Croydon’s ‘independent’ state school that still sets the 11-plus

Education correspondent GENE BRODIE on how selection in our schools has never really gone away

Did you know that the 11-plus is alive and thriving in a Croydon state school?

Riddlesdown Collegiate logoMany of the Year 6 pupils who prepared diligently for yesterday’s entrance exam at Riddlesdown Collegiate will have known the score. Certainly, their parents will have, knowing that 67 per cent was the target result to get a chance of entry for the daily trip to school up on Honister Heights from next September.

Croydon’s state schools have long complained, with some justification, that their efforts to climb up the exam league tables have been handicapped by what they see as the “creaming off” of the most able pupils.

Many are packed off each morning to Sutton’s grammar schools, a selective system supported by the local council’s ruling Liberal Democrats and its opposition Conservatives. Among those making the journey through the traffic jams along the A232 from Croydon to Sutton each day is the son of Tory MP Gavin Barwell.

Meanwhile, thousands of other children, predominantly those fortunate to have parents with the cash to afford the £18,000-a-year fees, are siphoned off to one of Croydon’s most successful businesses, the exam-passing factories that are the borough’s tax-subsidised independent schools.

Croydon’s ostensibly non-selective state schools are left to operate as best they can within this most selective of geographical areas.

Riddlesdown does this by putting up 48 places of the 320-pupil intake for “ability”, as a result of what they call the Ability Criterion, designed to “allow very able students to gain admission who do not otherwise meet our Primary School or Sibling Criteria”.

Thatcher: in the days when Tories merely posed with livestock

Thatcher: in the days when Tories merely posed with livestock. She closed most grammar schools

Most of Croydon’s highly academised state schools, dominated by Harris and Oasis, do not select on ability – well, not openly, anyway. Church schools select based on some religion criteria. And almost all the borough’s schools will operate a form of selection based upon ability in the first term of Year 7 if they stream pupils for subjects such as Maths and English.

Croydon’s Labour and Conservative politicians have long shied away from re-introducing the 11-plus and selective schools. Only recently, with UKIP having grammar school re-introduction as a policy, have the Tories in the south of the borough been courting the idea openly again.

It is a fact worth re-stating that the Education Secretary who signed off the closure of more grammar schools than any other was Margaret Thatcher.

Although grammar schools may have promoted social mobility for the middle classes unable to afford the type of fees that schools like Whitgift and Croydon High now charge, Croydon politicians tended to feel that the selection policy would be unpopular with many parents who fear that their children would be excluded from opportunities by the 11-plus.

Now so many of the borough’s schools have been handed over to academies, local councillors have no role in post-11 education in Croydon, so they can’t call any shots over the management of schools.

The retreat of Croydon as the local education authority in charge of secondary provision in the borough began under the Conservatives’ Andrew Pelling, who as the council’s education chairman sold Selhurst Girls’ school for Simon Cowell’s favourite BRIT School, and then flogged off Sylvan High School to carpet salesman Lord Harris. To think that, 30 years on, Pelling has been recast as a Corbynista Labour councillor who shares a platform with the likes of “Red Ted” Knight.

Harris Academy Crystal Palace badgeThe former Sylvan High, now as Harris Crystal Palace, receives more than 2,000 applications for Year 7 entry, compared to the 45 applications that it was getting as a state school in the mid-1980s. How they “manage” their pupils attainment through to GCSEs remains a matter of some contention.

The assault on local education authorities begun by Ken Baker when he was the Tory education secretary continued when Tony Bliar was Prime Minister. And so we have reached a point where the 11-plus policy is being set by schools such as Riddlesdown, as self-managing academies are allowed to decide how they select their intake.

Riddlesdown states that its first selection priority is entry for looked-after children. It then selects up to 15 per cent of children based on yesterday’s exams, from outside the normal geographical and sibling rules.

Riddlesdown School: a state school, with a selection policy of its own devising

Riddlesdown School: a state school, with a pretentious “collegiate” title and a selection policy of its own devising

With the school deemed by Ofsted to be “outstanding” for attainment, state-funded Riddlesdown can play the 11-plus card on pupils not fortunate enough to be at feeder primary schools Atwood, Greenvale, Gresham, Roke and Selsdon, creaming off the best 48 pupils from elsewhere to help perpetuate their position in future league tables.

Given the attractions of Sutton’s grammars and Croydon’s private schools, it is a competition for the best pupils that has seen Riddlesdown pursue this approach, and something which will surely drive other academised schools to similar methods.

And so the ethos of comprehensive education introduced  by the Tories in the 1970s melts away under a policy more right-wing than anything ever devised by Thatcher or Sir Keith Joseph.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Alisa Flemming, BRIT School, Charity, Church and religions, Croydon Council, Croydon South, Education, Gavin Barwell, Harris Academy Crystal Palace, Kenley, Riddlesdown, Roke Primary, Schools, Whitgift School and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Croydon’s ‘independent’ state school that still sets the 11-plus

  1. Rod Davies says:

    While there is acknowledgement of the impact of of the selective school environment upon Croydon’s young people, I am unaware of anyone who has come up with a solution. As someone whose sons have been through the process, what has struck me most of all is just how divisive it is. Not only do the children lack continuity between primary and secondary school, but the competitiveness between parents leaves acrimony and division.
    Of course those children who gain entry to the elite schools can be assure of a better than average range of opportunities in later life. Those who do not succeed of course face the immense struggle to prove themselves in an environment where it is popularly held that the school they attend is rather less and the pupils branded failure at 11.
    The school entry exams are not weighted for the age of the applicant. The child born in September has a clear advantage simply because as rising fives they enter the system earlier and have had longer to mature. Thus the September child is 11 years of age when they start to sit the entrance exams. The August child has only recently had their 10th birthday. From my observations the impact of this is that there are very few birthdays after February in the elite schools.
    In the lower rated schools the management and teaching staff have to consequently deal with students who by virtue of age or intellectual ability that need far more support. What they do not need is the appellation of “sub-standard”. In the ideal world the elite schools should have their funding reduced to reflect the lower demands on the teaching staff, and that money transferred to the lower ranked schools. It wont happen and the current arrangements will continue because the the socio-economically advantaged will lobby for their interests.
    However in a democracy we should be able to expect some leadership that acts for the interests of everyone.

  2. veeanne2015 says:

    Harris Academy Crystal Palace 2000 applications ?
    Croydon’s parents have to put down 6 choices on their application for secondary schools, or risk being sent anywhere.

    A few years ago the Croydon Advertiser detailed the number of applications for EACH of the six choices. Totally up, EVERY school had more applications than places !
    At that time it appeared that the Harris Academies were including all 6 choices in their quoted application figures – i.e. including those whose preference was for FIVE other schools.

    Does the quoted ‘2000’ applications for Harris Crystal Palace include all six choices, I wonder, or first choice alone ?

    • It’s a fair point. I suspect that you’re correct.

      If we accept that the entry applications for HCP are in this manner exaggerated five-fold, that still means that they are getting 400-ish applicants – 10 times as many when it was the unloved Sylvan High.

      What does this demonstrate? Not sure it shows anything, really. After all, The Sun’s Britain’s biggest selling daily. Doesn’t make it a source of good or ethical journalism…

  3. veeanne2015 says:

    The increase in applications since 1990 was presumably helped by the financial reward from the Government for turning Sylvan into a City Technical College, and subsequently the promised (and presumably delivered) £10m for new buildings and facilities when the academically successful CTC was turned into an Academy.

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