Parent's view on the expansion of grammar schools

Alan Gurbutt's picture

I am bitterly disappointed with Morgan’s decision on Kent, it is weak and unthinking in terms of how many more children will have to be divided into sheep and goats at 11 years old. Our coastal community in Mablethorpe/Alford provides a bad example of how education divides us. It’s very much “them (the grammar school) and us”. I speculated almost two years ago that Michael Gove’s drive for education would level the selective field in terms of funding being diverted to academies and pupils going elsewhere to escape the 11+. As much as I am against selection I don’t see independent tax-payer funded schools as a positive way forward. As a parent, I would rather have an end to the 11+ than schools closing. My view is not popular in Lincolnshire because people in power either value their grammar school educations or are afraid to speak out. They simply blame the Tories. The problem with Lincolnshire is that selection is in our DNA, attack it and you are attacking 500 years of tradition, including the Church. As a thinking Christian, I don’t believe it is unreasonable to want comprehensive schools that are universally available to all children’s talents, gifts and imaginations. I hope that’s worth fighting for.

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Michele -Lowe's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 09:42

You're right. The opening of what is, in effect, a new grammar school entrenches further already deep-seated support. One silver lining is that it will open up another debate about the merits of the system and highlight the obvious: that for every one grammar there will three secondary moderns. Of course, we don't call them secondary moderns these days, but in practice, that's what schools adjacent to the grammar school become. And you don't hear anyone banging the drum for the expansion of secondary moderns.
It also opens up the debate about social mobility and offers an opportunity to challenge this idea that grammar schools meant social mobility. The grammar schools may have co-incided with a period, post-war, of greater social mobility but they weren't necessarily the cause of it. Correlation is not causation. Other European countries managed the same feat without the aid of selective secondary education. But the myth of 'the grammar school which made me' is like bind weed. It's deep rooted and very, very persistent. It takes a long sustained campaign of extirpation to tackle it.

Nigel Ford's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 11:48

I would like to see all senior schools in LA control and comprehensive status.

That having been said, if ever I was to open another grammar school, the proposed one in Sevenoaks would be it.

Kent, like Bucks, has a system where all state school pupils have the opportunity to take the 11 plus exam. It seems daft that a town the size of Sevenoaks has no grammar school, so kids that have made the cut from that area have to commute to Maidstone, Dartford or Tonbridge to get into grammar school.

So bearing in mind Kent divides its state school pupils on selective criteria at 11 years of age, it makes sense to have a grammar school in the one major town where it is lacking.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 12:45

Nigel - there are three state secondary schools, all judged Good in Sevenoaks. One is a free school opened in September 2013. There's no reason why a new grammar should be established especially as a new 11-19 free school accepting 120 pupils a year has already been allowed. The new grammar is likely to cream off higher-attaining pupils from the three established schools.

Just because a school is a grammar doesn't necessarily make it better. Chatham Grammar School for Boys was judged Inadequate in 2013. It's now been upgraded to Good but for a time it wasn't providing its pupils with an adequate education (according to Ofsted).

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 12:54

The Times reports that a second 'satellite' grammar is likely to be proposed which would 'expand' a Buckinghamshire grammar into a neighbouring non-selective LA, Windsor and Maidenhead, which also happens to be Teresa May's constituency.

If such a plan goes ahead then it would wreck the comprehensive nature of secondary education in Windsor and Maidenhead. It could encourage other grammars to set up satellites in other non-selective counties whether those areas want selection or not. This would re-establish the old grammar/secondary modern divide ie first tier schools for the minority and second tier for the rest (the majority). And all decided at age 11.

Of course, for some areas of the country like Kent and Lincolnshire this divide has never gone away.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 13:10

No doubt people will be saying it's outrageous that Kent grammars only take a tiny proportion of FSM students when the local average is 20% or more......... as usual missing the point that the average cognitive ability of disadvantaged students is lower than that for 'other'.

We should not expect therefore for grammar schools to take anything like the same proportion of disadvantaged applicants as disadvantaged students make up in the general population.

To put numbers on it: in Kent primaries around 30% of students achieve level 5 or above. But among FSM6 kids, that's only 11%.

