Even the tabloids are recognising the dire effects of "school choice": it creates socially segregated schools

Francis Gilbert's picture
It's worth taking a look at the tabloid press in the last few days. For the first time in a very long time, they are starting to wake up to the consequences of a school system which is blighted by social segregation. The News Of The World published an article which highlights the potentially tragic results of having a school system which promotes choice -- and social segregation. The opening of the article says:

"A DANGEROUS racial split is still blighting Britain's schools, despite top-level warnings ten years ago that it could spark hatred and violence. We can reveal that ethnic segregation of pupils - seen as a trigger for Britain's worst race riots in 2001 - is just as bad as ever. In fact, in some areas we found the splitting of primary schools into either nearly ALL white British children, or almost NONE, has actually grown far worse."

This is something that many commentators have been saying for years: a free-market in schools leads to ethnic segregation. The NOTW highlights Oldham, but you could just as easily say the same of Reading, Kent, many areas in London and other major cities in the UK. Promoting school choice fractures communities. It's the one place where a decent, civilised society has to step in and say social integration is more important than the selfish desires of certain parents.

Similarly, the Evening Standard's campaign to get London reading contains the same underlying message: when you get all social classes mixing together in schools, there's a win-win situation for everyone. It's a campaign that tries to entice professionals into schools in socially deprived schools to help out with pupils' reading.

Barnados wrote the most powerful report recently on this subject; in Unlocking The School Gates, they show quite conclusively that it's social segregation that is causing the poorest groups in our society to lose out in the education "game". But is the current government listening? It's agenda of encouraging schools to become Academies and pushy parents to set up Free Schools is actually making the situation far worse. It's a disaster in the making.



Despite communities mixing in our multi-cultural towns, many children are being taught separately - sometimes in classrooms less than a mile apart.

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Chris's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 00:44

Personally, I think the only fractured thing is your argument. You say that a school system in which there is "segregation" has negative consequences on education. But surely, a hetrogenous, Orwellian, standardised system is equally uninspiring and in fact worse for education as a whole.

Each child is unique, in their talents and their aspirations- any responsible parent will know this. And, because of this, any responsible parent will say that the school system that works best will be the one which best caters for their own child's need. For many, the comprehensive system is desirable; other children will learn best in a single sex environment; obviously those with special needs, or learning disabilities will have the most fulfilled education if they are in a specially designed environment; and, an issue over which I have great concern, some of the most able pupils will achieve more when surrounded by like-mindedly intelligent individuals.

At the end of the day, every parent should want the best for their child, every child is diverse, each child has a diverse set of needs, so surely parents want a diverse set of schooling options?

I also find the core point of your argument incongruent. You are saying that a community would be better if all the local community went to the local school. To me, it seems that if this were to be the case, then society would be very introvert. Surely, in some inner city areas, every child at a school would be from a lower-income background? and surely in "middle england" every child at a school would be from a higher income background? Does this not seem to be more discriminatory?

I also disagree with the findings in the Evening Standard- the communistical, one-size-fits-all attitude to education neither allows for the less academically gifted to recieve the extra attention they deserve and need, but nor does it let the most academically gifted recieve a higher standard of education they deserve and want.

A report published by the LSE (http://cee.lse.ac.uk/ceedps/ceedp52.pdf) supports these findings. The report focuses on grammar school education and says:

"Our results indicate that the most able pupils in the selective school system did do somewhat better than those of similar ability in mixed ability school systems. Thus the grammar system was advantageous for the most able pupils in the system, i.e. highly able students who managed to get into grammar schools. On the other hand, lower ability pupils did not do systematically better or worse in the selective school system".

What is more, it goes on to say "Many commentators have argued that the ‘comprehensive experiment’ failed in England and Wales, reducing standards and educational achievement. To some extent our findings support this."

And that: "The shift to mixed ability schooling did reduce the educational achievement of the most able" whilst also "[The introduction of comprehensives] disproportionately benefited less able (but wealthier) students."

