If May wants a meritocracy, she’s going the wrong way about it

Janet Downs's picture
 27

I want a meritocratic society, announced May, and we will achieve it by increasing the diversity of the schools system and allowing more selection.

But the evidence is clear: more school choice doesn’t improve school systems and can increase social segregation (OECD), school systems with greater levels of inclusion in schools have better overall outcomes and less inequality (OECD p455), the earlier selection occurs, the greater the effect of socio-economic background (here) and existing grammar schools generally widen the gap in attainment between rich and poor pupils (FullFact).

May ignored this evidence and managed to avoid answering a reporter’s question about the academic basis for her wide-ranging reforms.  That’s because there is none.

The Brexit vote signalled that people want change, she said.  And change is what she’s going to deliver.  She wants to help ‘ordinary working class people’ and that will be achieved by deciding at age 11 what kind of secondary school children will attend.  The ‘brightest among the poor’ would be helped by her intended measures.   But May skated over what would happen to the average and below average, whether poor or not, who comprise 75% of England's children.  They would receive an education suited to their needs.

This wouldn’t be a return to the binary system of the past, she claimed.  Her system would be more flexible allowing children to move between grammars and non-selective schools.  She made this sound a positive strategy – but for ever late-developer moved up there would be one grammar pupil moved down.   It is far better, surely, and less cruel to the once-chosen-now-rejected, to allow movement within a school rather than between them.  This is what happens in comprehensive schools.

Academies and free schools had been a ‘huge success’, she claimed.  But evidence is mounting that they are no better than non-academies.  May ignored that evidence, too.  This was followed by the mantra about 1.4 million more children in good or better schools than in 2010.  But this is because Ofsted has concentrated more on re-inspecting schools that were less than good.  Outstanding schools, some of which haven’t been inspected since 2007, have been left alone in complacent neglect.  And May ignored another piece of evidence: the improvement in Ofsted judgements has been in the primary sector where academies are a minority.  Improvement in the heavily-academized secondary sector has stalled.

May wants greater involvement in state schools by universities and private schools.   The argument that state schools would be improved by an injection of private schools DNA is debunked in our book, The Truth About Our Schools*.  But there are 3,381 state secondary schools and 16,766 primary schools in England.  This greater involvement would be spread rather thinly if all schools were to benefit.  Instead, it’s likely only a tiny proportion would actually link with universities or independent schools.

Grammars are very good at reducing the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged (FSM) children who attend them.  Who would have thought it?  Grammars select only the brightest disadvantaged children.  It’s no surprise that the tiny number of FSM children who attend grammars keep up with their advantaged peers – they’ve been handpicked to do so.

Existing grammars would be allowed to expand, May said.  This raises the question as to where she’s been for the last six years.  Most grammars are now academies and can increase their Pupil Admission Number (PAN) without consultation.  Bourne Grammar School in Lincolnshire has done just that.  In 2012, its PAN was 150; now it is 240.  This allows it to cream off even more high ability pupils from comprehensive schools in Stamford, the Deepings, Rutland and even Peterborough.

New grammar schools would be established but they would have to show that a proportion of their intake comprised children from disadvantaged working class families.  Contrary to the comments of a widely-reported 'Whitehall source', May claimed she still wanted to help those eligible for free school meals (FSM).   The source had previously said the Government was less interested in the bottom 10%.  But May recognised there were families whose children weren’t eligible for FSM but were still not well off.  The new grammars would help them, she claimed.

Except grammars wouldn’t help all poor children.  Unless children are high ability, they would fail the selection test.  And there’s the rub.  Grammar schools exist only for the top 25% of the ability range - 75% of pupils must go elsewhere.

 May appears only to want to give a leg up to the bright poor – the average and below average must be content with their lot.  Not so, she claimed, children not selected would go to good, non-selective state schools, she said.  There would be nothing to fear from children being sorted into bright and not-so-bright at 11, May implied.

But there’s a flaw in May’s reasoning.  If grammars are promoted as the elite schools for the brightest, then it follows that non-grammar are perceived as second-rate schools for second-class children.  No amount of soothing rhetoric will mask that ugly fact.

