BBC documentary on grammar schools was one-sided, say Oxbridge academics

Janet Downs's picture
 69
TES reports that the BBC has received a formal complaint about its documentary, “The Grammar School: A Secret History”.

The objectors, comprising Oxbridge academics, historians and educationalists said the BBC had a “statutory obligation” to present both points-of-view about selection particularly now that selective education is “back on the political agenda.”

The documentary, according to the academics, painted a rosy picture of grammar schools. It used “emotive and value-laden language… accompanied by romantic piano music” to elicit a positive response. It was “largely uncritical, factually careless and reliant upon unrepresentative personal testimony” which presented grammar schools as, according to the programme’s script, a “dream – the dream of giving the very best education to Britain’s brightest children.” This dream, according to the programme makers, was “swept away” in the 60s and 70s.

One of the objectors to the programme, Professor Richard Pring, Lead Director of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education and director of education at Oxford from 1989-2003, told TES that the programme ignored research showing that selection at age 11 couldn’t be justified. This view is supported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which found that high-performing schools systems tend to be those that don’t segregate pupils according to ability or geographically.

Michael Pyke, of the Campaign for State Education (CASE), told TES that he would like to see the BBC giving a “more balanced view of education”.

 
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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 15:40

Ha ha.

IF ( and that's a big IF) the BBC really has broadcast a programme sympathetic to Grammar Schools, then that could be seen as it having belatedly got round to providing some token balance for the thousands of hours of coverage critical of selection.

I'm not in favour of selection myself, but I'm certain the BBC has spent more time condemning it than supporting it over the past thirty years. I'd like the BBC to give a more balanced view of education generally: and that would involve putting out some programmes more sympathetic to Michael Gove's reforms.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 16:30

I did not watch the programme so I cannot comment on it. Can someone who did tell me whether it mentioned the fact that, while some pupils did very well in grammar schools, most of the pupils who went to grammar schools during the 1950s were failed by those schools?

Those who do not know that in their heyday grammar schools failed most pupils should read the Gurney-Dixon Report "Early Leaving"(1954) into why more than half of those who passed the eleven plus left grammar school early with few if any exam passes. Or they should read the Crowther Report "15 to 18" (1959), particularly the chapters on the sixth form, which also show how most of those going to grammar schools did not go on to the sixth form, for example there were 157,000 in selective schools aged 15, but only 52,000 aged 17.

Those reports are easily found in full on-line. They were established by the Conservative government of the 1950s because grammar schools were not working well for most of the pupils who attended them.

Richard's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 16:55

They're a bit late aren't they? Last night's broadcast was a repeat from some way back.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 17:51

Since I posted I have watched The Grammar School: A Secret History Episode 1 on the BBC iPlayer. I must say that I found it very well made and interesting, and also fair and honest. I thought it was a classic BBC documentary that was well worth watching for anyone with an interest in education. The first episode was almost entirely about grammar schools during the years before the implementation of the Butler Education Act 1944, so I look forward to watching the second episode which will go into the debate that led to the closing of most of the grammar schools during the 1960s and 1970s.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 22/10/2012 - 21:33

Here here Patrick.

Here's a link to the program:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0192q6y/The_Grammar_School_A_Secre...

I think the summary at the end is correct. The grammar school dream of taking children from the bottom to the top only started to exist after WWII when children could get grants for uniforms and so on. But the fact that universal secondary education came along at the same time meant that it would rapidly have to change.

Could somebody post on this thread when episode 2 appears please?

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 07:59

I was one of the signatories to the letter.
Richard, the complaint was made shortly after the programmes were first broadcast. It has taken an extremely long time to get the BBC to respond to the complaint, hence the decision to go the press now.

In my own case I thought the programmes failed on three main counts. First,they paid hardly any attention to the 75%-80% of children who were prevented from going to grammar schools: that might be OK if they were running the "Secret history of the secondary modern school" in tandem (or any time since or in the near future) but they didn't.
Secondly, they skirted round the huge tail of under achievement within the grammar schools which is well-documented , which I witnessed at my own school between 1956-1962, and which Patrick alludes to above.

