Kent grammar schools urged to close social-mobility gap

Pupil Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kent councillors want grammar schools to take more pupils from poorer backgrounds at the expense of children from outside the county

Grammar schools in Kent are being urged to provide up to 700 more places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to correct the social imbalance.

A far smaller proportion of children from lower-income families attend the county's grammars than non-selective schools, according to figures.

Kent County Council has approved a number of ideas to try to enable more disadvantaged children get the chance.

It said it could not compel schools but warned action was needed.

Jenny Whittle, chairman of the council's grammar schools and social mobility select committee, said: "We can't impose our recommendations, but I really do believe that there is a spirit of co-operation and a real willingness to see more children from poorer backgrounds benefit from a selective education."

Moral responsibility'

Figures presented to councillors show that 80% of high-achieving children from more affluent backgrounds in Kent attend grammar schools whereas in poorer families, it is only only 57% - a difference of more than 700 children.

Schools - many of which are academies and outside the council's control - will be encouraged to correct the imbalance by taking fewer pupils from outside the county.

Image caption Committee chairman Jenny Whittle believes there is a "real willingness" to bridge the social gap

Analysis: BBC South East's Piers Hopkirk

Kent County Council doesn't have any powers to compel schools to go along with these plans, but they hope they will feel a moral responsibility to level the playing field.

I think it also hopes that schools will be pragmatic in realising that addressing criticism over social mobility will help to insulate them from criticism and potentially preserve their futures.

Among the other recommendations, which are due to go before the full council in July, are suggestions that grammar schools help pupils with the cost of uniforms, school trips and provide more links with state primary schools.

Joanne Bartley, chairwoman of the Kent Education Network, said: "It is a competitive school system. Parents feel that they have to tutor. Nobody wants to do this, but if you do this, you are taking the chance of a school place away from a child who can't afford it."

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