The county's primaries produce around 440 L5+ children from FSM6 homes per year; but only around 130 or so go to the grammars. So FSM6 kids achieving level 5 are not being fairly served...... but would be if each grammar school took an extra 6 or 7 FSM6 children per year...which shouldn't be too hard to do. Any new provision should be required to do this.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 13:14

oops.... sorry, I got that number wrong: 190 or so go on to grammars.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 13:49

Barry - leave aside the observation that not all grammar pupils achieved Level 5, you seem to be saying that as 11% of FSM6 children in Kent gain Level 5, then 11% would be the expected proportion of FSM6 pupils in Kent's grammars. 30 of Kent's 33* grammars have fewer than 11% FSM6 pupils - the lowest proportion is 1.8% at Cranbrook School. The Weald of Kent, which is the one opening the new grammar in Sevenoaks, had 4.7% (2014 figures).

*This may not be accurate. I was relying on Wikipedia.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 14:57

No Janet,

I am certainly NOT saying that as 11% of FSM6 children in Kent gain Level 5, then 11% would be the expected proportion of FSM6 pupils in Kent’s grammars. I did not say that and it would be totally crazy.

What I did say was that only 11% of disadvantaged children achieve L5 as against 30% of other children. That means that a disadvantaged child will be much, much less likely to pass the 11+ than a child from a more affluent background....even without private tuition being a factor. A child from an affluent home would be almost 3 times more likely to be of the top L5/11+ ability range.

This is one of the reasons why I absolutely would not expect the social composition of the grammar school cohort to reflect the proportion of FSM6 in the general population.

agov's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 15:08

OK, it's Friday, so just asking - "500 years of tradition". You sure this isn't a Viking thing?

Michael Pyke's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 15:22

Barry, on what research evidence do you base your statement that FSM pupils have less "cognitive ability" than the population at large? All you refer to is SATS scores but, as their name suggests, SATS are designed to measure attainment, rather than ability. How do you explain the fact that, of children with identical SATS scores, those eligible for FSM are only one third as likely to "pass" the 11+ test (according to Dr Rebecca Allen of Datalab, who specialises in research into school admissions policies and practice)?

Arthur Harada's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 16:01

I am always amused when people write objecting to selection at 11, or at any age for that matter, but put to one side the educational background of so many socialist/ Labour Party/ Lib Dem supporters who have enjoyed selective education. Shall we start with the grammar schools educated peers the Kinnocks, recently deceased Lord Healey, one time Education secretary Ruth Kelly plus the numerous other who went into the independent sector like Harriet Harmon, Tony Blair. Remember Diane Abbott that great supporter of state schools who decided to send her son to ???
Look to the present Labour/Lib Dem opposition in Parliament and where they were schooled.
Opponents that knock selection seems to have severe memory loss when it comes to admitting their own or their offspring's education." Do as I say and not what I do!" should be emblazoned on their coats of arms.
I am of mixed race, raised in a single parent family in Toxteth, like my sister beforehand through the good fortune of a 13 plus scholarship, both of us went to Liverpool grammar schools and the rest is history. We were not pioneers in winning scholarships. There were many like us with similar backgrounds or even worse that "escaped" from rundown urban areas via selection.

Michael Pyke's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 16:57

Arthur, instead of addressing the question by considering the evidence, you attack the motives of those with whom you disagree and you generalise from your own experience, which may or may not be typical.

Three research projects carried out by the OECD in the last five years have all concluded that selection is an inefficient educational process, which holds back, rather than improves national educational standards. This may explain why not one of the world's leading educational jurisdictions employs selection of the kind which you defend.

If you do bother to look at the evidence, you will find that, in the hey day of selection, 80% of the population left school with no qualifications at all and that, of those who did go to grammar school, three quarters came from middle class homes, even though only a quarter of the population belonged to the middle class. You say that there were "many" people from poor backgrounds who "escaped" thanks to selection but you don't put a figure on it. In fact this figure was very low. For example, in 1962 only 6% of university students came from poor backgrounds.

Nowadays children from poor backgrounds have much more chance of going to university than used to be the case but it isn't because of grammar schools as these are overwhelmingly populated by the children of the affluent.

Incidentally, you may be wrong in your assumptions about the schooling of Labour politicians. Why don't you investigate it?

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Fri, 16/10/2015 - 23:42

Let's hope we can start a debate on the points you raise. Thank you to everyone who has responded.

I want to challenge Mrs Morgan's decision as it does not recognise the suffering imposed by the 11+.

Grammar schools also need to recognise that the effects of selection spill over into communities. It isn't just about opening more schools, it's about more selection. Parents by their very nature want the best for their children will want them to go to the perceived better school. In terms of social mobility, on the Lincolnshire coast the push to grammar school is reinforced by child poverty no matter how the government chooses to redefine it.