Grammars are popular, May said.  But the latest YouGov poll found just 38% supported the setting up of new grammars.

So why is May pursuing this policy with such enthusiasm when support for new grammars is not as great as claimed and when evidence shows she’s actually moving in the wrong direction?  A cynic might say  she's chasing votes from the 'ordinary working class'.  Or that it’s a diversionary tactic to move the spotlight from the school place crisis, the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, the school funding crisis, the chaos over testing and the growing realisation that academy freedoms are proving illusory for academies in chains.    Outside education, there are other looming problems: the NHS, our shrunken defence capabilities, social care, a crumbling infrastructure, increase in poverty…  And, of course, Brexit (which means Brexit).  Our cynic might say May’s grammar school policy is a sop to Brexiteer MPs – but it’s a sop which will land like a smelly, wet rag on England’s secondary schools.

*You’ve got until 16 September to win a free copy.  See here.   It also debunks the myths that choice, competition and markets are the route to educational success and comprehensive education has failed.

 UPDATE 14.45 Sign petition to say No to new grammars here.  

UPDATE 15.12   'Fiddling about with grammar schools is the policy equivalent of stressing about which kids should be placed in a punctured lifeboat as everyone else goes down on a sinking ship.'  Editor of Schools Week, Laura McInerney.

UPDATE 15.22  Labour and rebel Tory MPs are working together to defeat May's plans.  See Schools Week.

UPDATE 10 September 2016, 08.14.  The full text of May's speech is here.   Note the only 'evidence' she cites is that attainment at school is the 'overriding factor' in gaining a place at uni.  Who would have thought it?

UPDATE 10 September 2016 11.12.  The Times editorial today (behind paywall) has come out against May's madcap scheme.  She will deserve the ensuing backlash, it said.  Her desire for a meritocracy is admirable  but her idea to recreate a 'top tier' of selective school is a 'retrograde' step 'at best'.  'She risks consigning a majority of people to a second-class status', it said.   The editorial is correct but couldn't resist claiming that Gove's 'quiet revolution' (some mistake, surely?  Quiet it certainly wasn't) wrought by academization was working.  Not so.   A cynic might say that Gove has reprieved his role as Times leader writer.   Cynicism aside, whoever wrote the leader may be wrong about academization but s/he's spot on about selection.

 CORRECTION 20 September 2016 19.09.  The original article said Theresa May's adviser Nick Timothy had told The Times the Government was 'less interested' in the bottom 10%.  This was incorrect.  The remark was made by an unnamed Whitehall source.  This error has been corrected.

 

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rogertitcombe's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 15:28

Excellent article Janet. There will be many more to follow. May has released a tidal wave of shock and revulsion. I thought that Angela Rayner did well on BBC News. She is the first Shadow Education Secretary to hit the button with the arguments and show some passion as well.

The last three have been utterly useless.

 

 


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 15:31

For a PM whose first speech was about One Nation (or something similar), she can't have chosen a more divisive topic for her first major policy announcements.  Of course, as I hinted above, it could be a diversionary tactic.  While everyone's in uproar about this, she can sneak something nastier under the radar.


rogertitcombe's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 16:15

Surely a 'top performing school' is one where students do well in relation to their intake ability.

My headship school had a mean intake CATs score of 85 (-1SD).

In our annual prospectus we always published an anonymous list of GCSE grades achieved per pupil linked to intake CATs score. When you examine this list set out in declining CATs score order it is easy to see how well the school had done. In a typical intake of 100 students we would only have 12 or so with an intake CATs score above 100 (the national mean)

We had loads of A/A* grades and huge numbers of Es and Ds from students that would not have got a serious education at all in other schools.

During the period of my headship that ended with my retirement in 2003, we had an HMI inspection and two OfSTEDs all of which were passed with flying colours. The intake annual increased from 360 in 1989 to 550 (full) in the mid 1990s such that the LEA had to spend millions to enlarge the school.

