Revealed: The scandal of empty grammar school places in Bucks

Controversial new figures released today show that grammar schools in Bucks are currently carrying nearly 100 empty Year 7 places. At the same time, following the introduction of the new 11+ exam in 2014, the same grammar schools turned away more local children than ever before for Year 7 entry.

The figures from Bucks County Council are being put into the public domain for the first time by local campaign group Local Equal Excellent. They show the following empty places in Year 7 currently being carried by Bucks grammar schools:

– John Hampden Grammar School – 22 empty places
– Chesham Grammar School – 19 empty places
– Burnham Grammar School – 11 empty places
– Aylesbury High School – 9 empty places
– Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School – 29 empty places
– Sir William Borlase Grammar School – 1 empty place

Yet in 2014, nearly 300 more Bucks children than in 2013 were told they had not qualified for a grammar school place. If the 2013 qualification rate for Bucks children had been maintained in 2014, 89 more Bucks children should have qualified for a grammar school place than actually did – almost exactly the number of grammar school places now left empty.

One of the reasons why Bucks children lost out on places in 2014 was the large increase in the number of non-Bucks children sitting and passing the ‘new’ exam. Many of these out-of-county children then chose not to take up their offers of grammar school places, leaving the grammar schools with large numbers of empty places on their hands.

At the same time, Bucks County Council has been putting pressure on local upper schools to increase their Year 7 intake in order to meet the shortfall in secondary school places.

Rebecca Hickman of campaign group Local Equal Excellent said:
“Unfortunately, these new figures are likely to cause outrage for the many local parents whose children were denied a grammar school place in 2014. We know of children in High Wycombe who are being forced to travel many miles to secondary school each day – even as far as Slough and Burnham – while schools on their doorstep with empty places deny them entry.
“The grammar schools are serving their local communities less and less. Yet it is difficult to find a local politician who is prepared to stand up for the many children who are losing out.
“If a local authority believes any school admissions arrangements to be unfair they are obliged by law to report those arrangements to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. However, the political leadership of Bucks County Council refuse to do so, and so are effectively saying to parents that they consider the way in which the 11+ is working to be fair.”

Dr Katy Simmons, Chair of Governors at a High Wycombe school, said:
“The school place problem is just another unintended outcome of the ‘new’ flawed 11+ test. It’s time Bucks County Council had the courage to challenge this test, in the interests of all Bucks children. Are they afraid of the grammar schools? While some grammar schools have empty desks, the only solution that BCC has so far come up with is to put pressure on upper schools to take more students. This is no solution – it simply shifts the problem onto already hard-pressed upper schools and onto children, who are travelling huge distances to get to school. The school system in Bucks show signs of falling apart on many fronts: the Council needs to act with some courage to ensure fairness for everyone.”

For further comment contact:
Dr Katy Simmons on 07970 656153 or at katy@nashdom.dircon.co.uk
Rebecca Hickman at becks_hickman@hotmail.com

Notes to editors:
1. The 2014 grammar school qualification numbers and rates for Bucks children (including children who were successful at review) are shown in the table.

Bucks children
Registered No. passed % passed
2013 4995 1566 31%
2014 5248 1538 29%

2. All the original datasets can be accessed at:
www.buckscc.gov.uk/education/schools/admissions-and-moving-school/policy-hub/
3. Local, Equal, Excellent supports fair access to secondary schools for all Bucks children. See www.facebook.com/localequalexcellent