We need to share positive stories of how well our children have been doing in secondary modern schools. These schools do exist and are essentially comprehensive. In deprived areas they are much more likely to be rated as "coasting" next to grammar schools.

Our secondary modern school works tirelessly to overcome the effects of selection on children, they pursue and challenge division and unfairness at every opportunity by promoting what a secondary modern school can do. Both my children attended this school and have been supported every step of the way to attain the grades they needed to explore their potential. One has just started university and the other wants to be a teacher, but more than grades the school has instilled a sense of pride and ownership in their learning which extended to being mindful of other children's needs, those children who may not have had the best start in life.

Young people find it difficult when they are divided, some more so than others. We owe it to them and to our schools to try to level the field. I will be as bold as to say I don't think all grammar schools want to select, I think the good ones would rather work in partnership to give every child a chance?

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 08:14

On secondary modern schools being comprehensive, I was referring to curriculum, taking in mixed-ability children and the pathways they provide. I do of course realise that through no fault of their own they do form part of the selective system, that where there is selection there can never be a universal offer of comprehensive education.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 07:24

Arthur - you're right that some Labour/Lib Dem members behaved in a hypocritical manner when it came to the education of their own children but this doesn't invalidate the argument against selection.

At the same time someone who's been grammar school educated isn't by default a supporter of selection. Perhaps that person realises the system by which s/he was educated was unfair and argues against it.

Your anecdotal evidence, again, doesn't invalidate the argument against selection. For everyone who supposedly 'benefited' there would be many who did not. This was especially true in the golden days of grammars when the only access to exams was via grammar schools. The vast majority 75% who were educated elsewhere (decided at age 11) left school at 15 with no qualifications. However, when secondary moderns started offering exams it became apparent that a large number of 11 'failures' could pass O levels. It then became apparent there was no need to divide children at 11 - to do so was unfair and stigmatised the 75% by sending them to schools regarded as second tier irrespective of how good they were.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 07:31

Schools Improvement Net reports that the Independent is claiming a report based on 11+ success in Buckinghamshire since it introduced supposedly 'tutor proof' tests shows grammars do nothing to promote social mobility. The report appears to be from 2014 so the Independent's claim that the report was 'new' and its implication that it appeared shortly after Morgan's announcement re Sevenoaks appears mistaken (unless a new report is in circulation which hasn't been published widely yet).

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 07:38

Schools Improvement Net carries article 'Why do grammar schools remain so popular' which punctures a few grammar myths (including the anecdotal ones of the 'I was poor, went to grammar and look at me now' type).

Schools Week runs two articles: mine arguing against grammars and one by Chris McGovern, Campaign for Real Education, arguing for.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 10:37

Deborah Orr writes about this in today's Guardian.

Although Deborah's heart is in the right place she falls for many of the fallacies of the left. This causes her to condemn selection at 11 (right) but for the wrong reasons.

As for the gap in attainment between pupils from affluent and poor backgrounds, there is no gap. Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs) accurately predict school attainment for large cohorts (but not for individuals). The truth is that the mean CATs scores for pupils from poor backgrounds are lower than those from affluent backgrounds.

The connection and the reasons for it are simple. It is well established that the children of academically well qualified parents do better at school and score better in CATs. Such parents also earn more, so tend to live in more affluent areas.

HOWEVER intelligence (as measured by CATs scores) is not fixed but can be raised by the right sort of teaching and learning. This must be cognitively challenging at the right level. Vocational training is not cognitively challenging by design because its aim is to achieve vocational competence regardless of cognitive ability.

Children of all abilities are entitled to go to schools that develop their cognitive abilities. This need is at least as pressing where the starting point for the pupil is lower than average as it is for brighter pupils that attend grammar schools. Such pupils won't get the developmental education they need and are entitled to from a vocationally oriented curriculum in a secondary modern school. They need a good comprehensive where the development of all pupils is equally prioritised.

The only way ALL pupils can get their fair share of access to the best developmental education is in high quality, pedagogy driven, all ability, comprehensive schools. Deborah is right that it is the quality of teaching that is most important, but the best is not always easy to recognise.

For more, read my book, 'Learning Matters'.

Barry Wise's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 10:42


The evidence linking educational achievement to socio- economic status iis voluminous; as is the literature indicating the high heritability of cognitive ability. I think Roger Titcombe recently had access to data from Hackney where all 10 or 11 year olds do CATs. Perhaps he will be able to confirm that average CA is lower there in districts of high economic disadvantage?