In 2009 all three non religious secondary schools in the town were closed in a failed Academy plan. The two larger schools in the posh parts of the town were bulldozed for posh housing developments and my old school is to be a PFI financed NHS Health Centre, while the Academy that replaced our three schools (total annual intake 2,300 pupils) now struggles to recruit as many as my former school alone with hundreds now travelling out of town to large and successful LA comprehensives.

In what way do May's plans relate to this educational disaster?


James Coombs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 17:39

Theresa May appears to be arguing that the system is already biased (selection through houseprices) so why not acknowledge the fact and get back to providing good schools for (some) conservative voters.  (It'll take the plebs years to figure out they're not ALL guaranteed a place on the gravy train despite the advantages that tutoring provides.) 

I'm still battling to get CEM to release raw data so we can start to ask question such as whether a couple of hours of tick-box multiple choice can accurately identify an individual's true potential ... and is tutor proof ... and whilst we're about it the ICO include GL in their scope.  Realistically I reckon that the information needed to drive this debate will continue to be suppressed, as it always has, in the interests of preserving the establishment's privileges. 


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 07:49

James - I share your concern about supposedly tutor-proof tests.  If a child needs extensive tutoring to pass the 11+, then this throws doubt on their true potential.   If there must be selection (which I regret deeply) then I wonder if universal CAT tests taken at the end of Year 5 would be better than the current 11+ tests.   Roger would be able to tell us whether CAT tests are tutor-proof.   It appears from what Roger has written above that CAT tests are a reliable indicator of potential which can be used to judge progress made by pupils at secondary school when measured against their starting point.   Perhaps CAT scores could be used to decide entry to grammar school - only those above a certain score could apply for a place.   

I write this with a sour taste in my mouth since selection at such an early age is abhorrent.  But if parents realised paying for extra tuition would have no effect on their child's ability to get into a grammar (ie if selection became a level playing field), perhaps they would be less supportive of selection.   After all, it was the realization by parents that their children only had a one-in-four chance of being selected that fuelled parents' lobying for an end to selection all those years ago - something that May now wants to reverse.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 09:09

Janet - You raise really fundamental questions and you may not like my response. CATs tests, unlike SATs cannot be 'revised for' because there is no syllabus content. The providers of CATs tests, GL Assessment, only provide the tests to schools (who pay for them). However SATs and the 11 plus are really forms of IQ test.

Here is the contentious part. I believe that developing cognitive ability is an important function of all schooling, especially in the primary years. Part of the National Curriculum does that, much doesn't. Rote learning of the technical grammatical terms certainly doesn't. In fact rote learning of anything doesn't. Children can be taught to do well in CATs and the 11 plus, but the methods are just good developmental teaching. See

 http://www.letsthink.org.uk/

http://sloweducation.co.uk/

This is what all primary schools should be doing instead of obsessing about high stakes SATs used to judge schools.

The only way to 'coach' for SATs and the 11 plus would be cognitively development focussed. This is certainly possible and a good thing!

The only way to stop rich parents doing it is for primary schools to be doing it anyway.

The issue of principle is that all children of all abilities benefit from such teaching even if it does not raise them to the grammar school IQ entry threshold. This is the real reason why grammar school selection is so appallingly destructive. The children whose development at age 11 lags the IQ/CATs threshold of 115+ (top 25 percent) by an unfeasibly large margin by the age of 11, will be even less likely to get cognitively developmental teaching. All they will get is more 'skills based' training to jump KS2 SATs thresholds.

Good comprehensive schools should be developing the IQ of all pupils at all stages of development. This means rating all GCSE grades from G to A* (in the present system) as equally important, so destroying the KS4 'C' - based performance thresholds as well - Great!

Intelligence matters for everybody. There is no level so low that increasing it doesn't have huge benefits to the indivuals and to society as a whole.

The English education system is doing the opposite and producing a huge cognitive undersclass that grammar school selection will make worse.

It is all explained here

https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/bringing-b...

https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/plastic-in...


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 09:28

Roger - thanks for your reply.  I had hoped that CAT tests would prove an alternative to the present 11+ which focuses on two short tests which can be coached for.  

