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Kent academy breaks ranks with proposal to become a grammar school

School near Gravesend consults parents on selecting by ability from 2018, as campaigners warn of an 11-plus 'gold rush'

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School near Gravesend consults parents on selecting by ability from 2018, as campaigners warn of an 11-plus 'gold rush'

A Kent academy has become the first non-selective secondary in the county to break ranks and register its interest in becoming a grammar school.

Meopham School, part of the Swale Academies Trust, which runs three secondaries in Kent, has written to parents asking for their thoughts on whether the school should select on the basis of ability.

The consultation was issued last Friday, just days after education secretary Justine Greening outlined plans to expand the number of grammars in an education Green Paper.

The news follows warnings from heads’ union the NAHT that the grammar school plans would spark a rush from comprehensive school leaders to apply to select for “fear of being left behind”.

According to the letter, Meopham School, near Gravesend, is seeking opinions on whether it should offer “mixed grammar school provision” to parents in the area by September 2018. 

Trust principal Jon Whitcombe states: “We understand from our knowledge of the local community that there is a need for additional grammar school places in the area. 

“We also believe many parents would welcome the opportunity to have a local mixed grammar school provision as an alternative to the current single-sex grammar schools. 

“In light of this, I am writing to seek your views on converting Meopham School to a mixed-entry grammar school for new entrants from September 2018.”

'Potentially contentious'

Mr Whitcombe acknowledges that converting the school into a grammar is a “potentially contentious issue”. 

“However, it is important to stress that this proposal is at the very earliest stages of development and that we are actively interested in ensuring a thorough and balanced discussion over what is right for the school and the community prior to any decision being taken,” he adds. 

Pupils already attending the school but who had not passed the Kent selection test could remain in the school, Mr Whitcombe says.

The move has been heavily criticised by the Kent Education Network, a group that campaigns against selection in the county, which warned that it would be the start of a “gold rush” of schools applying to select.

“Swale’s bid is likely to start a gold rush to convert schools to grammar schools if Theresa May has her way and the law is changed,” the network said in a statement. “This trust is clearly getting in early before other schools propose a grammar school in the area. It highlights the fact that there is no consideration of how these proposals would limit school choice for children who fail the 11-plus.”

It also criticised the length of the school’s consultation, which closes on September 28.

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