Friday, September 09, 2016

grammar schools…

So, the Prime Minister has unveiled plans to allow a “new wave” of existing grammar schools in England to expand, new ones to open and some schools to select pupils by ability.
Such a policy fills me huge anxiety and sadness.
I passed my 11-plus and was one of the “lucky” ones who went to grammar school.
I certainly benefited from an excellent grammar school education and it enabled me to become the first member of our (working class) family ever to go to university.
Whilst my education is a matter of some pride (for me!), it also carries with it an ENORMOUS sense of guilt.
If I was one of let’s say 10% of pupils (it could well have much less) who passed the 11-plus and went on to grammar school, then there were 90% who didn’t. They were labelled as “failures” – and the education system clearly only favoured “successful” pupils. This might sound harsh, but it was absolutely true in the 1960s… and, in my view, would still be the case if grammar school education was extensively reintroduced today. Clearly, there are some pupils who managed to beat the system (my brilliant brother is one of these), but they are the exceptions and do so DESPITE the system… not because of it. I have a long list of old friends who failed to make the grade…
Apparently, Mrs May believes that the ban on new selective schools has been in place too long and has held bright poor children back – “sacrificing children's potential because of dogma and ideology”. She reckons she would ask grammar schools to “take a proportion of pupils from lower-income households”, set up or sponsor a primary feeder school in a deprived area and obtain sponsors for underperforming academies.
Well, I COULD write (extensively!) about my reservations on this latest Tory education policy… but, instead, I’ll try to sum up what other people have said about such a policy:
1.    As far back as 2007, David Cameron made clear his opposition to bringing back grammar schools: “parents fundamentally don't want their children divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11."
2.    Mr Willetts (the Tory education spokesman back in 2007) also distanced himself from the traditional Tory belief in academic selection, saying it was "fantasy" to say selection at the age of 11, which takes place in grammar schools, could be fair.
3.    The current chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says the idea that poor children would benefit from a return of grammar schools was "tosh" and "nonsense"… and that such a policy would “undo years of progress… My fear is by moving to a grammar and secondary modern system - because, let's face it, that's what well have if you divide at 11 - we will put the clock back, and the progress we have made over the past 10 to 15 years will slow."
4.    Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: "By enshrining selection into our education system the prime minister is wilfully ignoring the overwhelming evidence that selection at 11 leads to a more unequal country." She also accused the Education Secretary of “a dangerous misunderstanding of the real issues facing our schools”.
5.    Kevin Courtney, leader of the National Union of Teachers, said opening new grammars was a "regressive move and a distraction from the real problems" of funding pressures and teacher shortages.
6.    Simon Jenkins (Sunday Times, May 2007): “At political meetings at the end of the 1960s, Edward Boyle (Minster of Education from 1962 to 1964) was torn limb from limb by conservative voters, infuriated that their children who had ‘failed’ the eleven-plus were being sent to secondary moderns, along with 70-80% of each age group. They had regarded the grammars as ‘their schools’. The eleven-plus, they said, lost them the 1964 election and would lose them every one until it was abolished.”
7.    Research suggests that just 3% of grammar school entrants are eligible for free school meals, compared to the national average of around 14%.
8.    Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “If you’re going to say, ‘there’s bright kids and there’s kids that are not that bright, and we need to segregate those kids, then say it’.”
9.    Education Secretary Justine Greening has recently been defending potential grammar school policies by quoting (old) research undertaken by the Sutton Trust. This has rather back-fired (according to The Independent newspaper, 8 September 2016): One of the Trust’s recent reports, “Poor Grammar: Entry Into Grammar Schools Disadvantaged Pupils In England”, found a clear correlation between higher incomes and likelihood of entry to grammar schools: the report warned that just 3 per cent pupils getting into grammar schools were from disadvantaged backgrounds. Even controlling for attainment, the research showed disadvantaged pupils were less likely to get places at the schools. Pupils were four times more likely to get into a grammar school if they attended a prep school – attended by six per cent of the population – than if they were on free school meals – which are claimed by 18 per cent of pupils.
10. Former shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said: “All the evidence tells us that, far from giving working-class kids chances, (grammar schools) entrench advantage and have become the preserve of the privately tutored”.
11. The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said: “Those who hold up grammar schools as the gold standard are less keen to talk about what happens to those children who, at the age of 11, are told they are not good enough … This rose-tinted view of grammar schools might play well for a nostalgic few on the right of the Tory party but make no mistake about it – they are not the drivers of social mobility they would like to claim”.

Apparently, the government intends to hold a consultation on ways to make new and expanding grammar schools more inclusive - so that places are not limited to families who can "pay for tuition to pass the test". Ah! So, no worries there then… and, OF COURSE, with all the pressures of SAT testing, the children are already perfectly used to pressurised learning!! “Johnnie, you REALLY must do well in this selection test… because, if you don’t, you’re likely to be doomed to failure for the rest of your life”.
If it was bad in the 1960s, it’s a WHOLE lot worse today (just ask ANY parent of ANY pupil at school today)!
I certainly don’t pretend that the existing comprehensive secondary education is working perfectly (don’t get me started on Academies!), but I DO think it’s the most sensible basis for avoiding inequality. I fear that the government’s policy will simply underline the widening gap between those who have and those who don’t.

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