Perhaps the answer to tutor-proof tests is for schools to set different types of selection each year with no forward-knowledge of what type of tests would be given.  This is unlikely to happen, of course, since it would be time-consuming.  The present 11+ is crude and quick.  Or perhaps offers for grammar places could be conditional on pupils achieving above the 'expected standard' in all SAT tests (appalling, I know, and would throw secondary school admissions into chaos).   The spaces freed could be offered to pupils who did achieve above the expected standard in all their SAT tests.  Or perhaps SATS could be brought forward a year to Year 5 and entry to grammars dependent on achievement in these tests.

These suggestions are all ghastly.  Far better to have a fully comprehensive system which doesn't sort children into the deserving 'bright' and the less deserving 'no-so-bright'.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 11:47

Sorry - I meant CATs not SATs  and the 11 plus are forms of IQ test.


Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 19:01

Another serious aspect of this dire policy is the effect on teacher recruitment in the new secondary moderns which will be created. A leaked report during the last Labour government revealed a shocking lack of qualified Maths teachers in sec.mods in one west country LA. One school had noone teaching Maths who even had an A level in the subject. Grammar schools will not emerge in many shire counties so teachers will still have the opportunity to teach in comprehensives. How many, and how many aspirant heads, will choose to apply to the new 'May' secondary moderns?


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 08:02

Adrian - as I said above, the perception is that non-selective schools  in selective areas are regarded as second-tier.  This perception carries over to their pupils  (second class) and teachers.  I speak from experience because I've lived all my life in selective areas and taught in a non-selective school for nearly twenty years.  I know that anecdotes are unreliable, but ask any parent or pupil in a selective area which schools are regarded as the 'best' and the answer will invariably be 'the grammar'.  And that's certainly the perception of much of the media and many politicians.

May herself unwittingly implied this by saying grammars should share their expertise with non-selective schools.  No mention of non-selective schools sharing expertise with grammars - it appears that suggestion is absurd.  The implication is clear: grammars and their staff are superior to non-selective schools and their staff.  And according to May, it is only by allowing a few bright working class children into these supposedly superior schools that social mobility will be achieved.  Leave aside the argument that education's role in social mobility is actually limited, it appears May is only interested in mobility for the 'bright'.   She would counter this by saying she wants all children to reach their 'potential', but the implication is that if you're not bright than that potential is limited by a deficiency in brain cells.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 09:21

Exactly right Janet. This is why the 'good schools' soundbite is such hogwash. Results are mainly driven by the IQ of the pupils, some which is gained by social contagion and genetic inheritance from their parents. But it can also be developed by the schools. Schools that are good at this are the real good schools. You can't tell anything from school exam results unless all the schools have cognitively balanced intakes as in Hackney, which is a very wise LA policy in the marketised league table driven system.

But in a non-marketised system schools would vary in their exam results directly in accordance with the ability profile of their pupils. Those recruited from poor areas have lower eaverage CATs scores, so their schools SHOULD get poorer aggregated exam resuts but they could still be better schools than those that are less effective with brighter pupils from posh areas.

That's the complete nonsense at the core of the English education system.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 09:34

Of course that assumes that grammar school parents are mainly concerned about their children being taught alongside those of equal ability. They may actually be more concerned about their children mixing with 'rough kids' from the council estate even if they are bright rough kids. Grammar schools, like independent schools, keep most of those out and those that do get in often fail to progress because of all the class-based poncy uniform bollocks and trappings that work against them. That was certainly true of the selective school that I attended.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 09:57

Actually I need to qualify that. Even in Hackney some banded intake schools  are more 'all-ability' than others. This is because having established the ability bands based on CATs score thresholds, the schools still have to fill them. Also the Academy school at the top of the 'market choice', like Mossbourne (is it still?) has the power, like all Academies, to 'refine' its Admissions policy subject only to the approval of the SoS, which seems not to have been a problem. From 2013, Mossbourne changed its admissions policy.  This appeared to further 'improve' the profile of the admission cohorts. These changes are explained in 'Learning Matters'. It also has to pointed out that in Hackney as a whole the mean CATs score is likely to be about 97 so the schools most successful in the market in achieving their mean intake score of 100, must be balanced by banded schools that fail to fill their top band and so fall well below 100. I conclude in my book that despite these imperfections, the Hackney fair banding admissions system is still probably the best that can be achieved in the arkeised system. Small changes in mean CATs scores around the middle of the distribution can make large differences in percentile terms and so are likely to significantly affect exam results - as they should.


