‘Absolutely not’ a return to the 11+, says Education Secretary. Of course, it is

Janet Downs's picture

Education Secretary Justine Greening said yesterday that expanding grammar schools would ‘absolutely not’ mean a return to the 11+ selection exam, TES reports.

It’s not know how Greening intends to select pupils if not by testing.  Teacher recommendation, perhaps?  Open to abuse.  Monitoring children’s work over time?  Susceptible to external help.  Interviewing pupils?  Time consuming.

In areas where selection still exists, the 11+ never went away.   Unreliable, susceptible to coaching and tutoring, these two short tests have been the only way to decide whether children go to grammars.

Greening defends the expansion of selection as extending parental choice.  But parents don’t choose grammars – grammars choose the children.  And in selective areas there is no choice for parents wanting a truly comprehensive school.  Selection means creaming off high ability pupils – non-selective schools in selective areas are filled with those deemed ‘not clever’.

‘…one of the areas we are consulting on is whether children should be able to go into selective schools at different ages, rather than just at age 11,’ said Greening.  Pupils can already enter grammars at 16 (Pupil Admission Numbers for eligible external pupils permitting).  But entering grammars at 12, 13 and 14 would depend on their being space for incomers.  Grammar schools usually fill their places – we’re constantly told about how many children are turned away.  Space in grammars for late developers could only be made by ejecting children who are already there.  Moving children in this way would be disruptive for both schools and children.  And for the rejected children it would mean greater humiliation than not being selected in the first place.

Separating children at age 11 and then shuffling them further throughout their secondary education until the start of two-year GCSE courses when, it would be hoped, children would not be moved from one school to another in the name of ‘flexibility’, is inefficient. 

This was recognised over half a century ago.  Schools Week reports that a junior schools minister in the early 60s, Christopher Chataway, wrote that his boss recognised the evidence against selection was too great.  Chataway later wrote:

‘He could see the injustice and waste caused by a system that tried to divide children at the age of ten into two types, which for all the tactful circumlocution might just as well be called for the clever and the stupid’.

This Education Secretary was not, as you might expect, a Labour minister.  It was Edward Boyle, Education Secretary in a Conservative government.   His opposition to grammars cost him his career.

Greening has two options:  the first is to promote a policy which is divisive and wasteful; the second is to show the same courage as Edward Boyle and reject the extension of a system which, to paraphrase Boyle, sorts 11 year-olds into the bright and the dim. 

 Defeat 'garbage' grammar policy - complete the consultation.  Details here.

UPDATE 11 October 07.07:  Greening appears not to have read the consultation question paper.  There is no specific question about moving children into grammars at other ages other ages.  The suggestion appears in the consultation document at the bottom of  a 'menu of options to ensure that new or expanding selective schools contribute in a meaningful way to improving outcomes for all pupils' (p25).  Greening is, therefore, right to say she's consulting on moving children in and out of selective schools at different ages (although the 'out' isn't mentioned, of course).  But respondents would have had to plough through the 25 page consultation paper to find one sentence referring to it.  (Note: this update was amended and expanded on 12 October at 08.27 in response to agov's comment below).


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Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 10/10/2016 - 18:28

This policy has all the appearance of not being properly thought through before its announcement. In my view it is now already in the process of retreat, however a desperate retreat could result in even more damage than the original proposal.

Having noted that selection at age 11 through a test set by all pupils in the LA area is opposed by almost the entire education profession and establishment, May is now looking at ways of trying to maintain the initial popularity of the idea (before the disadvantages emerged) while trying to neuter the segregation argument that is so powerful. The way to do this is to make moving pupils between schools look just like another version of streaming within a school.

Isn't there a school that set itself up a few years ago as A, B & C stream sites each with a different uniform and curriculum? This was a terrible idea, is it still going on?

The DfE obviously scorns educational research, even that which it finances such as by EEF. However far from supporting streaming between schools EEF gives short shrift to any streaming at all. See


EEF finds that even streaming within a school has a negative effect on outcomes, so it is not surprising that 11 plus selective systems produce the same negative outcomes only worse.

What I suspect is that the DfE will lean on its favourite MATs to run selective education systems within their own empires. Each MAT would designate a quarter of its schools as 'grammars' and use CATs tests to fill them accordingly in Y7. This leaves it open for them to run a continuous 'relegation' and promotion system between their schools, which could take place any time between 11 and 16.

Janet is right to foresee the difficulties. While promotions would not be opposed by parents, relegations certainly would be, which would make it a hard sell for the MATs to the parents.

The MATs will see other problems with the idea. At least until forced Academisation is complete, all the schools in the MAT chain would still have to compete with the local LA comprehensives. If the latter are any good then parents would indeed have a true choice between a grammar/secondary modern and a comprehensive system.

