There is a lot around at the moment about grammar schools. The United Kingdom Independence Park, UKIP
, wants a return to selection across the country; a rogue group of Tory MPs
have started their own campaign to reverse Labour legislation banning new grammars.
And there are now two satellite grammar school bids being proposed; one in Maidenhead
, Berkshire, and a revival of an earlier failed bid in Sevenoaks,
Kent. A satellite grammar school must be an extension of an existing grammar, in the same area and sharing the same characteristics as the parent school. These proposals have been made possible by the coalition’s changes to rules permitting school expansion.
Should we be worried? As a die-hard anti selection campaigner, my initial reaction was to feel anger and frustration that we should still be having these arguments about selection over fifty years after the argument about keeping a national system of bi-partite schooling was decisively lost.
Those arguments that would have been easier to avoid if the last Labour government had bitten the bullet and abolished selection in the 25% of local authorities where it still exists.
But on reflection I realise that this new flurry of pro-grammar activity presents us with an opportunity. Firstly to remind people that a return to grammars also means a return to secondary modern schools – and we don’t see many parents campaigning for them.
Then to build alliances across political lines on this issue. Researching a piece for the Guardian
about the current pro-grammar campaign I discovered almost as much anger about this subject amongst the right of centre supporters of Michael Gove, like his former adviser Sam Freedman
and the current head of education at the Policy Exchange think tank, Jonathan Simons
, as there is amongst many of us on the left.
Finally and most importantly I think this gives us the opportunity to show people what selection means in practice. How do grammar schools affect local children? Who gets in and who doesn’t? Does selection really promote social mobility? If we are to shine a spotlight on these issues we need to be gathering evidence on an almost industrial scale, in much the same way as the new Local, Equal Excellent
campaign has been doing in Buckinghamshire.
These campaigners have been using Freedom of Information requests, to the grammar schools and the local authority, to build up a picture of grammar school admissions in the county. The sort of information they have requested includes; school name; school type; coding for child’s residence; coding for school’s location; standardised scores for separate exam element; overall standardised score; outcomes of review/appeals (where these are completed); child’s gender, child’s ethnicity, whether the child speaks English as a second language; whether the child receives free school meals; any other information on children’s background characteristics.
In spite of the much promoted “tutor proof test” that the Bucks grammar schools have introduced, it turns out that fewer children from local primary schools and eligible for FSM get in to the local grammars than before. More out of county children are sitting the Bucks tests and the grammars are actually admitting more pupils from local fee-paying prep schools than they did before the introduction of the so-called tutor-proof test. You can read more about this in another Guardian article of mine here.
One of the Bucks campaigners Katy Simmons says that local parents are amazed when they are shown the information:“ Parents are shocked when we show them the evidence. They realise that it matters where you live and how well off you are. They see that it's a lottery - with the chances of winning firmly stacked against most of them and they don't think that is fair,” she explained.
Even Aylesbury MP, David Lidington
, has publicly expressed concern at the very low pass rate in less affluent parts of his constituency. So if we can gather this sort of information in each of the local authorities where the 11 plus test is still used –15 of which are fully selective – we might stand a chance of turning public opinion and beating this historical abomination once and for all.