agov's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 10:02

"the tiny number of FSM children who attend grammars keep up with their advantaged peers"

But is there any evidence that they go on to anything that they wouldn't have done anyway? I understood that evidence indicated that historically working class children who attended grammar schools tended to revert to working class occupations - not that 'success' in England has anything at all to do with who you know.

"Grammar schools exist only for the top 25% of the ability range - 75% of pupils must go elsewhere."

Someone on Sky last night was saying something about half the schools in Northern Ireland being grammars - perhaps 'selection' has its own special meaning on the Emerald Isle.

"children not selected would go to good, non-selective state schools, she said"

'Newsnight' yesterday featured a Tory MP vaguely talking about sending them for vocational education.

"Our cynic might say May’s grammar school policy is a sop to Brexiteer MPs"

She might if she could produce anything to substantiate such an outlandish claim that clearly flies in the face of the obvious political logic that it is the other side, the Remoaners (fortified as they seem to have been by a vote widely-believed to have been swollen by large numbers of foreign nationals having been illegally allowed to vote in the Referendum) who need placating, bribing, and coerced into not betraying their country.

"attainment at school is the 'overriding factor' in gaining a place at uni"

Is it? I thought it was supposed to be whether someone would have the ability to benefit from a university education.

"Perhaps CAT scores could be used to decide entry to grammar school"

Presumably, if CAT scores have the beneficial effects that I understand Roger to be saying, there would be no point in selective schools as each school could be properly judged by reference to a fair assessment of individual pupil progress and attainment.

"it was the realization by parents that their children only had a one-in-four chance of being selected that fuelled parents' lobying for an end to selection"

Yes, but that was the middle class. Apparently they are now to be made even more unhappy by preference being given to working class children. It seems that it wasn't enough for Gove to alienate naturally Tory-supporting teachers, now Tory-supporting parents are to be alienated. Perhaps May will provide Labour with a miracle recovery.

"They may actually be more concerned about their children mixing with 'rough kids'"

Exactly. But these delicate feelings may not have an opportunity to arise as many of these concerned middle class folk would be excluded by preference being given to the brighter children of the working class.

This is a goody -

"We will encourage the grouping together of mono-racial and mono-religious schools within wider multi-racial and multi-religious trusts. This will make it easier for children from different backgrounds in more divided communities to mix between schools, while respecting religious differences."

Seems that in reality we are to have separate but equal development, which will be absolutely spiffing as these separate schools will be owned by the same edu-company.


agov's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 10:02

"the tiny number of FSM children who attend grammars keep up with their advantaged peers"

But is there any evidence that they go on to anything that they wouldn't have done anyway? I understood that evidence indicated that historically working class children who attended grammar schools tended to revert to working class occupations - not that 'success' in England has anything at all to do with who you know.

"Grammar schools exist only for the top 25% of the ability range - 75% of pupils must go elsewhere."

Someone on Sky last night was saying something about half the schools in Northern Ireland being grammars - perhaps 'selection' has its own special meaning on the Emerald Isle.

"children not selected would go to good, non-selective state schools, she said"

'Newsnight' yesterday featured a Tory MP vaguely talking about sending them for vocational education.

"Our cynic might say May’s grammar school policy is a sop to Brexiteer MPs"

She might if she could produce anything to substantiate such an outlandish claim that clearly flies in the face of the obvious political logic that it is the other side, the Remoaners (fortified as they seem to have been by a vote widely-believed to have been swollen by large numbers of foreign nationals having been illegally allowed to vote in the Referendum) who need placating, bribing, and coerced into not betraying their country.

"attainment at school is the 'overriding factor' in gaining a place at uni"

Is it? I thought it was supposed to be whether someone would have the ability to benefit from a university education.

