HUNDREDS of Gloucester grammar school places are being taken up by Cheltenham pupils, new figures reveal.
After Ofsted’s chief railed against the middle classes “stuffing” grammar schools, the numbers in Gloucestershire appear to bear this out, with only a tiny percentage of grammar pupils on free school meals and less than half of those at the city’s four selective schools coming from Gloucester.
“There was a time when Gloucester schools were for Gloucester children,” said Liberal Democrat councillor Jeremy Hilton at Gloucestershire County Council’s full meeting on Wednesday, January 22.
Today though, 559 children from Cheltenham attend one of Gloucester’s four selective schools, and only 151 go the other way from Gloucester to the spa town’s only grammar.
Two of Gloucester’s grammars, the High School for Girls in Denmark Road and boys school Sir Thomas Rich’s get the majority of their pupils from outside the Gloucester City Council area.
Conservative cabinet member for children and young people, Paul McLain said Mr Hilton’s comments sounded like a case of “these are local shops for local people” but after the meeting admitted there was an issue.
“The alternative is to build more grammar schools,” he said. “The issue then for us as a society is more middle class parents are well aware of this and will be ambitious for their kids. But we have is make it an achievable dream for everyone.
“I’m not criticising anyone for being ambitious for their kids but it’s about parents talking to their primary schools and working to that goal.”
A new entrance exam which is said to be less easy to coach children for is coming in this year. It should mean parents who spend a few thousand pounds on entrance exam coaching to avoid tens of thousands on private school fees will find it less easy to secure a grammar place for their children.
Before Christmas Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said grammar schools are “stuffed full of middle-class kids. A tiny percentage are on free school meals - 3%. That is a nonsense.”
Mr Hilton said after the meeting that the majority of the city’s grammar school places should go to city children.
“When 15% of children in the postcode district GL1 get free school meals and just 1% at the High School for Girls and Sir Thomas Rich’s, it looks like children from modest backgrounds are being denied places at Gloucester grammar schools,” he said.
After the meeting the Conservatives claimed the Liberal Democrats needed to clarify their position on the matter or face accusations that they are trying to block children from Cheltenham and other parts of the county from attending Gloucester schools.
“Lib Dems have form for opposing parental choice, but I will never back educational apartheid in our county,” said Mr McLain.
John Pemberthy, divisional secretary of the Gloucestershire Association of the National Union of Teachers, said it’s natural for parents to want the best schools for their children - so all schools need to be of the same standard.
“For parents who want to send their children to what they perceive as a good school, it’s a decision they are prepared to take, and pay for the bus fares and get them up early,” he said.
“Some people on principle don’t do that and send their child to their local school - the union believes every local school should have the same resources to provide the same standard of education.”