My third argument which I put to the programme's director before filming started was
about social mobility.
I don't think you can talk of the grammar schools' contribution to social mobility and compare it to that of comprehensive schools today without referring to the fact that the working class was three times the size it is today (75% of the population)
How many of the equivalent of today's working class (i.e.the poorest 25%) went to grammar school and succeeded there? The answer is a tiny proportion. Very few passed the 11+ and of those who did a significant number left with no examination passes.

Final word. A quote from from the late 1950s from an inspection report for a Dorset grammar school.
HMI to Head
"Why do nearly 30% of you pupils leave with no O level passes at all?"

Head to HMI
"There will always be some who fail to rise to the challenge of the grammar school"

Statistic elsewhere in the report: the school took in the brightest 17% of boys locally.

It's that aspect they missed and that is why we complained

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:42

Thanks, Adrian. My criticism of the programme matched yours. It didn't focus sufficiently on majority of pupils that didn't get selected at 11. As Jon Coles wrote in TES: "Before 1972, the majority took no examinations at all: 91 per cent of 15-year-old school leavers passed no O level or CSE."

Instead, the programme created a cosy picture of a selective system which catered for only a small part of the population and implied that this "ladder" which allegedly allowed children to escape from the working class (which at the time was the majority of the population) had been kicked away in the 60s.

But social mobility in the 50s and 60s was not driven by education alone. Employment played a much larger role. It was possible for a 15-year-old to leave school almost immediately after his/her 15th birthday and walk into a job. It was this ready supply of employment which allowed manual workers, clerks etc to earn enough to buy houses - owner-occupation almost automatically brings with it middle-class status. It was at this time that parents realised their children only had a one-in-four chance of gaining a grammar school place (less if the child was female) and lobbied for a fairer system of education which didn't separate children into "bright" and "not so bright" at age 11.

That system was comprehensive education.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6290252

Patrick Hadley's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 10:24

Adrian, as might be guessed from my first contribution to this thread, I am no supporter of grammar schools. I saw the way my highly selective grammar school in the 1960s failed most of the boys who went there, and I have not the slightest doubt that the comprehensive system is far better at giving pupils from the poorest families the chance to use education to rise out of poverty.

However I do not feel that the first episode was biased. The programme makers did interview: people who were rejected by grammar schools; those who could not afford to take up a place in the years before the Butler Act; and those who went to grammar school but left early. If we could turn the clock back of course I think it would have been far better to have established comprehensive schools in the early decades of last century which took pupils up 16 or18 and gave everyone a chance to take public examinations. If that had happened then we could have abolished all local authority grammar schools in 1944, but it did not happen. Grammar schools in the first half of the last century did provide a chance that had not existed before for some poor bright boys and girls to get a decent education. That they did nothing for the vast majority cannot be denied, but the story of those who benefited is worth telling.

I will wait to see the second episode with interest to see if the debate about the closure of most of the grammar schools is dealt with fairly.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:57

Have you seen part 2 Janet? I haven't.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 08:54

Public support for grammar schools is surprisingly large.

This poll from 2010 is illustrative of the scale:

Asked if they would support the introduction of some new state grammar schools, especially in urban areas where there currently are none, 76% support the idea, 17% oppose it and 6% don't know.

http://www.ngsa.org.uk/news-2010-01.php

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 09:20

That's because the question is asked in a superficial way which doesn't engage people with their obvious consequences. If you ask in a way that makes the respondent actually think things through the results are different.

I had quite a good chat to John Redwood about this topic here:
http://johnredwoodsdiary.com/2012/10/08/social-mobility-and-grammar-scho...

My interchange with him is about 3/4 of the way down (it's not the bit about Dot Cotton). I love the fact that he allows free speech!

