What is the real driver for RBWM’s Satellite Grammar project?

Maidenhead bridge at sunset

Maidenhead, Berkshire has a population of 86,000 is situated on the River Thames and sits west of London between the M40 to the north and M4 to the south.

There are around 10,000 young people attending state schools in the town aged between the ages of 4 and 18 years plus a number in the independent sector and a smaller number who attend schools outside of the Royal Borough in adjacent education authorities.

As a result of the proximity of Buckinghamshire schools just across the Thames from Maidenhead (in Burnham, Slough, Marlow and Wycombe) there has been a long-standing reciprocal arrangement with the Bucks education bodies that Maidenhead pupils can sit the 11-plus exam and be offered places at Bucks Grammars, whilst Maidenhead’s Comprehensive schools accommodate Bucks pupils whose parents prefer to see them in a comprehensive a few miles away rather than in a Secondary Modern closer to home. Anyone who has ever travelled the Maidenhead to Marlow branch line in the mornings or early evenings will be well aware of the mass migration of young people across county borders in pursuit of the optimum education experience as chosen by their parents. And this arrangement seems to work for those in Maidenhead who aspire to selective education and many in Bucks who want to escape it.

So why change it? Why spend our council tax money investigating it? Why hand £200,000 or our council tax money to Sir William Borlase Grammar School in Marlow to research the opportunities for it to expand into Maidenhead? Why commit up to £20million to build a satellite grammar just because Education Secretary Nicky Morgan MP is not opposing a Weald of Kent grammar school planning a satellite site?

It cannot be about a resounding mandate – there were just 107 responses in support during a council-led consultation on Secondary Education in late 2014.

It cannot be about parental choice either. Parents get more choice at present than they ever will if selective education creeps back into the Royal Borough. The 11-plus exam will do all the choosing. About 18% of those who take it will get to choose a Grammar School, the remaining 82% will be chosen into a local school which may still be called a “comprehensive” and might be branded an “upper school” but we all know will become a Secondary Modern. Some with the financial means may opt for independent schools instead, but that hardly increases choice.

Is it about raising achievement? If so, have RBWM seen research which suggests that segregating youngsters at age 11 on the basis of a reasoning test raises general attainment across that cohort? If so I would like to see that research as there is evidence that the most able children leaving primary schools do as well, if not better, at comprehensive schools between ages 11 to 18.

Maybe it’s to do with building capacity due to an increasing population in Maidenhead, but again, even with the Crossrail effect the council’s own projections suggest a shortfall of only 105 Year 7 places in 2020 and then a declining school-age population. Is that enough of a pressure to justify a £20million new school and why does it justify a selective one? The Officer who spoke at a council meeting I attended in October 2015 said that there was no need to build a new school in the town, just one month before the council approved expenditure to investigate the satellite concept. And even if numbers do increase what is stopping the council supporting growth in its existing comprehensives and utilising capacity in those which have surplus places?

Is it political ideology defining council policy? Is it about creating an elitism to which those who can afford private tutoring can aspire? Are decisions being based on traditional values, personal freedoms and survival of the fittest and is that fair to the whole population of the town?

Or is it Politics? Ambitious councillors wanting the kudos of being able to tell Parliamentary constituencies’ selection panels that they enabled selective education to return to Maidenhead after an absence of over 40 years?

Whatever the drivers for the Satellite Grammar plans in Maidenhead they present a real threat to parental choice and quality of education provision in the town and are being pursued with the flimsiest of mandates.

Council decision-makers need more contextual information: drawing on educational research, experience of selective and non-selective areas in the UK and abroad, considering the impact of selection on the entire cohort of children, the effect on social mobility, the ability of schools to recruit and retain quality staff.

It is entirely inappropriate for Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School in Marlow, Buckinghamshire to be given £200,000 to carry out this work – the school’s leadership team and Governors cannot be expected to operate impartially on such a project.

RBWM has already spent £20,000 on a report commissioned from consultants on this notion, a report which is apparently so commercially sensitive that it cannot be accessed by residents or Head teachers or even councillors. RBWM is failing to be transparent about the drivers for the satellite Grammar School decision and this council tax payer, for one, is unimpressed that the council is proceeding with this project with so little rationale or justification for its chosen direction.

The author is a member of the ‘Excellent Education for Everyone’ campaigning group in Maidenhead, a former Chair of Governors at a local infant school and parent to two students at a local comprehensive school.

13 thoughts on “What is the real driver for RBWM’s Satellite Grammar project?

  1. This is all about Burbage kudos, and as usual he’s not working for good of his constituents but his ego. As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’

  2. You do exactly what you want regardless of public opinion, the new school in Cox Green is proof of that . How some of you sleep at night is beyond me.

