Some time towards the end of 2014, notices quietly appeared, buried deep in the admissions pages of Reading’s two grammar schools’ websites saying they were consulting on admissions. It was clear that the schools preferred to keep such ‘consultation’ to themselves so a group of local parents got together at the local curry house to form TRAK (Transform Reading and Kendrick) with the intention of opening up the discussion to a wider audience.
We wrote to the heads of all primary schools in the LA asking them to alert parents to the consultation, wrote press releases and appeared on radio and television news. We created this website welcoming comments from every perspective and published all but one or two because these contained offensive speculative intrusions into children’s personal details.
Many local people feel Reading and Kendrick schools are full of children from other towns and don’t serve the communities in which they physically reside. We’re also concerned at the very small number of disadvantaged children who are admitted so we looked at ways the admissions could be changed to return these schools to the heart of the community.
We proposed a reduction to the catchment area which we based on demographic information from UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and also ran a petition asking the schools to re-instate admissions policies which benefit local children. At the time we were unaware that at the same time the Sutton Trust were making very similar suggestions, “If catchment areas are large or open then more affluent parents can afford to travel further and coach their children so that they can access these increasingly selective schools. One suggestion was to reduce the size of the catchment areas to increase participation by local, high achieving but poor students.” (Crib et al 2013).
The petition gained hundreds of signatures compared to the one or two people who were in support of the current policy. In complete disregard of public opinion both schools opted to continue selecting the very highest performing candidates from a wide catchment which preserves their position in the GCSE final results rankings.
Under current legislation schools are obliged to consult fully on their admissions every seven years or partial consultation for any proposed changes. We asked the Schools Adjudicator to consider whether the consultation had been properly conducted. His ruling was ambiguous. On the one hand he agreed that the schools had conduced a full consultation but at the same time said they had left themselves insufficient time to fully consult. These rulings (Reading and Kendrick) were seminal in that they establish admission authorities can confine the scope of mandatory consultation to maintaining the status quo in effect rendering the legal requirement for schools to consult on their admissions as meaningless.
On the subject of whether parents had been properly consulted the adjudicator dryly observed, “The campaign organised by [TRAK] produced a petition containing 611 signatures, and led to coverage in the local media. I am certain that the consultees listed in the Code would have been aware of the consultation and the issues even if it was not through the school’s sole efforts.” Since then the schools have had plenty of time to consider making changes to their admissions but clearly have no intention of doing so.
Crib J, Jesson D, Sibieta L, Skipp A, and Vignoles A, 2013; “Poor Grammar. Entry into Grammar Schools for disadvantaged pupils in England” Sutton Trust.