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 09:40

Rebecca - the question asked in the ICM poll commissioned by the National Grammar Schools Association was:

Q.2 Some people believe there should be some new state grammar schools, especially in areas where they don't currently exist. New grammar schools would give parents and their children more choice of schools in the state system, though some believe the whole state system should be comprehensive. Would you support or oppose the introduction of some new state grammar schools, especially in urban areas where there currently are none?"

So, the question linked grammar schools with "choice". But it neglected to say that it would be the school doing the choosing.

I'm waiting for the opinion poll that asks the question:

"New secondary modern schools would give parents and their children more choice of schools in the state system, though some believe the whole state system should be comprehensive. Would you support or oppose the introduction of some new secondary modern schools?"

I'm not sure that 76% would support the idea.

http://www.icmresearch.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2012/05/OmGramma...

Patrick Hadley's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 10:10

Exactly. I suspect that by asking a question as loaded as the one asked on behalf of the National Grammar Schools Association you could get the result that more than 76% of the population are opposed to the opening of more grammar schools. Surely everyone who visits this site knows that they should take the results of polls commissioned by interested parties with a large pinch of salt.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 12:06

At GCSE we teach children about good and bad research/ survey questions in maths. This one would be an obvious candidate for being a 'biased' question. Children would be asked to rewrite it to make it better.

We would expect them to rewrite it like this:
"Would you support or oppose the introduction of some new state grammar schools, especially in urban areas where there currently are none?"
Better candidates would expected to be aware that wider information may be needed for people to make informed decisions (not the kind of wider information in the original question of course) and they would also be expected to spot a misuse of results from the survey if such results were used to convey general support for grammar schools rather than support for grammar schools in the particular circumstances the question related to.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 15:14

How can you say that a question framed in the style

some people believe.......xyz.........others believe......abc......

is loaded?

ICM are a professional outfit, abiding by best practice.

Who commissions a poll isn't relevant, so long as the pollster is legit.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 16:10

Rebecca - what disturbed me about the ICM poll was not just the loaded question but that it was produced by ICM which is a professional and trusted pollster which seeks "to use the very best survey methods, suitable to each survey our clients ask us to conduct."

I would, therefore, have expected them to have phrased the question in a different way omitting the reference to "choice" which is seen by most consumers as a good thing.

I wonder if the following question would be regarded as fair:

“Some people believe there should be some hypermarkets, especially in areas where they don’t currently exist. New hypermarkets would give consumers more choice. Would you support or oppose the introduction of new hypermarkets especially in urban areas where there currently are none."

http://www.icmresearch.com/category/media-centre

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 16:17

Janet

What's wrong with your analogy is that it omits the vital element that would run something like ... though some believe that hypermarkets crowd out the traditional corner shop.

This would equate to the element in the ICM question ...though some believe the whole state system should be comprehensive.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 16:21

I'm sure you can come up with examples if you bother to try Ricky. It' doesn't matter how legit the pollsters are if the questions are clearly biased as here and/or the results are being misinterpreted then the results should be dumped.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 16:25

Okay so Ricky you could have a question like:

"Some people believe that increasing the number of grammar schools will increase choice as students who achieve the 11+ will be able to choose whether to go to grammar schools or not.
Some people believe that increasing the number of grammar schools will reduce choice as there will be more schools without good top sets so many students will not have the chance to access top sets and because schools will be smaller and so will offer less subjects.
Do you think increasing the number of grammar schools will increase choice?

agov's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 10:02

How about 'Previous experience indicates that a large percentage of middle class children will be too thick to be selected by ability for a grammar school education. However some people believe grammar schools provide more choice. Would you support the introduction of grammar schools?'

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 13:20

Patrick. I was interested in your views and I do accept that the programme was not entirely one sided but I still feel too little weight was given to the points I made earlier.

On the issue of polls about the return of selection I believe one a few years ago which specifically mentioned that children would have to sit an examination at 11 to decide whether they were to go to grammar schools or secondary modern schools resulted in a sizeable majority against selection.