Studies show that children from low-income families have smaller brains and lower cognitive abilities.
Researchers have long suspected that children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors.
In the largest study of its kind, published on 30 March in Nature Neuroscience1, a team led by neuroscientists Kimberly Noble from Columbia University in New York City and Elizabeth Sowell from Children's Hospital Los Angeles, California, looked into the biological underpinnings of these effects. They imaged the brains of 1,099 children, adolescents and young adults in several US cities. Because people with lower incomes in the United States are more likely to be from minority ethnic groups, the team mapped each child’s genetic ancestry and then adjusted the calculations so that the effects of poverty would not be skewed by the small differences in brain structure between ethnic groups.
The brains of children from the lowest income bracket — less than US$25,000 — had up to 6% less surface area than did those of children from families making more than US$150,000, the researchers found. In children from the poorest families, income disparities of a few thousand dollars were associated with major differences in brain structure, particularly in areas associated with language and decision-making skills. Children's scores on tests measuring cognitive skills, such as reading and memory ability, also declined with parental income.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 11:58

All CATs data show that Barry but from there you leap to all sorts of dubious conclusions. Brain size is presumably heritable through genes, but the heritability of intelligence is still a matter of fierce dispute.

I recommend Section 5.2 in 'Learning Matters'. It deals with 'neuromyths'. The link between brain size and intelligence is tenuous. I argue in that section of my book that mental software is much more important than hardware. I give an example of a computer chess game run on computers of different processing powers. It is the game's software that matters, not the hardware of the computers. A primitive chess programme (as run on my 1980s Acorn Electron) would not defeat chess masters even when implemented on the world's most powerful computer.

Your study is interesting, but likely to be seriously flawed in design as well as malign in intent - designed to produce a particular outcome as so many such studies are.

The 6 percent difference in surface area of the brain found in your study is less than the difference between men and women. It is not size that counts but how your brain uses it. That is another reason why the central theme of my book, supported as it is by the research of professors Philip Adey and Michael Shayer, is so compelling: cognitive ability is flexible and can be developed. This process does not involve enlarging your brain. It may well have little to do with neural connectivity (another favourite of neuroscience) either. I believe that intelligence is far more to do with thought processes, both sub-concious and concious.

See Part 5 of 'Learning Matters' for a large number of examples of cognitively developmental teaching and learning in practice and for more supporting theory including from non-educationalists like Daniel Kahneman.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 12:56

Thanks, Barry. The research shows how poverty has a negative effect on children. But this Government says education alone is responsible for closing the gap between those affected negatively by poverty and those who are not. That's not to say a good education can't make any difference - it can. But poverty is a handicap which may never be overcome for all children affected by poverty. Yet this Government's policies, league tables and the like, often condemn those who teach in schools where a large number of pupils are so affected. This will not encourage the best teachers to join those schools.

Barry Wise's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 13:14


...likely to be seriously flawed in design as well as malign in intent – designed to produce a particular outcome as so many such studies are.

Wow. You do realise that we are talking about a Nature publication here?
You can check out the peer-review protocols and the status of both the authors and editors here.

Although only two of the authors of the paper were named in the web page I linked, there were around 25 or so associated with the study and they read like a roll call of the top figures in neuroscience across many of the most prestigious US colleges. You might want to rethink your remarks!

Quite honestly, your own opinions on the importance of brain size probably carry as much weight as my own (i.e. none) but that is all by the by anyhow. The key sentence of the article to which I linked was this:

Children’s scores on tests measuring cognitive skills, such as reading and memory ability, also declined with parental income.

From which I have leaped to no 'dubious conclusions' - sticking resolutely to only one conclusion: that average cognitive skills in a low socio-economic status population will be lower than average cognitive skills in a more affluent population, meaning that we should not expect the social compositions of selective schools to mirror that of the general population. I am surprised you find that even controversial.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 14:37


'Children’s scores on tests measuring cognitive skills, such as reading and memory ability, also declined with parental income.'

Of course they do. It is well established that on average, children from less affluent homes/live in poorer areas, on average, have lower mean CATs scores. This is what I say in Section 4.8 of 'Learning Matters'.

"4.8 Why do areas of poor housing produce a lower proportion of brighter children?
This association is very hard for many on the political left to accept, often resulting in a ‘shoot the messenger’ response. Therefore the explanation has to be clearly set out.