Now, I'm sure we will all agree that it is unfair for a less-gifted, but socio-economicly well-off child to do well, whilst the gifted, but socio-economically disadvantaged do not. Surely then, we need [academic] selection to ensure that there are still means for those children to do well, when otherwise the "best" teachers would teach in a private school, in environments which are, compared to grammar schools, extremely discriminatory based on class.

At the end of the day, if we aspire for a system in which everyone leaves school with the same standard of education we would be allowing the wonderful gifts, talents and aspirations of every single child to turn into a futile, uninspiring and lacklustre example of a society that does not appreciate individuality, expression or personality.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 07:30

This report using the National Child Development survey longitudinal data found that overall comprehensive systems are as good for social mobility as selective systems.

It is worth reading the whole thing but this summary states:

"Finally, however, the selective system as a whole yields no mobility advantage of any kind to children from any particular origins: any assistance to low-origin children provided by grammar schools is cancelled out by the hindrance suffered by those who attended secondary moderns. Overall, our findings suggest that comprehensive schools were as good for mobility as the selective schools they replaced".

Proponents of selective education usually prefer to ignore the fact that the majority of young people attend secondary modern schools, often starting with a sense of failure if they have not passed the high stakes 11 plus test. As a result most children are not well served by these divisive systems.

Dan W's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 11:53

Can you please provide some evidence that children start with a sense of failure? It was only because I failed the 11+ that I spent the next 5 years working to get into a Grammar school. Either way this is not what the argument was meant to be about here. How do you respond to Chris' rather insightful point that by making all children go to local schools, there will inherently be segregation?

Nigel Ford's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 12:46

I think you've answered your own question here Dan. It was because you felt a sense of failure through not passing the 11+, your objective of working hard for the next 5 years was to make the entry grade to the grammar school. If you had been in a fully comprehensive education system you wouldn't have felt that stigma.

Dan W's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 17:52

I wouldn't say I felt like I'd failed, my only feeling was to be as good as anybody else. Either way, call that failure if you like but it certainly seems a good thing for me. I got to the end of my five years at a comprehensive and I chose to stay on at that comprehensive. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take the subjects I wanted to there so I promptly moved to Reading. But that was my choice, it was an option available to me because I had worked to deserve that option. I am now achieving far higher grades than my friends at my old comprehensive and I would not have had this opportunity without a Grammar school regardless of whether I got in at year 7 or year 12 as I did. Also I disagree with this idea that everybody would do well under a comprehensive system. This isn't an attack on either the current system or the one you propose, but quite honestly I believe that your achievements in education are down to your own hard work and your attitude towards learning. I've watched so many people at comprehensives (people who never even attempted to get into a grammar school) throw away their chance at an education in order to muck around. So honestly I'm sure there are a handful of people each year who do a grammar school test, fail and don't do well. But I think the real problem is children's attitude towards education. Those who have the right attitude do well. Those who do not have the right attitude do not do well. Regardless of which school you are at be it private, grammar or comprehensive your achievements can be high if you work for it. So I think there's no real argument against the current schooling system, more that there is an argument against people's attitude to learning. If you fail the 11+ for whatever reason, there is nothing that says you can't get a horde of A*s at GCSE and above. I honestly believe that if people do fail the 11+ and don't get good grades that it is simply because they are not intelligent enough to achieve those grades and probably should never have entered an 11+. Now I know you're going to throw facts and figures at me, but I don't care. That is my opinion and it is formed from watching people at comprehensives.
Now, back to the point of racial segregation, can somebody please respond to Chris' comment that if we all went to local schools there would be segregation based on wealth. I think it's a point you've all ignored and I think are being a bit naive to overlook. What is your view on it?

Alan's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 16:38

I think it would better incentivise 5 years of hard work if solid arrangements were in place for entry into grammar school on grades attained i.e. published arrangements between schools - wishful thinking.