I have always felt that polls about grammar schools/selection should contain a second question.

"Do you believe your child/children would pass (would have passed) the 11+ if it was to return nationally ?"

I'd love to know the result given that the 'yes' figure should be no higher than 25% if the sample had been correctly drawn!

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 15:20

Going back a bit (12 yrs), but here's a TES poll with a similar result:

An opinion poll carried out by FDS International for the Times Educational Supplement (7th January) found that 55 per cent of parents in social classes A and B supported a return to selection. This opinion was shared by 53 per cent of skilled workers. Support for selection dropped among so-called 'working class' parents, but even in this category, 42 per cent supported selection by ability at 11. (Please note, this is not just the retention of selection, but 'a return to selection'.)
(The Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2000.)

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 16:21

As is usually the case, Ricky fails to give a link. However, here's the tiny article in the TES published 7 January 2000:

"GRAMMAR schools remain popular with the professional classes. Over half support selection by ability at 11. However, overall parents are split equally for and against selection. The greatest support for grammar schools can be found in the Midlands (54 per cent), while in Wales two-thirds oppose the return of the 11-plus."

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=329506

It would be interesting to view the actual poll to find out how it was conducted. Perhaps Ricky will find it and give us a link.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 16:33

Ricky – reply to post above re the omitted section in my hypothetical question (no reply button). You suggested an insertion which would make the question read:

“Some people believe there should be some hypermarkets, especially in areas where they don’t currently exist though some believe that hypermarkets crowd out the traditional corner shop. New hypermarkets would give consumers more choice. Would you support or oppose the introduction of new hypermarkets especially in urban areas where there currently are none.”

Your insertion, “though some believe that hypermarkets crowd out the traditional corner shop” doesn’t quite match the tone of the poll about the introduction of grammar schools. It raises a negative connotation which might make respondents think about the consequences.

Keeping the tone the same as in the grammar school poll, the question would read:

“Some people believe there should be some hypermarkets, especially in areas where they don’t currently exist though some believe that hypermarkets displace old-fashioned high streets. New hypermarkets would give consumers more choice. Would you support or oppose the introduction of new hypermarkets especially in urban areas where there currently are none.”

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 17:15

It would be interesting to view the actual poll to find out how it was conducted. Perhaps Ricky will find it and give us a link.

Janet, the web was still a toddler back in 2000. Doubt it's there.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 17:58

Nice try, Ricky. However, the TES article is available, dated 7 January 2000. You never know, the actual poll might be in the archive of FDS International. In any case, a link to the DT article would have been helpful.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 23/10/2012 - 18:32

I remember.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 09:19

Nice try, Janet but the Daily Telegraph archive only goes back to June 2000 and the story relates to January of that year.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/archive/2000.html

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 13:02

Ricky - if the DT archive doesn't go back further than June 2000, how did you manage to quote from an article which appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2000? Did you type the quote word-for-word for an old copy of the DT you happened to have at the back of a cupboard? Or have you got an army of little gnomes who can search micro-film for you?

I also asked if there was an archived copy of the actual poll at FDS International. Perhaps the little gnomes can unearth it.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 21:19

I've been thinking about the 'social mobility which was created by grammar schools' image.

I think the program correctly picked up that this did not exist before the second world war. My oldest aunt got into grammar school in the 1930s but simply could not go because her family could not afford the uniform. So grammar schools were a tool for social segregation rather than social mobility until the mid 1940s.

That did change after the second world war but what was the extent of that change?
There were grants for uniforms and so on and my mum got to grammar school. She then went to university (in 1956 I think) and from there on to do a PhD but I'm wondering if perhaps she was the exception that proves the rule that that didn't happen? There were no grants for university then so poor people simply couldn't go. Mum only got to go because she got a rare and extremely competitive London scholarship. According to my memory she said there were about 50 London scholarships each year - most of which went to middle class children whose parents could afford private tuition. I'm not sure if she was up against students from private schools too. Anyway she did get one and that was how she got to university and she couldn't have got there any other way.

