Colin Parker, headteacher of King Edward VI Aston School, outlines the school’s inspiring approach to admitting and supporting more able learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.
 
At King Edward VI Aston School (Aston) we have one of the highest proportions of students coming from a disadvantaged background at any selective school in the country, with around 40% of Year 7 and 8 students receiving financial support.
 
This is partly because of location; the school is situated in one of the most economically deprived areas of Birmingham, in a region offering numerous selective schools for parents wary of sending their child to the inner city. But primarily it is because the school has given priority to admitting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are also fortunate in having a separate source of funding, to support students based on postcode rather than parental income.

Levelling the admission test playing field

A few years ago, the King Edward VI Foundation commissioned research indicating that social diversity was declining in its selective schools, and consequently put in place measures that would result in more students from disadvantaged backgrounds gaining places.
 
The first issue to consider was admission policy; from September 2015 Aston has given priority to admitting up to 25% of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. To make this a realistic proposition and go some way to levelling the admission test playing field, the school has set a qualifying score significantly lower than the score achieved in recent years by the last student to gain entry. Any student from a disadvantaged background achieving the qualifying score has a very good chance of securing a place.
 
Secondly, with the support of the Foundation, the school runs a familiarisation programme, working with primary schools who have a significant number of disadvantaged students. Parents and their sons are invited into the school, with the students undertaking work similar to that which they will encounter on the admissions test, including sitting a practice test paper.

Bridging economic, social and cultural gaps

So far, the increase in the number of students from a disadvantaged background has had no noticeable impact in academic terms. Evidence to date indicates that their academic progress is in line with, if not better than, non-disadvantaged students. We use most of our pupil premium funding to bridge the economic, social and cultural gaps, including a grant for participation in extracurricular activities.
 
It is also about expectations and language. At GCSE, we are talking about grades A*/A or above 7 and at A-level grades A*-B and then progressing to a high-tariff university. These expectations are relentlessly shared with the boys and their parents.
 
This is a whole-staff effort and a shared culture. At Aston, unlike many schools, we do not have a pupil premium champion; it is an expectation that this role will be played by all staff.
 
This all comes back to the reasons why we are in education. Our view is that the point of education is to transform lives, and that will happen when a student from a disadvantaged background gets into a high-tariff university and consequently on the path to securing professional employment. It will not only transform the life of the student, but also that of his family.
 
Colin ParkerColin Parker is the headteacher of King Edward VI Aston School, a grammar school for boys which for a selective school has one of the highest national intakes of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is also the chairman of governors at St Oswald’s Church of England Primary School in Rugby, and has been appointed to the Department for Education’s professional conduct panel. 
 
This blog post is based on an article first published in the summer 2017 edition of the NACE Insight newsletter, available for all NACE member schools. To view all past editions of Insight, log in to the members’ area of the website.
 
Date: 
Tuesday, July 11, 2017