Locally, joining the grammar school sixth form from other schools requires ‘at least’ 6 or more GCSEs at C or above with Maths and English with ‘at least’ 4 grades at B or above. For A levels, students require grade B in subjects of study - admissions for Year 12 is 20ish.

According to our Neighbourhood Police Profile, in 2010 of 1434 students only 127 were able to study A levels in upper grammar school – our designated FE college.

Spot the bottleneck:


School Number of Places

Secondary school A 618
Secondary school B 275
Grammar School 541
Total 1434


Grammar school 127

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 13:06

Chris, I would point you in the direction of David Willetts famous speech in 2007 in which he unequivocally stated that, on the evidence alone, it was clear that grammar schools do not benefit bright children from poor backgrounds. Grammars do - and largely always have - educated the children of the more comfortably off. They segregate along class, and ethnic, lines and their very existence inevitably depresses the educational and life chances of the majority who cannot access them. Tory leaders, past and present, have had to come to terms with their parental unpopularity which is why I doubt that selection will ever be reintroduced on a national level.
I also think you have a strange idea of comprehensives. Orwellian? Standardised? Failing the very bright? Where comprehensives can draw on students with a wide range of attainment, everyone benefits - and the bright certainly don't lose out. These schools are often diverse in provision and very dynamic on the artistic, musical, sporting, debating, theatrical etc etc front. Of course they could be even better - but our nation forever wastes its energies obsessing about the school 'choice' issue. ( Although I have never quite understood where exactly the 'choice' resides in private/grammar or indeed faith education; in each case, it is the school and school alone that does the choosing.)
Of course, many community schools are surrounded by selective schools; these are, in effect, secondary moderns. 'Comprehensive' is really a misnomer.
As for Dan W's point, I think he should read some of the comments from head teachers in primaries in selective areas, in the Comprehensive Future pamphlet, ' Ending Rejection at 11+'. According to these heads, who experience the same process year in year out, taking and failing the 11+ has very damaging effects, and it doesn't even have a particularly positive impact on some of those that pass it, either!

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 17:29

Fiona you have a point that grammar systems have involuntary consequences for parents and children, but faith schools need not involve any selection. They should simply expand to fulfill demand if they are oversubscribed, or other exisiting schools should convert their provision. I don't care if other schools shut because of this if it is driven by demand from parents and children. I have also agreed that communities should have some say over use of selection and should be be able to abolish it with the reciprocal of restoration or introduction, all contingent on democratic ballot.

This problem of "failure" at 11+ is nothing to do with the examination itself apart from the case of the child who has deliberately not tried. Leaving that exception aside the use of the word failure reveals a flaw in the world view of the labeller. We are not judging the worth of children through this process we are attempting to evaluate IQ and attribute accordingly to streams of education. It is an inadequate understanding of how to treat children including how to support them that causes this problem

I could probably never play football or any other sport as a professional but I do not consider myself a failure in consequence.

It's time for some relfection on the language used and the beliefs producing that for the 11+ "failure" accusers.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 17:33

My last post should be addressed to Melissa

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 13:34

You might want to read this pamphlet which includes some quotes from primary and secondary head teachers in primary and secondary modern schools in selective areas who talked about the impact the 11 plus had on their schools and their pupils. We had many more examples than we could use. Some heads even talked about students who were still reluctant to apply for certain universities when in the sixth form because of their fear of being rejected again.

There were also some horrendous stories about the pressure in the primary schools, children bed-wetting, not wanting to go to school in Year Six, then throwing up in the tests because of the anxiety and fear of failure that is now commonplace in selective areas where 'preparation' for this ordeal can start in Years 3 and 4.

I have heard all the arguments about failure being an important lesson to learn in life but I am not sure it is necessary to do learn it, in this way, at such an early age.

T. Gianni's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 17:39

"Promoting school choice fractures communities."

So your answer....Make them all Comprehensive?

Sure, lets remove all the public schools, faith schools, grammars, secondary moderns, academies and free schools. These have all got to be converted to Comprehensive.

Comprehensives for all!

