My son failed the 11+. If I’m honest, the grammar school was near the bottom of my six choices as I am committed to comprehensive education. The school’s website promised that no additional preparation was needed and I took them at their word. He was upset after the test. He had met boys there who had been out of their primary schools for up to three weeks, taking practice papers after years of specific tuition. I would want to see evidence of the children who get in with no additional preparation, cited by Tim Leunig at ResearchED – I have never met one. Not when you look into it properly.
If I’m really honest I was making a political point, but even as a grammar cynic, I was shocked by the reality of selection. Selection deemed our child, the son of two Oxford graduates, to be secondary modern material at age 11. Because you can dress this up any way you want to, and May has certainly attempted to do this in her speech, but a return to selection at 11 separates most children away from grammar school opportunities and expectations.
The consultation describes a “more challenging and targeted curriculum” for the pupils selected for grammar provision. (p28) May’s claims that children could transfer at age 14 don’t stack up – would children leave the grammar to go to the “non selective” school age 14 to free up a place? I doubt it. And if the secondary modern pupils have studied a less challenging curriculum in KS3, they will not be able to catch up. I also worry about movement to grammar at age 16. Is it not really important that a range of Sixth Forms continues? Teachers are attracted to schools where they can teach A Level. If we move towards large grammar-only sixth forms, there would be a knock on effect for 11 – 16 provision in the other schools. One achievement of Gove’s era was the expansion of an academic curriculum for all. Selection would end that, according to May’s own documents.
Thankfully my son has the highest of target grades in his comprehensive and his university dreams remain intact as most of their Y13 go on to Russell Group universities.
Comprehensives work because we have high expectations for all students.
A comprehensive I worked in ran a (tiny) RCT recently, as we educated one twin while his brother went to the grammar school an hour away. The twin who came to our comprehensive scored a grade HIGHER in every one of his GCSEs than the twin selected for grammar education. Without high expectations, a school is lost. And what better way to lower expectations than to tell parents and teachers and the students themselves that their school is for those who failed a selection test? Or for teachers at a grammar to assume that their “least able” are only likely to get a B, but that’s probably enough. Because selection encourages a fixed mindset in the students selected and their teachers, as much as in the students who were not selected and theirs.
So look for those comprehensive schools with students who go on to a range of universities and apprenticeships, which have the highest expectations for your child and all their friends. And if there are areas without such schools, politicians should look across the globe to research what works and why. Kent tells us that grammars are not the answer and that the green paper does not “set out plans for schools that work for everyone”. MPs, Headteachers, Ofsted, Teach First, Teaching unions and even Policy Exchange agree. I would like to remind Ms May that it is Gove, not she, who has advised us not to listen to experts, and recommend that she starts listening.
Please respond to the consultation and make your voice heard. I found this very difficult to do. Questions that seemed to miss the point included
“How can we support existing non-selective schools to become selective?”
“Are these the right conditions to ensure that selective schools improve the quality of non-selective places?”
I think I found a good answer for this one, though: “Are there other conditions that we should consider as requirements for new or expanding selective schools, and existing non-selective schools becoming selective?”
My answer: A non-selective school should only be allowed to convert to become selective if it has a partner secondary modern lined up to be selective of those children who don’t pass. ONLY joint bids should be sanctioned or this will be very messy.
If an Academy chain plans this, they would need approval from governors, parents and teachers at both schools.
And I suspect that, like the grammar pupils selected without any additional preparation, such schools will be as rare as hen’s teeth and so this particular episode of “Yes Minister” could be brought to a close.