Introducing selection by the back door

Janet Downs's picture
A Torquay grammar school is hoping to exploit new government rules which allow successful schools to expand by taking over an existing private school to establish a selective “satellite”. The local paper understands that the target of the possible take-over is Stover School, a boarding school with a nursery attached, based in Newton Abbot. However, the governors of Stover School said it was “news to them.” Stover School governors thought that an article, published in the Sunday Times on 13 November 2011, was “speculative” and designed to draw attention to the new government rules.

The head teacher of Torquay Boys’ Grammar School, Roy Pike, Chairman of the Grammar School Heads Association, was quoted as saying, “I believe it is right that the legislation should allow all good schools to expand, whether selective or not. And where parents so wish they should be encouraged under the free school or academy banner to create new schools.”

The takeover by one school of another school raises the question of consultation. How would local people in the area of the target school be consulted? Or would they just be faced with a fait accompli? Would parents of children in the target school be asked? And when the school doing the taking over is a selective school then what effect would the satellite have if it were established in a non-selective area? Non-selective schools could expect to lose some of their top ability pupils.

If a grammar school were successful in establishing a selective satellite, it presumably would take place under the free schools initiative. But making a free school selective is against the rules laid down by the Government. Or could selection be reintroduced covertly by the simple means of making the satellite part of an existing school?

Mr Pike told the Sunday Times that “In some areas the demand for selective education is unbelievably high.” But “demand” should not be confused with need. “Education at a Glance 2011”, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found that the best-performing education systems in the world tended to be those which were most inclusive – they did not segregate pupils academically or by virtue of where they lived.

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Alan's picture
Thu, 17/11/2011 - 22:03

The statement that “In some areas the demand for selective education is unbelievably high” is a distortion of the truth, given a choice most parents would opt out of selection. That’s why grammar schools continue to select and why there have been no ballots that separate the two.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 18/11/2011 - 18:19

If there is parental demand for it why not in principle?

Only one ballot for abolition of grammar schools in the last decade or so which failed.

David Blunkett's wrong prediction in 2000 that grammar schools would dissapear by 2011 through lack of demand as standards improved across the state sector. Still he said it was a joke when he said no selection by interview and so on, probably having a laugh.

A new state school which offers a grammar school education without selection several times oversubscribed - can you guess which?

Why don't we see how the people of Devon and roundabouts respond to this choice? If people apply great, let it run, if they don't also okay.

Alan's picture
Fri, 18/11/2011 - 21:49

Demand for what, selection or grammar schools?

The point is parents may not understand the consequences of their demands. Even if they are prepared to risk the self-esteem and confidence of their children what gives them this right?

Fair admissions would allow students to decide for themselves which pathway to follow, but the system isn’t fair. That’s why ballots were passed to parents.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 18/11/2011 - 22:22

Selection by academic ability is fair if it is done properly. The inadequate admission of sufficient lower classes to grammar schools does need addressing. Any decent state primary school should be able to organise detecting and teaching their pupils who have the potential - this does indeed happen in some places I know of. It need not be a question of private tuition.

Janet's points about consultation are fair and what we need is to agree the framework for communities to say whether they do want grammar schools or not. Seeing as there is currently no democratic process for new grammar schools but existing ones can exapnd this might be a good test.

I am prepared to give communities that democratic say over their schools and trust that decision, why is that you won't?

Keith Turvey's picture
Sat, 19/11/2011 - 09:34

Ben the problem is that this government has said quite clearly that it wants to raise educational achievement for all children on many occasions and in its white paper on education. The evidence is that where you have a system of grammar schools and secondary moderns the levels of educational achievement for all suffer. It's not just a case of just let's see if people apply. We expect our governments to have a bigger vision than this and use tax payers' money to address issues of underachievement through their policies. They don't actually have an overt grammar school policy because they know it would not be popular with the electorate for the simple fact that the argument about grammar schools was buried many years ago.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/11/2011 - 10:56

In the 60s, when the grammar/comprehensive debate really kicked off, it used to be said that parents were in favour of selection until their child didn’t get selected. Once that happened they were in favour of a fairer system ie comprehensive schools. Parents realised that their child only had a one in four chance of being selected, and it was the school that did the choosing NOT the parents.