I lost mum a long time ago so I can't check any of the context with her. But when was this magic period where grammar schools were powerhouses of social mobility? When were university grants introduced?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 11:27

I think the program correctly picked up that this did not exist before the second world war.

The grammar school generations of Harold Wilson, Denis Healey, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher were before WWII (though in Thatcher's case, overlapping with it). These are surely high-profile cases of social mobility.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 12:12

Harold Wilson: Father was a Chemist and a politician, mother was a school teacher.
Denis Healey: Father was a qualified engineer.
Ted Heath: Father was on to be a successful small businessman.
Margaret Thatcher: Father owned two grocery stores, was a politician and was a senior figure in the church.

Ted Heath is probably the best example you've given Ricky. He got a scholarship like mum although it's not clear if he had to in order to go as she did. I suspect the rest were middle class and could afford to pay for their children to go to university and could and would have afforded to pay for them to go to private schools had their not been good grammars around. Where's the social mobility in that?

If these are the best examples you can come up with then it strikes me that you have as little insight into how most of England lived then as you have shown into how it lives now.


I'm beginning to suspect that it was the advent of free university education which precipitated the downfall of the grammar school system. Prior to that much of working class Britain couldn't see the point of going to grammar school and were perfectly happy to focus on preparing for work instead. Once going to grammar school led you to a free place at university that changed and the fact that children's futures were being decided effectively at 10 (which means that parental education and wealth are far and away the biggest factor) this segragation became an issue. The change in the labour market and the rise in unemployment changed things too I think, as a secondary modern education which led to a well paid job was much more attractive than one that didn't.

Let's see if this is what comes out in the second episode.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:07

Rebecca

In 1932 the proportion of pupils given free places (scholarships) at grammar schools/grant aided secondaries in England was 48%.

Richard Hoggart (I expect you'll find some way of misrepresenting him as a toff) attended Leeds University in the mid-thirties and remembers in autobiography around a third of his cohort being (like him) from working class backgrounds.

Not only was education a major engine of social mobility in the 30s, it was pretty much the ONLY engine of social mobility.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 16:08

Rebecca,you're right to point out that the working class background of many famous ex-grammar school pupils is regularly exaggerated to support the return of selection.

I was once told that Barbara Castle was another example of such social mobility: in fact her father was a tax inspector who sent her to Bradford Girls' Grammar as a fee-payer. Denis Healey's father became principal of Keighley Technical college incidentally.

Another example is Rhodes Boyson who, like Harold Wilson, loved to play up his w/class background but his father was a full time Labour agent and councillor who bought his own house in the late thirties and was chairman of governors of the grammar school attended by his son.

As I am sure you know, Jackson and Marsden: Education and the Working Class (1962)
is excellently on the reality of working class schooling at the time compared with the mythology which is so widespread today.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 27/10/2012 - 08:57

"I’m beginning to suspect that it was the advent of free university education which precipitated the downfall of the grammar school system. "

"The change in the labour market and the rise in unemployment changed things too I think, as a secondary modern education which led to a well paid job was much more attractive than one that didn’t."

Then there was the rise of contraception, the NHS and welfare, so the gap between the mass poor narrowed. Before this happened ordinary families who were struggling with poverty, mortality and so on had no interest in their children becoming professionally middle class by any route other than working their way through professions.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:30

Ricky in the 1932 my aunt got into grammar school.

But she couldn't go because she couldn't afford the uniform. This was really common. It was a position which was endorsed by a society which expect the children of poorer families to start bringing in an income young. They couldn't see the point in sending their children to grammar school.

This was before contraception and the welfare state Ricky. Do you have any insight into what it was like?