"Perhaps CAT scores could be used to decide entry to grammar school"

Presumably, if CAT scores have the beneficial effects that I understand Roger to be saying, there would be no point in selective schools as each school could be properly judged by reference to a fair assessment of individual pupil progress and attainment.

"it was the realization by parents that their children only had a one-in-four chance of being selected that fuelled parents' lobying for an end to selection"

Yes, but that was the middle class. Apparently they are now to be made even more unhappy by preference being given to working class children. It seems that it wasn't enough for Gove to alienate naturally Tory-supporting teachers, now Tory-supporting parents are to be alienated. Perhaps May will provide Labour with a miracle recovery.

"They may actually be more concerned about their children mixing with 'rough kids'"

Exactly. But these delicate feelings may not have an opportunity to arise as many of these concerned middle class folk would be excluded by preference being given to the brighter children of the working class.

This is a goody -

"We will encourage the grouping together of mono-racial and mono-religious schools within wider multi-racial and multi-religious trusts. This will make it easier for children from different backgrounds in more divided communities to mix between schools, while respecting religious differences."

Seems that in reality we are to have separate but equal development, which will be absolutely spiffing as these separate schools will be owned by the same edu-company.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 11:03

agov - the Mail complained that grammars were 'squeezing out' the middle classes two years ago.   Doesn't seem to have affected my local grammar - the car park's dominated by expensive cars.  Perhaps they belong to the staff.  The 'poor' who've allegedly shoved out the middle class pupils probably have to walk instead of being ferried to school.  Except that the school has fewer than 5% of pupils who've been eligible for free school meals any time in the last six years.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 10:40

Presumably, if CAT scores have the beneficial effects that I understand Roger to be saying, there would be no point in selective schools as each school could be properly judged by reference to a fair assessment of individual pupil progress and attainment.

That is exactly right agov. There would be no school league tables either. The great fallacy is in believing that 'success in the market' always raises quality. While this is generally true for 'consumer wants', markets have the opposite effect when applied to essential public services accessible through need and entitlement rather than 'consumer choice'. In these applications markets result in a race to the bottom in terms of quality of provision and the status, pay and conditions of service of employees, while the cost to the taxpayer goes up to pay all the Executive bonuses and profits. 


agov's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 08:18

Unless it's a very large car park priority would presumably be given to staff? After the May revolution perhaps the local deserving poor will club together to get a used Yugo to ferry their bright children to school.


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 10:12

agov - sorry, I should have been clearer.   The 'car park' includes the road outside the school and the nearby supermarket which is full of expensive cars, people carriers and 4x4s at 3.30 pm.  Funnily enough, their drivers  sit in the cars and go after children arrive.  They don't seem to be buying anything.  Part of the car park on school premises is reserved for staff - more modest cars park here despite my facetious comments above.  

There are busses, of course.  But a parent would have to pay about £400 pa for their child to travel to and from a town about 10 miles away.  The non-selective school there has, as you might expect, few high ability pupils.


agov's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 10:03

Well I don't know what happened there! I only posted it once.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 10:56

agov - I was about to delete the repeition of your comment but was warned I couldn't undo the action.  I feared pressing 'delete' would cause both comments to disappear so decided it would be safer for them both to remain.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 11:24

The Times editorial today (behind paywall) has come out against May's madcap scheme.  See update above.


Nigel Ford's picture
Sat, 10/09/2016 - 13:35

To me this policy isn't a lot different to the Thatcher/Major era when schools were able to opt out of LA control and become Grant Maintained. They had more freedom than academies and free schools because they were allowed to practise full or partial selection. But I'm not sure if any actually became de facto grammar schools by making entry by exam only.

Not that I have any empathy with the independent sector but I do find it ironic that May is concerned about high fees squeezing out the upper middle classes, so is threatening their charitable status. I thought the Conservatives believed in capitalism, and if schools can raise prices and still meet demand through Russian oligarchs and the mega rich, isn't the market and capitalism working at its best?

And yet again, we have the gov't echoing Tristram Hunt's rants about the private sector helping the state through sponsored schools, use of playing fields and staff teaching, I for one would like clear demarcation between state and private and don't want their interference seeing it as more of a hindrance than help, as if they're morally and intellectually superior.

