Gove’s new school – not your bog standard comp! Here’s why

Michael Gove’s daughter will be going to Greycoats School in Westminster in the autumn. On one level, this is something to be pleased about – apparently this makes him the first Conservative Education Secretary to send a child to a state secondary school.

It would be wrong to make any kind of issue of any individual’s choice of school. Everyone works within the system that exists – even if we’re talking about the person responsible for the system being what it is.. But this news provoked me into looking a little closely more at Greycoats. It turns out to be a classic example of a school that achieves good results on the back of an intake that is significantly more favourable than its location would suggest.

The Fair Admissions Campaign recently identified Greycoats as being in the 1% of least socially inclusive schools in the country when compared to their local community. It’s in the 2% of least inclusive schools with regard to English as an additional language.

What this means in practice can be seen from the information published in the school league tables. So at Greycoats:

• 52% of pupils have high Key Stage 2 results compared with 28% in Westminster and 32% in the country.
• 39% of pupils have average Key Stage 2 results compared with 54% in Westminster and 52% in the country.
• Just 9% of pupils have low Key Stage 2 results compared with 17% in Westminster and 16% in the country.
• 9% of pupils have SEN at school action plus or with a statement compared to 22% in Westminster.

Not surprisingly the school gets good is of course a girls’ school so they start with an advantage over mixed and boys’ schools. It should be stressed though that the results are pretty much what you would expect given the prior attainment of the pupils – just 23% with low prior attainment get 5 A to C passes including English and maths which is dead on the borough average – though as is common in London this is better than the national picture.

So the question arises – how do they do it? Scrutiny of their admission policy throws up three interesting factors:

1. 15 places – that is 10% – are allocated on the basis of “aptitude for modern languages”. The test for this is taken in the summer of year 5 – so in itself rewarding the forward planner. It apparently requires no knowledge of a modern language. How you design an assessment which tests for this aptitude but doesn’t test for academic performance remains a mystery.

2. Applicants are banded – top 25%, middle 50% and bottom 25%. It doesn’t say how this is done but given the outcome, you have to assume that banding is done in relation to the ability of applicants to the school and not in relation to the national or local range of ability. This is a favourite trick of schools that attract a disproportionate number of high ability applicants and leads inevitably to a skewed intaks.

3 Church places are allocated according to family church commitment. This includes 5 years church attendance (forward planning again!) and parental contributions such as:
• Parent holding elected office in the church
• Parent being a communicant member
• Parent on the church’s electoral or other membership roll
• Regular practical involvement by a parent in the church
• Parent having a role in public worship/ministry
• Regular involvement in other aspect of church life.

This would seem to constitute a flagrant breach of the Admissions Code which says that schools may not give priority to children “on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority.”

The code also says that “Admission authorities for schools designated as having a religious character must have regard to any guidance from the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination when constructing faith-based oversubscription criteria”

The Church of England national guidance says that Points systems used to differentiate between families with equal commitment should be as simple as possible, and only used if absolutely necessary, and ideally should be phased out over the next few years Points systems can discriminate against families unable for a variety of reasons to participate in Church activities.

All of this adds up to yet another example of the depressingly common tendency of English schools to use every trick available to manipulate their intake and to thereby increase the socio-economic segregation that is the curse of our school system.


One Comment on “Gove’s new school – not your bog standard comp! Here’s why”

  1. johnebolt says:

    I now gather from the fair Admission Campaign that the Adjudicator has in fact ruled against some of the worst aspects of Greycoat’s admission criteria.