Grammar schools were certainly not the only tools for social mobility. My grandad (mum's mum) was bought up in Spurgeon's home for fatherless boys - a brutal place not really out of the Dickensian era in 1910 when he was there. But it had two redeeming features. Firstly he lived and secondly due to philanthropy he learned to write. Granny was illiterate as were many people at that time who were unable to attend school due to their families needs of them or the disruption of WWI. Learning to write was social mobility Ricky.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 11:47

That's four then?

Researchers at the universities of Oxford and Bath Spa used data from the National Child Development Survey, which has tracked thousands of adults now aged 53, since they were born and published their results in the British Journal of Sociology.

They found children from working-class homes were no more likely to move up the social ladder if they went to a grammar school rather than a comprehensive. Attending a grammar school did improve a working-class child's chance of earning slightly more than their parents. But children from middle-class homes, who went to grammar schools, also earned slightly more than their parents had done.

However, across the sample, the advantages of going to a grammar school were cancelled out by the social disadvantages experienced by those who went to secondary moderns. These adults did not have a different social class or earning power to their fathers.

I hardly think chucking in four politicians demonstrates social mobility.

Things moved on considerably from the 1940s. By the time those who Andrew Mitchell might describe as “Plebs” took the tests in the 60s and 70s, kids spent their final year in their middle-class-dominated and aspirational primary school learning to pass the 11-plus.

Nowadays things are even worse. On top of the institutional coaching within primary schools in grammar school areas, those who can afford it pay for additional coaching. In other words, what was probably in the 1940s a straightforward test of innate ability has become a test of the quality of training that you can afford. Grammar schools may have delivered a degree of social mobility to a tiny minority in the past, but aspirational middle-class parents of the 2010s are far too adept at manipulating the system to allow this to be the case now.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 16:33

In "The Uses of Literacy", Richard Hoggart (cited by Ricky above) described poignantly how his scholarship to a grammar school set him apart from his family. This was one aspect of grammar schools that was played down in the documentary - how passing the 11+ often meant that working class children became separated from their kin.

This separation was actually a theme in the first edition of Coronation Street - Ken Barlow coming home from university to working class Wetherfield pursued by his middle-class girl friend.

And Tony Harrison writes of the distance between him, "the 'scholar'" and his father in his poem, "Book Ends":

"Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drank, what's still between's
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books."

http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=7834

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 17:34

As a family of 6 living on 1 academic wage in the late 70s and early 80s we got every benefit there was going. Junior academic wages were low then - lower than a typical factory wage. My friends came from all walks of life - I wasn't shielded from society as it was. When I went to Cambridge I'd only been abroad once (on a school trip to France) and I was very unsophisticated relative to the other students, not having had the money to do anything.

I felt very socially mobile. Cambridge was a great equaliser. Although I hadn't travelled I was more self reliant, independent and used to alcohol than most of my friends. I fitted in far better than I ever had at schools and we flourished together.

But of course I wasn't socially mobile at all, because my parents were both academics.

It actually took me a good decade to properly realised that and it was only because I was working with a wide variety of teenagers on Oxbridge access that I believe I came to properly see the differences between the issues faced in going away to university by children of the same wealth from the same community - some of whom have had a parent at university and the others of whom haven't. I think most people in society don't see this.

These days I live a much more humble life than most of my contemporaries from Cambridge and the most obvious reason for that is that they had help to get started in life (to get on the properly ladder and to make good decisions) and I didn't. But the thing is I don't mind at all. I'm not envious for them and I don't want to be them. I'm totally comfortable being me and with them being them.

I'm so at ease wherever I go and with whoever I meet and it's hard to be that way in practice if you have a lot of money. It changes things. I choose to spend time with our children rather than chasing money because I genuinely believe it matters so much more (although of course the children disagree :-) ). I have to ask friends and neighbours for favours a lot because I don't have the money to pay for things and I like the way that brings us together. If you've got lots of money it's very easy to completely miss big chunks of community and society. I think it's easier to be poor and to walk into a room full of rich people and fit in easily than it is the other way round.