No league tables either because that will promote movement of well to do families into the catchment of the better academically preforming schools; thereby fracturing the community by the loss of these 'well to do' and leaving behind the parents that do not have the means or simply don't worry about irrelevant things like... what school their child goes to. Promoting social segregation.
Don't forget to tell the Ethinic communities that prefer to live near each other for reasons of family, safety and cultural community that they can no longer reside near each other, as this leads to cultural segregation in their local schools.

Luckily, the wealthy who can afford to make sure that their children can have the very best education will escape abroad, as Education in England is now based on eutopian principles, not on the reality of its population and its diverse complex needs.

While we're at it let's make sure that we ensure all children in our schools always receive a sticker saying, 'Well done for taking part' in the race, and not the historical 1st, 2nd and 3rd place certificates, as the other children will feel demotivated, rejected and detest sports. Schools sports teams will be mixed for this same reason; no more 1st and 2nd teams; no more demoralising reserve or last team positions.

Oh, and of course we can no longer stream in these one size fits all Comprehensives either as it will leave those children in the lower sets feeling demotivated, and that would lead to umm.........another form of segregation?

Children that arrive at school not speaking English, only their mother tongue, will no longer have extra English classes to help them quickly gain access to the curriculum, as that would be thought of as cultural segregation.

Quite honestly, I find your views incredibly unrealistic. From your pulpit you decree Comprehensive Education is the answer. Wouldn't a proper journalist investigate all sides of the arguement? Wouldn't he/she try to look into the complexities that have led to the current sitiuatuion, and the complexities that still exist. Have you gained first hand experience of the secondary schools that we have in this country. Looked at the incredibly hard working staff, the childrens attitudes and their behaviour? Have you experience of how these differ from school to school and town to town across the whole country?

'....and the bright certainly don’t lose out.'

Personally, I was educated in an ex-Grammar school, which had been reduced to a mediocre Comprehensive. The best academic schools locally were all church schools, not being of that faith access was denied. So I attended the local mediocre Comprehensive. Where I had to dumb down to be accepted by my peers, to fit in and be accepted, as most children I know did. Even being in top sets I was generally bored, not stretched, or challenged academically. Nothing was expected. Guess what... I eventually left with mediocre results.
To This Day.....I know I lost out! As bright children all over the country are still losing out to this.

Dan W's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 17:57

Also, purely out of interest can I ask all of you what your experiences with the education system are? Have you worked in it? I just wondered what caused you to be so passionate about change for the system. Not that I'm criticising, although I disagree with your collective view, I do find it comforting that some people wish to debate the education system out of concern. Additionally I'd rather like to see students get more of a say in the way education is set up in the future.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 18:05

We can't speak for all the contributors on this site. The founders are a mix of parents, teachers, school governors, all with a passionate interest in their local state schools.

T. Gianni's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 20:00

Dan, I am a Parent and also have experience as a school governor and of working at the chalkface.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 18:02

Most faith secondary schools and academies are comprehensives. Free schools are supposed to be all ability schools too.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 18:57

Fiona perhaps you could define "faith school" since elsewhere on LSN they are criticised as selective? If this is a complex task please let us discuss a definiton?

I am sure that oversubscribed faith schools of all types are willing to take all comers if they are funded. It is a problem of many comprehesives, in my opinion, that they do not develop the subjective values of the parents and children in the pupils, which is a matter addressed in faith schools. They also do tend to lower academic performance. How do you propose to solve this problem in a coercive comprehensive system?

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 19:25

T Gianni - where do you get your strange ideas about comprehensives from? Since when was our school system utopian? And why would the wealthy flee abroad when there are plenty of schools for them to access - at anywhere between £12,000 to £30,000 a year - in this country?

Ben - as for trying to recast the 11 plus exam as a simple matter of 'difference', I couldn't disagree more. There is no better example of an Orwellian/controlling state then the grammar school system. No parental choice whatsoever; simple a matter of dividing children into successes and failures before puberty.