There are many reasons on a variety of levels, none of which necessarily require any resort to explanations based on genetic inheritance.

We can start with the long established pattern that children’s success at school is strongly linked to parental academic qualifications. If we make the further reasonable assumption that parents with better qualifications tend to have better jobs with higher pay and that parents that can afford it tend to move to more ‘up market’ areas of housing then we have a pretty convincing explanation."

There is nothing here that links to brain size and there is no simple link between brain size and intelligence. It is a fact that women have, on average, significantly smaller brains than men. It is also a fact that women on average do not have less intellectual/academic potential than men. In the UK more women than men now progress to a university education.

So I am still struggling to understand the point you and the authors of the study are trying to make.

I can recommend Chapter 11 by Corinne Read and Mike Anderson about 'Neuromyths in Education' in 'Bad Education' 2012 edited by Philip Adey and Justin Dillon.

You can find it on p179 if you use the 'Look inside' function on Amazon.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 14:50

Barry -
"that average cognitive skills in a low socio-economic status population will be lower than average cognitive skills in a more affluent population, meaning that we should not expect the social compositions of selective schools to mirror that of the general population. I am surprised you find that even controversial."

I don't.

The point is that selecting brighter children of, on average, richer parents to be separately educated in different schools from their poorer peers is educationally unnecessary, socially undesirable, certainly damaging to those that 'fail' the selection test and of no proven benefit to those that pass it.

I still don't see the relevance of the 'neuroscience' that you quote.

Barry Wise's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 15:50


The neuroscience was in answer to the snarky demand form M Pyke for further and better particulars of the 'research evidence' I relied upon to state what I'm glad you agree is pretty bleedin' obvious.

There is still a strain of egalitarianism that has not got its head around the fact that it's okay to mention differences in average cognitive ability between groups. Michael even felt the need to put scare quotes around the phrase cognitive ability, as if it were some iffy concept manufactured by Cyril Burt.

Michael Pyke's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 10:59

I don't disagree with your general thesis, Roger, but Barry Wise didn't quote CAT scores in his defence of grammar schools having affluent intakes; he quoted SATS levels. Also, while willing to be convinced by any evidence, I doubt that the 11+ exam tries to measure cognitive ability and, even if it did, it would be attempting to predict school attainment for an individual, which, as you say, CATs don't do.

I also read Deborah Orr's article, which I thought began well but produced a feeble conclusion, but for what "fallacies of the left" do you think she falls? At least Deborah doesn't indulge in Gaby Hinsliff's metropolitan hand-wringing, which someone at the Guardian must like as she keeps being printed!

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 11:26

Michael - The 11+ is supposed to be an IQ test, so it is more like CATs than SATs. It is not just CATs tests that can't reliably measure anything for an individual. It is true of all exam type tests including the 11+. There are many possible reasons for this eg illness on the day, period pains, family rows, family illness, worry, fear etc. You hit the nail on the head. It cannot reliably measure anything for individual pupils, which is why we know of so many 11+ 'failures' that have gone on to great achievements.

This alone ought to be enough to completely condemn such a system and bring us into line with the education systems of most of the rest of the developed world.

Barry Wise's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 12:55

Michael Pyke

I wasn't mounting a 'defence' of grammar school intakes; rather I was criticising them on the right (as opposed to the wrong) grounds. I think they should take more FSM6 students.... at least 5 or 6 more per school per cohort.

I'd be interested to know on what research you base your repeated assertion that grammar schools are 'overwhelmingly populated by the children of the affluent'.

Unless of course you mean by "affluent" all those not children looked after or on FSM.

If so - then you are rather ignoring the whole of the in-work working class. You either have to be a lone parent and/or unemployed or working part-time to qualify for FSM, which has a household income cut-off well below the benefits cap and the median income.

The grammar school I know best has many working class students and many who are the children of (often Asian) small business owners. These are very often the ones aspiring to 'social mobility'.

I know Janet has seen a grammar school where Mercedes and BMWs are much in evidence at the gate, but then we know there are plenty of comprehensives like that too.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 18:02

The fallacies of the left are as follows.

1. That there is an attainment gap between pupils of affluent v poorer parents. There is not. There is a cognitive ability gap.

2. That pupils of lower cognitive ability are best served by a 'practical' or vocational curriculum. They are not. They have the same right to be intellectually challenged and developed as more able pupils. In fact, if anything, they need it more.