In areas where grammar schools still exist the system works against children not selected. In Lincolnshire, for example, 25% of children are selected, 75% are rejected. That’s not to say the non-grammar schools are poor but they will never match the achievement of grammar schools because the latter cream off the high ability children. Year 6 Lincolnshire pupils received their 11+ results a few weeks ago – some “qualified”, some did not. Those that qualified can put the grammar school as their top preference – the rest cannot. I repeat – it’s the school that does the choosing. And there is the stigma – Year 6 pupils divide themselves into “bright” and “thick” and many of the latter think that they have let down their parents. The ones designated as "failures" (75%) start secondary school already convinced they are somewhat lacking.

The OECD has found that the best performing school systems are those that don't segregate children - yet in England there is increasing momentum to do just that.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/11/2011 - 11:07

Ben - your implication is that if a primary school doesn't coach pupils for the 11+ then it is not a "decent" primary school. The opposite is true. Coaching pupils with the sole intention of passing exams - whether the 11+, SATs or GCSEs - is not education. It is teaching-to-the test.

And the pressure put on some children by their parents to get through the 11+ can become excessive. It's also big business (see below for link to one example). Parents are encouraged to start preparing their children in Year 3 (and buy the accompanying papers, of course) and even attend mock 11+ exams. The near-hysteria which accompanies this is described in a Telegraph article (link below) in which a mother wrote:

"Like or not, the 11-plus holds a mirror up to you. It’s made me ask searching questions of myself. For example, why am I such an intellectual snob? I might tell other parents: ''Don’t worry, not everyone’s suited to grammar school are they? I mean, it would be terrible for poor (name of child) to go to a school where he/she would be struggling wouldn’t it?’’ But I don’t believe this for a minute. I am convinced passing the 11-plus, which my child will do, is the end to all my worries …I know it’s iniquitous. I know we’re all playing a game. But it’s one I can’t walk away from."

My reply to this mother (who at least admitted she was an "intellectual snob") is: do yourself and your children a favour: walk away.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 19/11/2011 - 13:12

Janet I actually agree that teaching to the test is not always helpful. But I also do not think that the state sector should just give up when faced with a large private tuition sector, I think there should be ability for state primaries to help prepare pupils for 11+ and I know places where it happens.

Having seen 11+ materials I think that they often fit the description of tests that teach and can't understand why they are not used more widely anyway, although if they don't fit the curriculum and are supposed to be independent of attainment at 11 that I guess is the answer.

What is the answer to parents who make loving their child conditional on academic performance? Well it is not scrapping a whole system of education asscociated with that behaviour. Some parents need to adjust how they think and behave but how do you control that in a free society? Maybe "non selective" grammar school offers can offer a from of safety valve and the free school is one potential route.

On selection I would leave this to local communities to decide and think ballots should work both ways. I don't mind if there are good comprehensives which can genuinely provide for their communities academically, but seeing as these seem to be in middle class residential areas I prefer selection by ability rather than parental wealth.

Alan's picture
Sun, 20/11/2011 - 12:45

Passing ballots to parents was a shrewd political move considering hierarchical context in education isn’t parent centric. What about children’s choices, their self-esteem and confidence? Giving communities ‘democratic say’ over grammar schools in the name of localism is inappropriate. Firstly, selective authorities praise highly the achievements of their skewed intake grammar schools; parental preference is thereby long established. Secondly, local oligarchies will simply defend their position on selection. Thirdly, who would decide eligibility for voting in a referendum?

Future debates on selection -- as set aside from the continuation of grammar schools – should include children. They are the key stakeholders and under the current system they are considered to be competent as young as 10 to take the 11+.