    • I’m not sure who you mean by “you”. Excellent education for everyone certainly didn’t have anything to do with that.

  3. There is also dogma, However, overwhelmingly Grammar Schools are all about making MONEY. In Wycombe parents are expected and do pay £2500.00 per child in the 4 yrs term the Grammars. Then there tutoring, expensive trips, galas, etc.
    They lie about education standards being important; not so, did you know William Bolase is languishing at 61 on the national league of secondary schools?
    Why on earth would any sane Councillor want this failing school (by Selective school standards) disrupting Maidenhead with already has a perfectly balanced, equal and good education system.

    • John, what money do grammar schools make and for whom? And how does being at 61 in the National League Tables qualify as “languishing” or “failing”? You are a troll.

  4. An excellent, well-argued piece. I hope the Secretary of State and councillors are listening.

    Peter Leyland, formerteacher and researcher on Gifted and Talented children

  5. My child currently studies in a state primary school and his teacher enlightened us with the fact that in her 4 years of teaching year 2 she had never come across a child as good as him in Maths. Infact, he had better maths skills in year 2 than most in year 4. So, we are looking for a place for him where is he challenged much more academically which are Reading Boys or Sir William Borlase. After paying 40% tax on salary, 10%+ employers NI, 10%+ employee NI, 20% VAT, council tax and so on, I will be very disappointed if he does not get a state sponsored place. Both Labour and Conservatives have let us down in not taxing corporations like Google, Amazon, Starbucks whose funds could have contributed in improving health and education for our children, it’s reaching a tipping point for me personally.

    • Even if you child is particularly gifted in Maths, there is no certainty that they will pass the 11+ as its not focused on subject knowledge. In any case, there is no reason to believe that your child will do better in a grammar school than they would in a comprehensive.

      Your point about corporate taxation is not going to get any argument from us but that is another fight altogether.

  6. William Bolase is #238 out of 2,709 as measured by the latest A-level results. It may not sound good enough, but this is the highest in at least 10km radius of Maidenhead town center (inc Slough). The best one in Maidenhead is the Newlands school at #1,163.
    Even if grammar schools do not improve average pupil attainment, why not let the brightest be with the brightest and let them develop their skills? Do not some comprehensives differentiate between the pupils based on their attainments and results in specific subjects be it maths or arts? In my school days, I hated it that that the pupils who were weak in maths were dragging down the rest of us and always wondered why not have several streams progressing at different speeds? I was bad at arts or reading and did not mind taking it a bit slower.
    That said, I agree that spending per pupil should not be too different between the state secondaries.
    On a separate note, I do not understand why faith schools are allowed to discriminate based on the faith despite being state funded while grammar schools who discriminate on a more objective and fair criteria, are not allowed to exist?!

    Best
    Eldar, a father of two pre-school girls

    • Comparing league table positions between selective and non-selective schools isn’t a reasonable comparison though. You’re comparing a school that only takes at most the top 20% of high attainment pupils, has no SEN pupils and almost no pupils from poor backgrounds (e.g. free school meals kids) against a normal school that takes children of all ranges of abilities, some with SEN and a typical 16% free school meal background intake.

      As for weak pupils dragging down the grades of brighter ones, the evidence is that this does not happen. Bright children do no better in grammar schools than similarly gifted children in comprehensives. Even in grammar schools you’ll get some kids that are gifted in maths but struggle in, say, English. Subject streaming and other strategies in schools are used to deal with this.

  7. Eldar, you will find that spending is in fact lowest per head of population at grammars, higher at secondary moderns, and then comps.
    Nothing but envy and bitterness on this site against the horrible children who have the nerve to enjoy learning and be academically inclined.

  8. Lucille, I have to disagree with you, this is not about envy or bitterness, it is about providing the best education for all pupils and the evidence has proved that selective education does not achieve this goal.

    My children went to a local comprehensive school and have done extremely well, both academically minded and love to learn.

  9. Lucille, I really can’t let that unpleasant comment pass. The people who support this site want an excellent education for all (clue is in the title!) rather than selecting out 20% or so in a very arbitrary way. Why aren’t people allowed to stand up for those 80% who won’t make it these schools? Are you aware that 20% of children in the Bucks Secondary Moderns are classed as high-achieving don’t you? Why did they deserve to have their academic potential written off?
    My daughter is also at an excellent comp (she had a bad Year 6 so would probably have failed the 11+ if we had had the misfortune to live in Bucks) – last night at parents evening teachers were raving about her enthusiasm for academic work and her grades are way beyond what was predicted. This is what every child should have!

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