Amendment to Education Bill hints at Tory backbench campaign to bring back selection

Fiona Millar's picture
An interesting , and worrying, amendment has just been tabled to the Education Bill now working its way through Parliament. Graham Brady, the passionate pro selection Tory MP wants all independent schools that opt into the state sector as academies/free schools to be able to retain their right to continue selection by ability. We know that the Conservative Party is terminally conflicted on this particular subject. Many MPs would like to return to the old grammar/secondary modern divide. HE minister David Willetts was removed from his opposition front bench education post for suggesting that grammar schools actually entrenched disadvantage rather than aided social mobility, and the present Secretary of State's foot is still presumably hovering over the pedal.

Maybe we should be grateful for the opportunity to flush them out on this issue. If the amendment is defeated, it will prove that the Willetts line has prevailed, but also beg the question of why, if selective schools are now seen as unfair and discriminatory, they are still permitted to exist in a quarter of all English local authority areas ( there are no grammar schools in Scotland or Wales and NI is in the process of phasing out its 'transfer test'). What we need now is an opposition amendment calling for an end to the use of the 11 plus. See here for an explanation of how this could be done, with minimal disruption to existing schools. To support an end to selection, please sign up to Comprehensive Future too.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 14:31

The OECD document "Viewing the UK School System through the Prism of PISA" has this to say about selection (para 55, page 13):

"In high-performing countries, it is the responsibility of schools and teachers to engage constructively with the diversity of student interests, capacities, and socio-economic contexts... data from PISA shows that creating homogeneous schools and/or classrooms through selection is unrelated to the average performance of education systems, but clearly associated with larger variation in student achievement and a significantly larger impact of socio-economic background on learning outcomes.... That suggests that selection tends to reinforce inequalities."

As Toby Young said in the Telegraph on 7 December 2010:

"The 2009 [PISA] report also suggests the Coalition is right to reject an expansion of grammar schools as the solution to Britain's low levels of social mobility."

(NB Toby Young used the discounted OECD PISA 2000 figures in December, but he can hardly be blamed since the source of the misuse was the DfE)

Niknam Hussain's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 15:22

Although understanding that this would increase the state's selective capacity, which I'm against, could the amendment supporters argue that this is no different than current Grammars converting to Academies and keeping their selection?

As to an end to current selection, if the Labour party didn't have the courage to do it with two huge majorities, don't think Cameron would even allow a hint of the thought to enter his brain.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 17:15

I don't think it is quite the same as the law currently allows existing selective schools to continue using the 11 plus but prohibits any new grammar schools being created. This would effectively create new grammar schools and set a dangerous precedent.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 17:40

When I went to a state grammar, leaving in the early 1990s, many people were there from working class backgrounds who then went on to good universities from there as the first undergrads from their families.

It is still very successful today. The secondary moderns in the area are also above average. Most people in the area support the schooling system and LSN would be chased out of town by both the working and middle class if they showed up asking for an end to selection.

Would almost be a site worth seeing but I would rather leave you guessing. The ladder is well in place for social progression in that neck of the woods, it doesn't need the rungs hacking off by the people who have made it to the top.

Billy no Mates's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 19:11

"The ladder is well in place for social progression..."

I think you mean social engineering is well in place at the expense of children’s aspirations.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 20:42

Billy - I think the secondary schools in the area I am talking about - a grammar, some high schools along with two faith schools - are serving the area well in that many children are leaving school with decent qualifications and personal development. That kind of social engineering is ok by me. It was probably true in the past that some of the high schools suffered from a lack of attention but they have improved. Many children who do well at GCSE in the high schools go the grammar 6th form if they want to progress to university - though not all - some prefer the colleges further afield. It's all fair enough it is by consent.

Of course anyone is free now to offer alternative models of education under the state - so if anyone wants a comprehensive school there it could be offered as a free school.

This is the point we live in a democracy and choose our own definition of social engineering.

I would agree with those who say the true expense of children's aspirations was where selective education was removed without offering equivalent quality education to those who were intelligent from the working class.

That is one reason (not the only one) why social mobility has regressed.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 23:30

Ben, I teach in an upper school in a very conservative part of England where the 'gold' of the county is the grammar schools. Some, very few, so called working class pupils make it to the grammar schools. The reason is not about ability. It is down to the 11+ test. This is an old fashioned test in desperate need of updating which has been designed to secure advantage for the middle class children (please look at the vocabulary tests). It is not about ability. We have proved that the exam can be succesfully coached. Thus, a large part of the exam is the ability to pay for the tuition that is necessary to ensure success.

Pupils who do not get the marks to secure entry to a grammar school are often outstanding children whose parents were not ableto pay for private tuition. The appeals process is also very much weighted in favour of those with the know how and the contacts to appeal successfully.

Yes, upper schools have been successful in helping some of these pupils to restore some of their self-esteem and move on to get some good results but you cannot know the pain the 11+ causes to families unless you have experienced it first hand. Upper schools do their best to pick up the pieces - distraught parents who often blame their children for being such failures and children who feel they have let their parents down.

You may not not like the comprehensive
school system, and that is fine, but no system which writes children off when they are 12 can ever be fine, particularly where it is an entirely unfair system where the pupils with the greatest potential are often not selected.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 11:53


I dare you to go and say to the heads of the high schools in the area I spoke about and ask them if they consider their children written off.

It is not about writing children off, I didn't get in to the football team at school but I did not consider myself written off.
What about everything else in life, is every footballer who doesn't play in the premier league written off?

I'd like to see a comprehensive national football team to test your values, perhaps Alastair Campbell can have a word with Burnley and put me on for a mixed ability team? I'm not going to be any use to them but at least I won't be written off anymore.

Billy no Mates's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 12:28

Georgina - thank you for stating the case for young people and their families, I agree with, and have experienced all of what you are saying.

Ben – Just to be clear, I am talking about rejection at 11+ and not the grammar school system per se. I don’t know which area of the country you are referring to but you shouldn’t assume selection is working for all.

In the nearby grammar school there’s an overrepresentation of well-off families and an underrepresentation of FSM. Those rejected at 11+, even if they do well at GCSE, run the risk of being rejected again at 16. Bright kids from poor backgrounds have to pay to travel to alternative 11-16 schools and FE whereas travel is free for grammar school students.

I don’t wish to enter into a debate on intelligence, but as we all know, testing at 11 is flawed – the only factor that has regressed is commonsense.

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