Finally, I see Mrs May as a weak, muddle headed woman, who has been almost brainwashed by her senior advisor, Nick Timothy, who is obsessed with grammar schools. May herself used to be the object of Peter Hitchens bile because she used to champion her education at Wheatley Park comp, rather than Holton Park grammar, the school it displaced.


Matthew Bennett's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 09:10

The question I find myself asking is:  how will the return of grammars and selection fit with the larger agenda, which is – and has been since 2010 – the full-scale privatisation of state-funded education (in other words, allowing schools to be run for profit)?  A key part of this agenda, obviously, is a drastic remodelling of the teaching profession – the push towards a deprofessionalised, low-pay, high-turnover workforce – and the use of educational technology, in the form of ‘blended’ or ‘personalised’ learning (computer-delivered online instruction).  This is what Lord Nash calls ‘re-engineering the shop floor’.

Given the extent of academisation in the secondary sector, the MATs (and the RSCs) will have a big role in turning the grammar schools policy into reality.  The leading chains – ARK, Harris – have always marketed their KIPP-style, ‘no excuses’ model as the fulfilment of the comprehensive ideal:  every child, no matter how poor or black, can ‘climb the mountain to university’.  But the fact is that ARK or Harris academies have no educational model – at best, one could say that their ‘culture of training’ is based on a crude version of behaviourism, as Roger has pointed out many times.  They are pseudo-schools, staffed by pseudo-teachers, whose only purpose is to secure ‘miraculous’ test and exam results by any means necessary.  There are no educational aims or principles, only marketing – and it is easy enough to change the marketing, with the help of a bright PR firm or your own ‘comms’ team.

I have already heard anecdotal stuff about MATs opening up a studio school as part of a chain, and funnelling the not-so-bright poor into this school at 14.

To be a bit facetious, I would say that the future of state education in England, if this policy goes through and is implemented by the ‘system leader trusts’, will look like this:

  • The new secondary moderns:  300 children in a room with computers, four unqualified assistants (‘apprentices’) and one qualified teacher (a Teach First trainee with a year’s experience)
  • The new grammars:  the same, only with more expensive computers, and nicer blazers

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 09:59

Matthew - I would be even more facetious.  The new non-selective (ie secondary modern) schools would be as you say but children would be turned away at the gate for wearing black suede shoes instead of leather ones and expected to wear their blazers at all times until someone in authority says they may remove them (this prepares them for their future role working in poor conditions).   The new grammars, on the other hand, would ape independent schools and have extensive facilities, acres of green playing field and teachers who've all got degrees (but not necessarily qualified teacher status) and wear gowns.


rogertitcombe's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 10:29

Matthew - You are  exactly right about the direction of travel. Where the ARK - KIPP approach schools fail is not with 'C' grade driven benchmark school performance indicators, the assessment defects and limitations of which their teaching system is designed to exploit, but with post-16 progression. I have been trying to get the data on this but it is difficult because many such schools are 11-16 and it is hard to follow through cohort progression.

What I suspect is that KIPP style 'C' grades condemn students to low grade career options rather than opening doors to STEP based higher education and careers. I am working on it, but any help would be appreciated.

As for computer based learning see

https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/why-school...


Matthew Bennett's picture
Sun, 11/09/2016 - 13:01

Janet – I’m not sure that the big MATs, or the ‘system leaders’, have much interest in opening schools with proper facilities, let alone acres of playing fields -- even if they are new-style grammars.  Remember Lord Nash’s bracing proposal that new schools could be set up in office blocks:  ‘If you go to New York, there are skyscrapers where the first five floors are offices, then there is a factory, then there is a state school, then there’s a charter school’  (https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/your-schools-got-no-room-extra-pupils-it%E2%80%99s-time-build-upwards%E2%80%A6).

Roger – I know that the number of students from ‘no excuses’ schools who drop out of college has been a feature of the debates around charter schools in the US (oddly enough Nick Gibb picked up on this in a speech last year).  Maybe the Mathematica studies of the KIPP chain are relevant here.


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