An open letter to Ms Kattirtzi
I am writing on behalf of over a hundred people who signed a petition asking Kendrick School to admit more disadvantaged girls by setting aside all of the proposed new places for disadvantaged girls, ie those in receipt of pupil premium (PP). The number signing the petition would have been considerably higher if they had been given the opportunity to oppose the expansion of selective education altogether but you won’t ask that question because you’re afraid that the majority of the public feel there is no place in a pluralistic society for this form of elitist segregation. The government are equally running scared on this one. Their 2016 ‘consultation’ invited responses to twelve questions about how best to expand selective education without once providing an opportunity for the public to say whether they actually want this or not. Despite their manipulative use of complex question fallacy to rig the outcomes, the subsequent analysis carried out by Ipsos MORI (who make it clear they were not responsible for the survey) concluded, “a significant number of respondents used the forum of the consultation to raise concerns about selection within schools per se. This included objections to the expansion of selective schools, concern about the accessibility and impact of selective schools, and requests for government resource to instead be focused on supporting all schools.” (Ipsos MORI for DfE March 2017)
Until such time you and the government give people an option to express how they really feel about selective education you are not consulting on this subject.
Your admissions criteria was changed for 2016 to nominally give preference girls in receipt of PP funding who had “passed the test” however you set this pass mark after the tests thus ensuring that it still selects the highest possible scoring candidates from your vast catchment area. This only benefits applicants whose scores are in the narrow range which would put them on the waiting list. I estimate on average just one quarter of a disadvantaged girl per year gets a place specifically as a result of this policy. I’d like to know exactly how effective this policy is but when I requested the relevant information you said this would be provided AFTER the consultation. Your school admits 2.1% PP girls compared to the 31.8% attending Reading’s non-selective schools but this information, key to any informed debate on expansion, does not feature anywhere in your consultation. If seek to prevent the relevant information from becoming public then you are not consulting on your expansion plans.
Since the 1989 Greenwich ruling, Kendrick School have pursued a policy of spreading the net as wide as possible, encompassing girls living as far away as Swindon and Regents Park (2015 data). Not for the benefit of students but because this guarantees the school good GCSE results. As Gorard and Siddiqui (2016) observe, the causal effect of prior attainment on GCSE results, “… seems to confuse some commentators, members of the public and even policy-makers who assume that the good results are largely due to what happens in the school rather than the nature of the children selected.” You pursue this policy because it makes the school look good to those who can’t see beyond league tables but the really good schools in Reading are those that strive for great achievement for all students whatever their background.
You might argue that the reason Kendrick School’s makeup is so very under-representative of wider society is due to a correlation between affluence and intelligence but that denies the massive influence of tutoring on a test highly susceptible to bias.
The 11+ test companies don’t disclose the raw results of their tests which would reveal that just one additional correctly answered question might move applicants up in your ranking by 20 or 30 places. In a school with an entry of 96 that is significant. At £40/hr, the tutoring needed to score highly enough in your test to secure a place simply isn’t available to children whose parents are on benefits. We should really be asking ourselves how any disadvantaged girls managed to get in at all given the odds stacked against them. An honest admission from the Grammar Schools Heads Association (GSHA) that tutoring skews admissions is long overdue but instead they lobby the government with false claims to have developed “tutor-proof” tests (Hansard). It speaks volumes about the selective education system that proponents have to suppress information and lie in order to justify it.
The SSEF is specifically aimed at selective schools which have realistic and ambitious plans to attract more disadvantaged children. Such schools do exist. Kendrick is not one of them. The only way Kendrick School could admit more disadvantaged girls would be to rank their test results separately from the rest of the cohort.
There is no evidence that there is a need for additional selective school places in Reading although this is a specific requirement of the SSEF. Based on information you can’t withhold* the majority of these places will go to girls living outside of Reading. Your current proposal will create 112 * new places for middle class girls living in Slough, Maidenhead, Newbury, London and other towns whose parents can afford not only the necessary tutoring to secure them a place but also the ongoing cost of commuting. (A Slough to Reading child annual rail season ticket is about £1,000). A further 47 * places would be taken by non-disadvantaged girls who will in all probability have been tutored to score enough to be admitted. Just three * of the 160 places would benefit un-tutored disadvantaged girls whom this funding is supposed to help. Why isn’t this projection of included in your consultation document? If you don’t explain to the public the impact of your expansion plans then you are not consulting on them.
On behalf of the attached signatories, I would urge you either to abandon your expansion plans altogether or implement a quota system to ensure that the additional places benefit those who this funding in intended to help. The SSEF should not be used to expand your current discriminatory admissions policy to enable the school to continue to pursue headline raw GCSE results.
*2015 census data providing postal sectors shows 70% of girls live outside Reading. 2018 census PP data 2.1% of girls are on PP. 32 × 5 = 160 additional places in total. 160 × 70% = 112 places. 160 × 2.1% = 3.36 places. Assume all PP girls live in Reading the number of non-PP local girls is (160 – 112) – 3.36 = 44.64 non-PP locals.
(A list those who’d signed the petition and their comments was also forwarded to the school.)