In last week’s meeting of Greenwich Council’s Cabinet an important agenda item about how secondary school admissions are decided – something which many parents in the borough would be extremely interested in because it affects where their children go to school– was hidden between a large and unwieldy number of items all which deserved more individual consideration. These agenda items included a serious reprimand from the Ombudsman; a reduction in rents (as required by the Government); the agreement of a controversial plan for Plumstead High Street and a decision to put Council Tax up by 4%.
I think Greenwich parents would be surprised to hear that the Council used ability banding for all secondary schools except the Catholic schools in the Borough (St Thomas More, St Ursula’s and St Paul’s) as the relevant page on the website simply does not mention it. Following the decision this week, Greenwich Council is now almost entirely isolated in London in retaining Ablity Banding as a method of selection for secondary schools. Ability Banding is where children are placed into categories depending on their academic ability and allocated to schools in a manner that ensures each school has a similar percentage of students from the most able to the least able. You can see the wide range of methods available in this article in the Guardian by anti-grammar school campaigner Fiona Millar.
I think that this agenda item matters as for an 11 year old, the council’s admissions policy will have a big impact on the rest of their lives, dictating where they go to school. For the more than 2,500 students and their parents who will go to Greenwich schools the basic principle of Ability Banding means that they are not guaranteed to be able to send their child to their nearest school , which is the most obvious criteria on the Council’s Admissions Priority list as shown here:
Lets be absolutely clear, nowhere in the Admissions priority list does it mention that students will be allocated according to their ability.
More worryingly for me is that the Council has now changed its policy from a test in year 5 (which would establish the band level you are working at) to a teacher based assessment. I am a teacher, but even I’m not convinced that asking different teachers in very different schools will produce a consistent or fair judgement of the right band for a child. If the allocated bands are wrong, a student will be incorrectly placed and so find themselves in a different secondary school to that intended. Indeed, if you don’t live in Greenwich when applying for a secondary school, there may be no allocation at all, meaning the whole system will be pointless as so many students are outside the banding process.
In my opinion, the Council is purposely opaque about its use of Ability Banding and unless you know exactly what you are looking for you simply won’t notice it – in the Council’s Admissions Booklet it is buried on page 40.
It seems to me that this is an ideological process which Labour Councillors are keen to hide. For all of their criticism of Grammar schools, they also select students for schools based on their abilities, but they do it without letting parents know it is happening. Now primary school teachers will be asked to allocate children to bands, knowing that this may well make a difference to their long-term future and I imagine this responsibility will weigh heavily upon them.