A Wiltshire academy that started a “grammar stream”, giving a small group of children access to specialist teachers and lectures at a nearby private school, will continue the project for at least another year and may expand the model.
Swindon academy last year launched an “elite” academic curriculum for up to 30 pupils to access subject-specialist teachers, Latin lessons at its partner private school Marlborough college and “a range of additional experiences”, including extracurricular opportunities.
United Learning, the trust in charge of the school, told Schools Week more than a year ago that all pupils who sat the aptitude test for the grammar stream would get a place at the academy regardless of performance, which is within the admissions code.
The government currently forbids new state schools to select on entry, but selection within a school is not forbidden
The school draws most of its pupils from two deprived estates in Swindon.
A Freedom of Information request shows that of 24 pupils who applied to the grammar stream, 23 were offered places with three on “conditional” offers. The one pupil not given a place was “too close to the pass mark” and given a normal place in the academy instead, a trust spokesperson said.
The school’s website tells parents that their child “will be invited to sit an aptitude test at the academy” so as to “ensure that they have the ability to cope with the demands of the grammar stream curriculum”. They are later told whether their child will join the specialist stream or the main academy.
The government currently forbids new state schools to select on entry, but selection within a school is not forbidden.
Kevin Courtney, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the grammar stream was “calculated to lure families to make applications to their school.
“Swindon academy’s so-called ‘grammar stream’, set up within their school, appears permanent and designed to give a selected few children long-standing benefits in their secondary school career compared with the rest. It appears to go much further than streaming or setting in other schools.”
Pupils on the grammar stream, which will continue with another 30 places next year, receive Latin and Classics lessons at Marlborough college in years 7 and 8. They also have an open invitation to extracurricular events, such as literary and science lectures, as well as residential trips and dinners at the school. In later years they will be mentored by college staff.
Teachers at Swindon academy work across both mainstream and grammar stream classes, United Learning said, but for grammar stream teachers “subject knowledge is very important”.
“The grammar stream co-ordinator is a maths specialist and she teaches their maths lessons.”
Jon Coles (pictured), chief executive of United Learning, said the initiative provided “unusual opportunities to a group of young people who come from an area of genuine deprivation” and that the trust “wouldn’t rule out” repeating the model elsewhere.
The trust’s FOI response said that such pupils, including those not in the grammar stream who excelled in other areas such as physical education, were “role models” for the rest of the school.
Heath Monk, executive director of the eight schools of the King Edward VI foundation in Birmingham, five of which are grammars, said the grammar stream could help to attract the best teachers.
He stressed that admissions tests were not tutor-proof and the “whole context” of a pupil should be looked at.
Sir David Carter, the national schools’ commissioner, has previously said parental choice was reduced, rather than enhanced, if children did not get a place at any “centres of excellence” within an academy trust.