The right tends to believe in inherited fixed intelligence. The left tends to believe that differences in attainment between affluent and poorer pupils are down to various forms of discrimination.

I argue in 'Learning Matters' that the debate is utterly changed if intelligence is plastic and can be raised by the right kind of curriculum and teaching. Schools that fail to provide these developmental opportunities for all their pupils are failing them and a school system based on choice, competition and marketisation is driving such failure.

The best system for pupils, parents, businesses, social cohesion, social justice and the nation as a whole is uniformly accessible, comprehensive system locally controlled by democratically elected local governments. There is plenty of scope for creativity, innovation and diversity within schools. Diversity and competition between schools actually results in more uniformity and less innovation within schools. Our academised pupils and the schools they go to have never been so uniform and dull.

Michael Pyke's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 21:42

Roger, I imagine that few people, whatever their political stance, have ever really thought about your distinction between "attainment" and "cognitive ability". Unless you re-define the term, it's perfectly clear that pupils from affluent and, especially, well-educated backgrounds tend to achieve higher levels of attainment than those from deprived and poorly educated backgrounds. Your point, if I understand it correctly, is that we don't focus sufficiently on the way in which poverty and deprivation not only hinder a child's progress through lack of resources but actually (through a variety of mechanisms) impair a child's ability to learn. Nor do we sufficiently recognise that intelligence is not fixed and that this initial impairment can be overcome. I don't see this as a particular failing of "the left".

Secondly, I would have thought that a belief in "practical" and/or "vocational" education as suitable for "less able" (usually other people's) children was equally common at both ends of the political spectrum.

A belief in fixed intelligence is now, I agree, a characteristic of right-wing thinking but it wasn't always so. Ellen Wilkinson certainly believed in it! Your last point depends upon what you mean by "discrimination".

With the rest of what you say I can't disagree with a single word.

Michael Pyke's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 22:43

Barry, I'm sorry you thought my original request for research evidence was "snarky"; it wasn't intended to be so. What you wrote was, "No doubt people will be saying it's outrageous that Kent grammars only take a tiny percentage of FSM pupils when the local average is 20% or usual missing the point that the average cognitive ability for disadvantaged students is lower than for "other".

This is a "straw man" argument since no-one has advanced or is likely to advance the proposition that you attack. The reason people draw attention to the low proportion of FSM pupils in grammar schools, and not just in Kent, is that defenders of selection frequently assert that grammar schools promote "social mobility" by giving an opportunity to children who are "bright but poor" to succeed academically.

Secondly, you treat "disadvantaged students" and "FSM pupils" as interchangeable terms. No doubt there is considerable overlap between the two groups but eligibility for FSM is not necessarily an indication of the kind of deprivation that tends to impair cognitive development. Many children's eligibility for FSM fluctuates according to circumstance: loss of employment and marriage breakdown being two of the more common ones. However, the one thing all FSM children have in common is that their parents cannot afford to hire private tutors or pay private prep school fees in order to prepare them for the 11+.

Research into the socio-economic status of grammar school pupils is not hard to find, e.g. "Entry into Grammar Schools in England" - Cribb, Sibieta and Vignoles - published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, November 2013.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 00:13

Roger- I am not sure the left have misunderstood there is a cognitive gap between the haves and have-nots, they are aware of how poverty hurts children's brains. In terms of neural plasticity providing a window, not only do children from poor backgrounds deserve to be intellectually challenged they need the right social and economic conditions to thrive. That isn't going to happen in our area. The secondary modern school that may close in Mablethorpe lies within one of the most deprived areas in England, yet none of the solutions that I am aware of seek to encourage nearby schools in the immediate area to work together. That's because they are in competition with each other under a selective system pressurised to meet government targets.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 13:05

Barry - your assumption that the small shop owner is working class is false. Warning - this is based on anecdote. My dad built up a small chain of shops from one which he began in a WW2 Nissen Hut. He always perceived himself as middle class: property-owning, RP speaking, car-owning (in an era when few people had cars), sending children to private school (until secondary level).

But anecdote aside - the various class indexes don't appear to assign small shop ownership to working class. I discuss this more in my latest thread in which I use the small shop owner as an example.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 08:22

Michael - I agree entirely. I also agree that I should have stated that much of the political left shares with the right the fallacy that some children cannot benefit cognitively from intellectual stimulation. This is what I wrote in my New Statesman article of 4 December 2012 referring to Ed Milibands Labour Party conference speech earlier that year. It refers to dividing students into vocational and academic streams at 14, but the arguments are of course even stronger in relation to putting them into different schools at age 11!