The MAT 'secondary moderns' that lose their brightest pupils to the MAT 'grammars' would also be under more pressure to meet the DfE benchmark performance targets, so many more Academy OfSTED failures would result, as pupils were exposed to even more abusive and ineffective teaching methods.

So as Janet points out there is no clear way ahead for this policy. Labour has done well so far in uniting political opposition to selection at age 11, however the arguments for continuous 'streaming between schools' are easier to put a populist spin on, requiring the opposition parties to learn a lot more about education in order to rebut the argument. There is a role here for LSN.

Nigel Ford's picture
Mon, 10/10/2016 - 19:34

It doesn't help that Labour are hardly in a position to criticise the Tories on grammar school policy, since 2 of their top spokespeople, Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti, opted to send their offspring to private schools, so double standards are the obvious retort. Emily Thornberry also sent her child to a partially selective state school about 14 miles outside her constituency.

With Theresa May wanting to show her empathy with the working classes, she could have trumped Labour on comprehensive education by stating she had attended a state school which turned comp while she was a pupil, and was proud to have promoted several members of her Cabinet who had been through the comprehensive system, proving it was conducive to reach the higher echelons of gov't.

Instead she's reverted to the narrative of a bygone age which has alienated many in her own party.

Stupid woman.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/10/2016 - 07:08

There's no question on the consultation re moving children into grammars at any age other than 11.  Has Greening read her own consultation?

agov's picture
Tue, 11/10/2016 - 11:40

There sort of is -

Q: How should we best support existing grammars to expand?
Q: What can we do to support the creation of either wholly or partially new selective schools?
Q: How can we support existing non-selective schools to become selective?

16. These measures will increase the number of state school places provided by good and outstanding providers – albeit the places will be selective. To ensure that we also increase the number of good and outstanding places in non-selective schools, we intend to apply conditions on new or expanding selective schools. These conditions may vary from school to school but we propose to use the following menu of options to ensure that new or expanding selective schools contribute in a meaningful way to improving outcomes for all pupils:


. Ensure that there are opportunities to join the selective school at different ages, such as 14 and 16, as well as 11. This might be facilitated through the partnership or sponsor arrangements with other schools.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 11/10/2016 - 14:22

It is always wise to question the premise upon which an assertion is made, especially if the assertion depends on the premise for its rationality.

The premise here from the DfE is that it is best to use market forces to generate a mixture of good, mediocre and poor schools, then close the bad ones and allow the good ones to expand and/or produce satellite offshoots. We are now so used to this being the defining premise of the education debate in England that we fail to challenge it or consider any alternative.

The alternative is to delegate the administration and regulation of all state schools to elected Local Education Authorities, whose responsibility it is to ensure by all possible means that all schools provide high quality education for all their pupils. Closures and expansions would be necessary only in response to demographic changes.

It is easy to forget that this latter premise is that which underpins almost all the education systems in the developed world except in England and the US, and only in England since the 1988 Education Reform Act, Blair's Academy enabling Act and the abolition of LEAs, which laid the foundation for the Global Education Reform movement, a failing neo-liberal educational experiment. See


Now revisit the first premise.

"The premise here is that it is better to use market forces to produce a mixture of good, bad and poor schools, then close the bad ones and allow the good ones to expand and/or produce satellite offshoots. We are now so used to this being the defining premise of the education debate in England that we fail to challenge it or consider any alternative."

Now for schools substitute: hospitals, police forces, fire services or old folk's care homes.

Bear in mind that Blair's hospital Foundation Trust Act was based on precisely this premise and that this fatal weakness is at the core of the current and ongoing crisis in the NHS.

Given that this approach is such obvious nonsense when applied to other essential public services why would anyone choose to apply it to the education system?

Questions to neo-liberal dogmatists K. Baker, M. Thatcher and T. Blair.

This is Roger Titcombe's Universal Law of degradation of quality in essential public services.

Whenever privatisation and marketisation are applied to essential public services the result is always a degradation of quality and increased cost to the taxpayer consequent upon the unforeseen perverse incentives that marketisation always generates. See


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 12/10/2016 - 08:19

agov - I was referring to the questions on the consultation form.  Respondents are asked to read the consultation document first and you're right that that there is a sentence (quoted in your answer).  It's incuded in a list of suggestions which are supposed to 'ensure that new or expanding selective schools contribute in a meaningful way to improving outcomes for all pupils'.

These suggestions were supposed to be considered when answering the three questions you quoted - questions which presuppose the expansion of selection is a good thing.  They also show a surprising lack of awareness of existing grammars.   Existing grammars can already expand if they're academies (all academies can do so) and grammars can already allow eligible external candidates to apply for sixthform places.  

I shall amend my update to make it clear I was referring to the consultation questions only. 

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