In general, the free school lobby puzzles me. They all insist on the importance of non selection and all ability schools, but defend all selective schools with unyielding passion.

Very odd.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 19:39

Once again I ask: who is a faliure? Who creates the label of failure? Who gives it? I don't think it ever came from the proponents of 11+ but prove me wrong.

"....simple a matter of dividing children into successes and failures before puberty. "

An Orwellian state would select on compliance to political belief: where is this tested in 11+? I suppose you could suggest the political process of supporting certain schools by parents and wider groupings but it still is not tested directly of an 11 year old.

Probably free school supporters would support selection openly but I think they are experiencing cognitive dissonance or doublethink, I am not sure which.

Is Burnley Football Club an Orwellian state for not including wheelchair users in the first side?

Alan's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 17:14

No one can prove you wrong because you have no scientific argument

T. Gianni's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 19:33

Perhaps if you read my full post you would understand the context. Perhaps?

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 19:43

I read it very carefully. I can't comment on your personal experience. However, I am always treat such phrases as ' mediocre comprehensive' with caution. What was the wider educational context of your school? And would you have preferred to be at a first rate secondary modern?

Regarding the suggestion that you have strange ideas about comprehensives, I was referring in part to your claim that they never have any competitive sport. I am not v interested in sport, I have to admit, but every year, I sit through ours chool prize giving evenings clapping all the children and teams who have come in first, second and third in a vast range of competitive sport, within the school, within the borough - and beyond.

And again, where do you get the idea that the comprehensive ideal is inimical to one to one catch up tuition? Its an excellent idea - in so many areas. Schools just need more resources. Sadly, they are having to cut a great deal, in the current economic climate.

Finally, I think you will find many comprehensives - including faith schools - make extensive use of setting, if not streaming.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 20:10

So basically selection on sporting ability ok but selection on academic ability not ok?

T. Gianni's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 21:25


In reply to your first paragraph...
A mediocre Comprehensive, is one that is neither top or bottom. The one in the middle... average academic results.
I would of prefered to have gone to a grammar but that choice was not available. All schools were comprehensive in the suburb of London that I grew up in. The best academic results belonged to schools which selected on faith. So I had no access to them. Back then you could apply to any school in your borough, catchment restraints were not in place.

Your last three paragraphs clearly show you do not understand my post. In turn I had to look up the word....Inimical. (Another word I can add to my limited vocabulary...Thx)

The reporter of this thread advises the reader of the 'dire' consequences which follow by allowing "School Choice" such as Social and Ethnic segregation, and leaving children to feel like failures.

His answer is to convert all schools to Comprehensives.

I tried to show him his perfect vision.... A country with ONLY comprehensive eduaction that can be accessed by all.

This would mean getting rid of all existing schools as we currently know them and converting them all to comprehensives.

I was also suggesting what else he would need to do, in his ideal school environment (Eutopia), to ensure that it does not suffer form the same Social and Ethnic segregation, and prevent children from feeling like failures, which he strongly suggests the current system does.

And perhaps make him think of the complexities involved.

I hope this helps to clarify it for you.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 21:36

A country with only comprehensive education - like Finland, the most successful school system in the world.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 21:50

Perhaps if UK were equivalent to Finland we could be comprehensive. Highly ethnically homogeneous, one language for effective purposes, 80% belong to a particular chrisitan denomination at least nominally. Not sure this is a good comparison UNLESS you advocate moving UK society towards this structure.

Helen Flynn's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 14:39

Hang on, we don't have to look overseas, what about all the counties in this country that do not have grammar schools? Are people brought up in these counties languishing in terms of ability and not being able to get on in society and work because they had no access to grammar style education?

If your grammar school thesis held any weight, people from Kent and other totally selective counties would represent the English master race!