Sorry - waffling. Better get my act together to get to a planning meeting.

George Macreadey's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 17:50

'High academic standards are important.....

For individual pupils,qualifications open the way to further educational opportunities and
enhance employment prospects......

A debate that simply revolves around school structures may unduly narrow the terms of the discussion,encourage the inaccurate view that significant problems are easily solved
and lose sight of the broader purposes of education.'

The Effects Of The Selective System Of Secondary Education
In Northern Ireland 2000 D of E report

'We make use of a unique natural experiment where the distribution of students by
ability across secondary schools was modified within Northern Ireland at a particular point in time (1989)........

In 1989, elite schools were required to accept pupils up to a new (larger) admission number determined only by “physical capacity”, where “physical capacity” was defined on a school-by-school basis by the administration.

This natural experiment allows identification of the effect of an increase in the share of pupils selected into elite schools on average educational attainment, by comparing average outcomes just before and after the reform as well as the distribution of average outcomes across local areas just before and after the reform.

The attractiveness of this experiment is that the de-tracking reform is the only change that occurred in the treatment region during the period of interest. Most educational expansion reforms have several very different components whose effects cannot
be separately identified.

To the best of our knowledge, the reform in Northern Ireland is the first where it is possible to isolate the net effect of an increase in the relative size of the elite
track.......

the Northern Irish initiative examined in this paper is particularly interesting: there was a large increase in the number of pupils admitted to elite track whereas, in other respects, the educational system remained unchanged.

Analysing the discontinuity in the distribution of educational outcomes
across cohorts and local areas, we show that the net effect of the ‘de-tracking’ reform was a very significant increase in examination results at the end of compulsory schooling (i.e. GCSEs, age 16) and ‘high school’ (i.e. A-levels, age 18).......

Overall, this paper provides unambiguous piece of evidence that widening access to the more academic track can generate very positive net effects.'

http://www.eale.nl/Conference2010/Programme/PaperscontributedsessionsG/a...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 18:03

"Analysing the discontinuity in the distribution of educational outcomes
across cohorts and local areas, we show that the net effect of the ‘de-tracking’ reform was a very significant increase in examination results at the end of compulsory schooling (i.e. GCSEs, age 16) and ‘high school’ (i.e. A-levels, age 18)…….

George this appears to say that getting rid of grammer schools (de-tracking) has a very positive effect on exam results.

Is this what you intended to communicate?

George Macreadey's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 18:46

'The tracking of pupils by ability into elite and non-elite schools represents a common, but highly controversial policy in many countries. In particular, there is very little consensus on how large the elite track should be and, consequently, little agreement on the potential effects of further increase in its size. This paper presents a natural experiment where the increase in the relative size of the elite track was followed by a very significant improvement in average educational outcomes.'

http://www.eale.nl/Conference2010/Programme/PaperscontributedsessionsG/a...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 19:01

This 'natural experiment' isn't relevant to UK education today as it traces a result which occurred when secondary modern education was a non-academic education, so it was obvious that moving children from it to grammar schools would increase the academic attainment of those who moved.

George Macreadey's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 20:01

'The raising of quotas on grammar school intakes was controversial because of the fear
that grammar schools would ‘cream-skim’ the highest ability students from other secondary schools and that all would suffer as a result.

A concern voiced by the Northern Ireland Economic Council (1995) was that the reform could undermine the selective system:

‘The educational impact of allowing the grammar school sector to expand needs to be questioned. The fundamental point of such a system is that educating the more academically able is seen as being of benefit to both the more and least able.

By definition, it would seem that allowing students who previously would have entered a secondary environment to attend a grammar school must inevitably dilute the perceived value of selective education...’

......increasing the share of the elite sector seems to generate positive externalities for mid-ability students, but no negative externalities for top ability students......

The basic problem is that more selective areas (or countries) differ in many
respects to those which are less selective.

Hence, a comparison of outcomes in more or less selective education systems does not provide a credible strategy for evaluating the true effect of educational tracking.