"Ed Miliband’s Labour conference speech was well judged in setting out a policy direction rather than committing to specifics so far in advance of the general election. This is especially true in the case of education, where it is proving so difficult for Labour to recognise the mistakes of the Blair-Adonis era and therefore to effectively challenge the direction of the Gove reforms that are based on them. Ed paid a fully justified tribute to his own comprehensive school upbringing but introduced confusion by drawing a distinction between the curriculum needs of ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ pupils. That such a distinction has no sound basis is strongly hinted at by the arbitrary assertion that there are equal numbers of such pupils. The presumption is that the academic half should be taught ‘academically’ and the other half with a vocational emphasis that will result in a diploma qualification of equal status. The stage at which such segregation should begin appears to be 14, with the assumption that the academic stream will be expected to progress to university and the vocational stream will not. There are many contradictions and questions that arise from this model.

Can English university degrees now be described in general as academic? For example, in South Cumbria and North Lancashire the NHS nursing and midwifery requirements are serviced by the University of Cumbria and the University of Central Lancashire. Are these nursing and midwifery degrees academic or vocational? Both universities have entry requirements that stipulate C grades at GCSE in English and maths together with a combination of academic A Levels, however both universities also state that in ‘certain circumstances’ they admit students without A Levels or even GCSE Cs in English and maths. Labour’s proposals might suggest that graduate entry to the nursing and midwifery professions should be confined to the academic streams in schools. Should such careers be denied to half the school population at the age of 14? If not, are we happy if ‘midwifery-led’ rather than ‘consultant-led’ hospital maternity units are managed by staff from the bottom half of the ability range? If there is confusion about the purpose of university education then it is unsurprising that a curriculum policy for the 14-18 age group based on dividing pupils into ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ streams is also confused. Many similar examples in other career pathways exhibit the same confusion.

What does ‘non-academic’ mean? Is it to be based on the IQ type Cognitive Ability Tests widely used by the frequently praised Harris, Mossbourne and other Academies for regulating their admissions? These tests are certainly very good predictors of performance in academic subjects at GCSE and A Level and their use gives such Academies control over their pupil admission profile crucially denied to their much denigrated LA school predecessors.

If such tests are not used then how are the criteria for dividing pupils at 14 to be decided? How is ‘academic’ to be defined and measured? The results of the cognitive ability tests used by Academies to regulate their admissions display the classic bell curve continuous ‘normal distribution’. There is no distinctive level of performance in such tests, or any other tests, that could validly divide a population into academic and non-academic streams at any prescribed level let alone the 50th percentile (proportion as a percentage) as Ed Miliband appears to be suggesting. All you can say is that pupils with lower scores generally find academic studies more difficult. But does this mean they shouldn’t be allowed access to them? Pupils are ‘turned off’ learning by inappropriate and undifferentiated teaching methods, not by the subjects themselves.

What about technology and the arts? Are these subjects academic or vocational? Are we to assume that our most academically able pupils should be directed away from cooking, dance, drama and art, or that less academic pupils don’t need to study and understand history, geography, literature, science and a foreign language? How should a ‘Jamie Oliver’ be directed at 14 years old?"

Just substitute 'age 11 in a different school' for 'age 14' in this article and it is immediately clear just how outrageously unacceptable 11+ school selection systems are, or ought to be, to anybody who thinks clearly about it.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 11:35

Interesting parent comment in the "Why do grammar schools remain so popular?" article that a few of you have seen already. This is quoted from The Conversation page ( comments:

"Thanks for an interesting article. I suspect that the simple answer, which is so simple it hardly needs stating here, is that those articulate and well connected members of society with money - but not enough to privately educate their kids - have an obligation to advantage them as much as they can, nonetheless.

Better, selective state funded schools which mimic some of the advantages of private education are therefore attractive - and this part of society are quite good at getting things done in their favour.

With kids at and approaching secondary school age I face this dilemma. My overriding moral obligation is to those children I was personally responsible for creating and, although I also have a practical interest and a moral obligation to the children of others this is nowhere near as great as that to my own. Thus, although I can’t afford to educate them privately if a grammer school was on offer I would feel obliged to send them there.