The evidence is staring us in the face, right on our own doorstep. That's why it as at best bonkers and at worst cruel that no political party will take the bull by the horns and end academic selection in the odd areas where it remains.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 07/06/2011 - 21:35

It is possible to select by faith and still have an all ability intake ( the technical definition of a comprehensive).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 07:10

Human beings share most of their biological characteristics. Genetically, there is no such thing as race, so I think Ben must mean culture when he speaks of ethnicity. Schools are one way in which culture is passed on - along with families, religions, and so on. If schools, however, find that they are divided on the basis of religion, skin colour, class and so on, then this can lead to a segregated society and the demise of a shared culture.

Ben, you mention Finland and its one language. Language is a sensitive issue in Finland. This is the current situation which shows a respect for, and an ability to cope with, other languages:

"Traditionally we (the Finnish education system) have stressed that immigrant students can be taught in their own language. We have done this for reasons having to do with our own history, when we were part of Sweden and wanted the right to be taught in Finnish. Even today, when Swedish is the native language of only 5% of our population, we have extended them the same right to be taught in their language."

However, Finns recognise that greater immigration brings problems: "But with a growing number of languages, it may not be possible to continue to be able to provide this right to be taught in your own language. And then there is this larger question of how to balance respect for your native language with the importance of learning the Finnish language to be able to function in Finnish society."

So, up until now, Finns have managed to accommodate (admittedly small) number of languages in their schools. With a growing number of languages they are now discussing how to balance mother tongue with the official language of the country and how best to accommodate this in their fully-comprehensive system.


Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 07:40

To take up Janet and and T. Gianni's and Ben's points simultaneously, Finland demonstrates the crucial difference between 'comprehensives' and a comprehensive system. In the UK, the former are often struggling within a landscape defined by selection - and this throws up many of the problems that T Gianni is referring to.

I certainly do not see a comprehensive system as inimical to intellectual, or any other, kind of excellence. In fact, it should promote it. Fundamentally, this is a discussion about frameworks. Those who support a comprehensive system do so because it does not encourage undue competition between schools or between families, in terms of accessing these schools. It does not pit child against child at too young an age.

Once again, FInland points us in a useful direction here. Once children are at their local school, then the state concentrates on giving them - all - an excellent education, based, in part, on much higher degrees of individual attention - and tracking - than we do in our own system. Inevitably, there will be some element of competition: in tests/public exams etc. but not too early on in a child's school career.

Finally, it might be that Finland's social structure is not just the reason why it is able to organise along genuinely comprehensive lines, but an ongoing consequence of an education system that is not obsessed, as our own seems to be, with differentiating children along social, ethnic, religious grounds.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 07:43

You are confusing abilities which by necessity have to be caught young, and those that do not. Academic ability will not be lost if it is not recognised early. In fact, the OECD has published data which shows that selection reduces a country’s overall education performance because it impacts unfairly on those already disadvantaged (and the earlier the selection takes place, then the greater the negative impact).

However, there are some abilities which do have to be recognised at an early age. In some cases, like boys who sing in Cathedral choirs, this ability would be lost forever if not spotted early because boys’ voices break. Therefore if we want to hear beautiful choral music then boys (and girls) have to be selected for Cathedral schools on the basis of their musical ability. This is also true with such things as ballet.

I’m unsure about selecting for sporting ability. 90% of secondary schools in England now specialise in a particular area of the curriculum, such as technology, languages, science, sport or the performing arts, and I don’t know if such widespread specialisation really nourishes the area in which the school is alleged to specialise. Do schools specialising in sport turn out more sporting champions than those schools which do not? Has any research been done on this? A 2009 report* queried the value of specialist schools but there may be other data which contradicts this. I'd be interested to read it if there is any.

* http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7842726.stm

T.Gianni's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 08:52

Ah, so what your implying Fiona is, so as long as a selective comprehensive (on faith in this case) has an all ability intake, cultural segregation against ethnic minorities is acceptable.

Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 12:54

In response to T Gianni's post (below) my kids attended a local undersubscribed CofE comprehensive. Few people, Christians or otherwise, want their kids to attend a faith school if it's underperforming.