Indeed, there is little convincing evidence about how variation in the relative size of the elite and non-elite track affects educational outcomes (see for example Manning and Pischke, 2006, Figlio and Page, 2002, Betts and Shkolnik, 1999).

This is the substantive question that we address in this paper......

This natural experiment allows identification of the effect of an increase in the share of pupils selected into elite schools on average educational attainment, by comparing average outcomes just before and after the reform as well as the distribution of average outcomes across local areas just before and after the reform.

The attractiveness of this experiment is that the de-tracking reform is the only change that occurred in the treatment region during the period of interest.

Most educational expansion reforms have several very different components whose effects cannot be separately identified.

To the best of our knowledge, the reform in Northern Ireland is the first where it is possible to isolate the net effect of an increase in the relative size of the elite track.'

http://www.eale.nl/Conference2010/Programme/PaperscontributedsessionsG/a...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 26/10/2012 - 20:52

We have discussed this paper and its context on this and other education forms George.

It's a weak paper - referring to increasing the numbers of children in grammar schools as being 'de-tracking' is only one of its many - er - shall we put it politely and call them 'peculiarities'.

In essence I agree with its conclusion:
"that widening access to the more academic track can generate very positive net effects" in certain circumstances.
The most obvious of these circumstances being firstly that you have a two track system with some students having access to a highly academic education and the other not having that access.
If you have such a system then it is pretty obvious that moving children from the lower track to the higher track will lead to greater academic attainment. It is likely to have other consequences - such as lower vocational and skills attainment and even lower academic attainment for those left behind but it may not if other factors such as a concurrent increase in funding come into play.

However this study has no relevant to England now because we are talking about moving children from a comprehensive education - where they have access to academic routes already - into a two stream system.

It's not the same at all, hence the study is irrelevant.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 27/10/2012 - 11:41

It might be relevant to places such as Kent, where they are talking about increasing the number of Grammar school places by opening "annexes" etc.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 27/10/2012 - 12:53

Ricky - see my post below 27/10/12 8.56 am: the Northern Ireland 'reform' had a negative effect on average performance in 'non-elite' schools (ie, the secondary moderns). The relevance to Kent, therefore, is that increasing grammar school places might further worsen results in non-grammar schools. The Education Endowment Fund last year found that the county in the South East with the greatest cluster of below-floor schools by a long way was Kent, a selective area.

http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/EEF_target_school...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 27/10/2012 - 14:40

Whether or not such annexes will be of overall benefit to students depends on their consequences for neighbouring schools. If a neighbouring school loses its viable top end because a grammar school nearby has expanded and so children their no longer have access to good sets in the subjects they are good at then there is likely to be damage overall.

The objectives of change need to be carefully consulted at a local level to ascertain whether or not the changes will achieve those objective overall (or whether there are better ways of achieving them). You can't make sweeping generalisations about what will be good from a distance. If you try to that says a lot about your ignorance.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 27/10/2012 - 15:14

Janet - But as I understand George Macready's point, the 'net', overall, system-wide result was positive - with more children getting more & better GCSEs.

That means that the "negative effect" on the "non-elite" schools was essentially cosmetic & possibly reputational rather than real.

Certainly if a secondary modern were to lose its 5% most academically able students to the local grammar, its average exam performance will go down in comparison to what it would have been if it had retained those more able students.

But, so what? Who cares what its averages are? What surely matters much more is whether the kids are getting better results. And if that 5% are getting better results at the grammar school, then that's where they should be.

I can see that if the loss of the 5% caused the rest of the secondary modern kids to do worse.... then there might be grounds for concern. But does the research show any deterioration in the performance of the kids at the secondary moderns over and above that which is accounted for by the loss of the 5%?

It didn't seem to me that it did.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 27/10/2012 - 15:16

Then presumably you'll be happy to leave it to the people of Kent to decide on their annexes.

Good.

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