Susan Hutton's picture
Mon, 12/12/2011 - 17:01

I teach at a comprehensive school near Newton Abbot. Our success as a school depends on having a solid section of very able, ambitious students with involved parents. They set the tone for the whole school. The effect on the local secondary schools if we lost our top 10-20% would be catastrophic. I've worked in a Secondary Modern, in Kent, where the students had failed the 11 plus so I understand fully the effect on students when they get separated - and most of them rejected - at 11.

anonamous's picture
Mon, 26/03/2012 - 12:46

STOVER school, Newton Abbot - a beautiful school, full of arseholes! The management couldn't run a bath, let alone a school. Its just somewhat unfortunate that neither the staff or pupils feel they can approach them. So sad. According to their 'delightful and heart warming' promotion video, the school 'thrives' on providing a nurturing environment - my gosh how many resignations in the past term!? The boarding accommodation can leave much to be desired, but fear not they have a wonderful picture in the prospectus. In a desperate plea for revenue, they have banished the school entrance examination and have minimised the inclusion criteria for potential students - be that they have lung function! Not only, will they this Easter be introducing the boys boarding! Unfortunately they had to take away the medical centre as a result, leaving the (now one nurse- late nurse was driven out) with ONE clinic room and ONE bedroom upstairs to accommodate for poorly children. The nurses sleepover bedroom has been taken away; but rest assured the nurse will soon have a brand new sofa bed to sleep on during their night stay (did i mention this was in the waiting room) - nice. real nice. Have you seen the latest a-level provisional grades, i'm guessing they wont be released due to shame. We don't want to affect this illusion of Hogwarts now do we!?? Can you spell 'DEU' , because that is pretty much what the results spell!! SO if you want your child to thrive, dont be dispondant - i can assure you they do GOOD things as well. Apparently their school lunches are award winning !! Well, I SAY - if that doesn't convince you!? Don't believe me, just ASK!! ASK to SEE it !! There are some wonderful teachers in the school, and wonderful students alike - HOWEVER the support system for your child/ staff is absaloute diabolical. The irony is that the individuals you would expect to be the most approachable in their job role; for example THE PRINCIPAL and her DELIGHTFUL assistant - are the least approachable of the lot. Don't be fooled by their pretentious smile - why don't you ask the students THEIR opinion, perhaps off screen, not on a promotional video that gives them house points. I hope that i haven't upset anyone, im guessing they just couldn't mention this in their video. Because it is such a truly, wonderful school. Due to confidentiality and protection i have limited my disclosures, no names have been mentioned. Don't like it, WELL its about time SOMEONE spoke up!!! I guess fear of loosing their job; because they are bullies. It is a miserable, low moral place - but the food, that's good. To find out more; i know their are current vacancies going including a house-mistress and another nurse, there will be more to come. Check for details. Kind regards.

aprils's picture
Sun, 01/04/2012 - 15:25

Anonamous - 26/3/12 Blimey, you have a lot to say. You sound very bitter. (or you are the opposition trying to give us a bad reputation). However, if I might I would like to correct one or two points.

Firstly, in all the years I have been in this school it has never been selective (except by parents and pupils making a choice to come to Stover). There isn’t an entrance exam. There are scholarship exams but that’s different.

How many resignations have there been in the last term? One. That is just one of two there have been since last September. Those are the only ones I know of. The only ones announced before Easter. I am aware of some teachers retiring. They have reached 65 or more and would you deny them the right to retire? That is where you see some vacancies coming from, together with some additional posts created as a result of boys boarding.

I don’t know what A level forecast grades you have seen but I haven’t seen them. Most of the students I teach (YES I TEACH THERE) are doing well and will come out with ABC (can you read?). I know that like many schools some pupils will not manage to make top grades but after all this is a non selective school not a grammar school and most of our pupils did not get into grammar school so all credit to them and the teachers and parents that they do so well.

Yes, the school lunches are good - one thing you got right. Yes, it is a lovely school in beautiful grounds. Second thing you got right.

I go out of my way to support all of my students both in term time and in holidays so I find your comments on that disappointing and hurtful to say the least.

As for the promotional video. I think we all think it’s a bit cheesy. I wasn’t aware of any of those taking part having been bribed with house points although I wouldn’t like to state that as fact - unlike all those assertions you make which I don’t think are true.

As for management , I have worked in worse places believe me. I like working at Stover. I think the school is good, the staff work hard and do well and they are all supportive colleagues. What more can I say? Yes, if people want to know about Stover - come and ask, I'll tell you. I'll tell you what I see and what I experience. Can’t be fairer can I? (I am not SMT, just a teacher)

Finally, can I just say that we were never the school in discussions with Torbay Grammar School vis being their back door to more grammars despite what the media have said and keep saying. As far as I am aware, we still aren't. Its either wisgful thinking on Torbay Grammars part or you need to look at another school for that.

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