When the new head, helped by a positive local press and more middle class (non church going) parents started supporting the school, there was a higher intake of Muslim kids as well as Black Christians.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 14:03

No I am not saying that at all, simply pointing out that most faith schools and academies are comprehensives in the sense that they don't select by ability. The term comprehensive is often used to describe what is actually a community /local authority school.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 14:19

To clarify my comments above - I am not suggesting that it wouldn't matter if academic ability were unrecognised at an early age. It should be spotted and dealt with in the same way as special educational needs are. However, placing high ability pupils in selective schools at age 11 is not necessary and can have negative effects (see OECD data above).

In Finland's fully-comprehensive system teachers track and assess each child continuously. Teachers then devise the best educational tasks for that child - teaching is expected to match the pupil's abilities. That should be the norm in the UK, whatever system the pupil happens to be in.

In the case of certain abilities, such as a treble voice which is lost at puberty or ballet which needs rigorous training, selection on ability is necessary.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/06/2011 - 14:24

The adjective "Orwellian" has been used by two posters to describe a system of which they do not approve. I should be interested to know their definition of Orwellian.

Helen Flynn's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 14:23

How you can equate a specialism such as football which is about a particular physical talent with the universal entitlement that is general education is beyond me. I suppose your argument therefore follows that if someone is very academically able, they should be removed from those who are not also academically able, as it may affect the academically able (in terms of their academic training) in an unfavourable way. Now, I can accept that at the age of 18 or even 16, when much of a child's development has occurred, then for students to be able to concentrate on their vocational and/or academic strengths and interests amongst like-minded and similarly motivated students is appropriate and highly desirable, not least so that they can get jobs. ( And, by the way, let's not forget here that the vast majority of research evidence shows that if you are very academically able, your ability will not suffer any detriment if you are placed in a comprehensive setting.)

But education between the ages of 4-16 is about so much more than academic rigour. It is one of the reasons why I think that Gove has been utterly wrong in turning the Department for Children, Schools and Families into the Department for Education. It's transformation rather assumes that between the ages of 4-16 during the long hours spent at school, all that is needed is for children to be taught subjects and pass exams. The idea that this education should then preferably be conducted in an environment where you never have to consider or rub along with those who are different to you: what they may be like as people; how they learn; what their needs are; what their world view is, etc, is almost like a nazi concept--a form of eugenics!

How on earth do the academically bright then go on to understand the not-so academically bright, and vice versa, in broad communities incorporating a diverse mix of people with differing talents, abilities, interests and motivations? Put simply, how do we go on to value each other as human beings, if we are never shoulder to shoulder with people who are different from us, if we never have to consider different modes of being?

Of course, we generally do not have those broad communities alluded to above in England, largely because many of those who hold the levers of power pretty much benefitted from some form of segregated education. They then seek to repeat this model endlessly: if they have done well by the system, then the system must be good for everyone.

Except it isn't.

Education should be about more than raw achievement in a set of subjects. At its core, it should be about respect. The 11+ deprives children of respect for them as individual and unique human beings at a very young and vulnerable age. That's why most other civilised countries in the world have abolished it, including our neighbours: Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why we continue to tolerate it in the 164 strangely distributed pockets of grammar education that remain is beyond me.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 16:42


The results from England show that on average the LEAs with grammar schools do better for all pupils in their catchments areas than those without.
So on that basis whether or not selection is bonkers - no.

But what about the people who want to run a non selective school that offers a grammar curriculum? Like WLFS? Why are you against that too?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 18:14

Please provide a link to this evidence.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 19:28

Ben -

Why don't you do yourself a favour and enlighten yourself about Free Schools by clicking on Fiona's new post here, which links to Channel 4 News website giving us an update on the current Free School situation

As you will see, and has been pointed out on this site but deliberately ignored by you, of the 24 schools in the pipeline to open this year, nine rank in the top 50 per cent better-off areas in England. Four of these are existing independent schools applying for state funding under the Free School status. That suggests many of the children who will benefit from the new schools enjoy fairly comfortable backgrounds. Two of the independent schools, the specialist arts college Sandbach and the Maharishi primary school, are located in the top 20 per cent of England’s better-off areas.

