clegg has to say. 

Similar problems in Kent, though they may have a better outcome?

Parents living around Sevenoaks  in Kent have also complained to the schools adjudicator  over the admissions arrangements of The Judd School, The Skinner’s School and Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls.  These schools also take the highest scoring pupils in the 11-plus test, regardless of where they live.  This means that many local children  score enough marks to  ‘pass’ their 11-plus,  but there are no places for them in nearby  grammar schools.     

The adjudicator has found in favour of the schools though Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon, who is now deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, had backed the local parents. Whilst one can sympathise with this viewpoint, the obvious answer is to expand the number of grammar school places to cater for all the youngsters who qualify, regardless of where they live. Mr Fallon, it seems, agrees.  Along with primary school headteacher Derry Wiltshire, he   would like to turn the Bradbourne School buildings, which will soon be redundant, into an annex for one of the local grammar schools (Sunday Express, 1 August 2010 and , 4 October 2010).  If this is allowed, it would resolve the problems around Sevenoaks.  But will government ministers, who don’t seem to believe in genuine choice, allow these sensible plans to proceed?

Pressure on politicians to allow parental choice is mounting.  On 20 October, Kent County Council reported that of the 5,295 children who passed the voluntary 11-plus this year, 1,156 are from outside the county, compared with 993 the previous year.  Yet, thanks to political restraints on the number of 11-year-olds  allowed entry to grammar schools, Kent has only 4,475 grammar school places.  How can this be fair?   

Good news from Boston

Until recently, Boston Grammar School for boys and Boston High School for girls were  being seriously undermined by their Conservative local authority and CfBT, the educational charity paid to run Lincolnshire County Council schools;  plus a weak chairman of  governors and a self-seeking ‘executive’ headteacher of the two federated schools.  In September 2009, the number of boys allowed places fell to 66 out of a possible 112. The  percentage of 16-year-old boys achieving 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs fell from 97% to 83% in a single year.

Yet within a short space of time, these disturbing trends have been reversed by the appointment of a supportive chairman of governors (Phillip Bosworth) and a very committed  acting head.  Bringing stability back to the School has improved exam results.  And by taking control of its own 11-plus selection tests and admissions, Boston Grammar School is likely to increase the number of  bright boys joining the school this year to at least 90. These increased numbers will, of course, bring with them around £70,000 of additional funding each year.  A fine example to all grammar schools!

St Bernard’s future still uncertain

At the time of writing, proposals by local church-leaders and Slough local authority to merge St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School with a secondary modern school to form a massive  academy with a brand new building  have still not been withdrawn. Needless to say, this uncertainty is still causing damage to St Bernard’s as a possible choice for parents.  How many parents would choose a school that may face years of disruption? Further information at 

Northern Ireland’s pro-grammar rebellion remains strong

The number of entries for the voluntary 11-plus selection test for places in Northern Ireland’s grammar schools  remained as high as ever this year, despite Sinn Fein/IRA education minister Caitriona Ruane’s attempt to ban academic selection.  

Unfortunately, one grammar school, Loreto College, has responded to calls from the Catholic Church and the Catholic Principals’ Association that grammar schools should go comprehensive.  Principal Brian Lenehan and the school governors have unilaterally decided to halt academic selection and become an ‘all ability’ school in 2011 or 2012.  For further information on the Northern Ireland situation, please see