So you tell us how genuinely selective this is. In my view, Free Schools are opening in areas to select the already advantaged.

Perhaps you would also like to explain how the WLFS is also genuinely selective when it's head has given an interview stating that it's academic bias is not suitable for all. This is off-putting to a lot of people, so his comments can only be interpreted as prejudicial against people who are not what the WLFS deem "academic".

Equally offputting are the comments of Toby Young, it's founder. The media and internet are littered with his snide comments belittling and attacking people who do not share his political, educational and social views. Hardly the behaviour of a Chair of Governors committed to inclusion. And let's not forget his ill-judged and malicious smearing of a North London as they went about their business celebrating inclusion and diversity during LGBT Awareness Week. I know of one teacher who declined to apply to the school after he read Young's comments in the Spectator because he is gay. I wonder how many other have also been put off and I wonder how many children struggling with their sexuality at WLFS will feel supported or safe at WLFS?

Free Schools have not shown transparency and WLFS is no exception. And the whiff if dishonesty still hangs around it. Young claimed in a newspaper interview that WLFS was in partnership with London Oratory. The head of the Oratory has denied to parents (who did not want an association with WLFS) that there is no partnership. Young maintained, even after he was challenged on the Oratory's statement, that there IS a partnership. So who is telling porkies?

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 19:31

Apologies - last paragraph should of course read: "The head of the Oratory has denied to parents (who did not want an association with WLFS) that there is a partnership. Young maintained, even after he was challenged on the Oratory’s statement, that there IS a partnership. So who is telling porkies?"

T. Gianni's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 20:46

Quote: Helen Flynn..." If your grammar school thesis held any weight, people from Kent and other totally selective counties would represent the English master race!"

This quote from a Mumsnet poster 'madmummad', basically puts all this into perspective....
"I'm really shocked at the elevated and elite social status some people are ascribing to grammar schools, most of which are underfunded and pretty shabby - like many state schools of all kinds. When the country is being run by men educated in the most exclusive schools seen round the cabinet table for a couple of decades - schools that are beyond the economic reach of the vast majority of most of us on here - I would have thought all the MNetters with DCS in comps and GS's should be banding together and storming the playing fields of Eton. We are being governed by people who think comps and GS are just different grades of fifth rate education they wouldn't countenance for their own kids.Wake up and smell the Pimms people. There are more important battles to be fought than abolishing a couple of Reading grammar schools."

I would ammend the last sentence, to fit this thread ..
'There are more important battles to be fought than abolishing all grammar schools.'

Lol, you're looking at the wrong schools to find the 'English Master Race' Helen.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 21:52

Quick fact check. 2009 A level results- average point scores
Kent (selective) 722.4; Lincolnshire(selective) 775.6; Bucks (selective) Hampshire (comprehensive) 796.4; Cambridgeshire (comprehensive) 797.6.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 00:08

OK Fiona I will check out these figures.

I think we should use GCSE results since that is the baseline for selection that you agree with: if I understand correctly, that you accept selection at 16 based on GCSE results to A level instutions. Whereas 11 you certainly disagree with.

Anway if I am wrong please suggest what else instead.

Alan's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 17:20

You are wrong - GCSEs, FE and HE are different stages of development/learning. 11 is far too young to reject

Alan's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 17:22

how about fair play for a suggestion?

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 11:49

I don't understand that Alan - I want to look at difference from 11 to 16 in selective versus non selective areas.

Alan's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 17:11

IQ does not fit neatly into a normal distribution underneath an asymptotic bell curve at age 11. The curve by its very nature ensures continuous distribution i.e. no touch down on the x-axis beyond plus or minus 3 standard deviations. That is why you need to remove childhood imagination – or have it your way, “attribute accordingly to streams of education”.

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