I guess that this is behind the apparent double standards of politicians of the left who, nonetheless, send their kids to selective schools. They aren’t being dishonest but, having created kids of their own it is to them that they owe their greatest obligation."

This is nicely picking up the question of fear as a motivator from a parents perspective. Personally I wish parents could see how fear as a motivator for choices on education is transferred to students. I think it's this I was trying to speak to on my page/video here: Glad this question of fear is bubbling up the the surface. The more clearly we can label which actions are fear-driven, the more we can get past fear and into sense/justice and all the good stuff.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 12:57

Thanks Leah.

"My overriding moral obligation is to those children I was personally responsible for creating and, although I also have a practical interest and a moral obligation to the children of others this is nowhere near as great as that to my own."

I do understand fear but it shouldn't deter us from speaking up for those less able to do so, for whatever reason (I understand parents will always want the best for their children).

I used to fear for my own children's education from speaking out, or that I would be labelled in some way as anti Lincolnshire. The former has prayed heavily on my mind to the point where I have stepped back on several occasions, the latter I tend to ignore - I love my county, just not its education system.

Living in an area where there is 40% child poverty and selection means I cannot be indifferent to the plight of others.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 13:05

Leah - No one would blame any parent for putting the interests of their children before personal politics. However being selective and so keeping out the riff-raff does not mean that any particular grammar school is any good. You are right that fear and high quality learning do not fit well together. The head is all important and I advise against sending your child to a school the head of which would be likely to get up your nose - the result would be stressful for your child. Far better to send your child to a good comprehensive whose head and staff you warm to and who share your values. I read and admire your posts and think you may have a problem here, for the best possible reasons. You might ask, "how would I have fared as a pupil in such a regime?"

But what what sort of government encourages and promotes a system that rewards the 'sharp elbowed' and forces parents to weigh such competing feelings about their choice of school?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 12:02

Arthur - What has where your parents sent you to school got to do with anything? Let us please rise above meaningless anecdotes. There are plenty of comprehensive educated high achievers and grammar/public school numbskulls - and that proves nothing either.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 15:46


The answer is that ALL pupils are crammed for KS2 SATs, because the results are very high stakes for the school and its head. The 11+ is an IQ test, which is much harder to cram for. The 11+ 'coaching' that affluent parents provide for their children is different to the KS2 cramming that the school subjects all its pupils to. Why would parents pay for the same 'cramming' that the school provides? It would be interesting to ask the tutors that coach children for the 11+ how their approach differs from the SATs 'revision' provided by the school.

These are important issues in relation to the quality of education provided by schools in 11+ LAs.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Sat, 17/10/2015 - 17:09

Report finds grammar schools do not boost social mobility.
"The evidence shows quite clearly that selection serves to reproduce and reinforce existing patterns of disadvantage. It’s like taking every inequality that has emerged in the first 10 years of a child’s life and then saying, ‘Right, let’s institutionalise that through a parallel schooling system."

Michael Pyke's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 10:14

Absolutely right. Perhaps a point that we ought to stress more in public debate is that the primary mechanism that does this social damage is not the allegedly superior education given in grammar schools, this being largely a myth, but the separation of children (and implicitly those who teach them) into high and low status groups.

Recent research has established that many people now in their sixties and seventies have never fully recovered from the damage done to their sense of self by "failing" the 11+.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 08:32

Alan, I still think there is confusion and resistance from much of the left to what you are saying and with which I entirely agree. I certainly get this impression from the response of some on the left to my book, 'Learning Matters'. I am still waiting for it to be reviewed in 'The Guardian' or 'The Independent'.

Michael Pyke's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 10:33

Yes, I read this at the time and agreed with every word. This "vocational/academic" fallacy has persisted since at least the Clarendon Commission and reflects ingrained socio-cultural attitudes, especially the deep rooted English belief in the necessity of social hierarchy. Typically, politicians and others identify the "vocational" as consisting of skilled and semi-skilled manual work (their favourite is plumbing); somehow, medicine, law, accountancy etc are "academic" pursuits!

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Sun, 18/10/2015 - 12:34

Yes, we need to expose the mechanisms of the continuum for justifying the appauling separation at 11 years old and parallel school systems. Studies are also beginning to show children’s brains are affected by parents’ income levels and high stress levels, the type associated with testing ( ). The last thing children and families need in areas of deprivation such as in Mablethorpe/Sutton on Sea/Alford is to divided in this way. It sends out the message that we don't want you. Our education system can do better than that.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 08:38

Thanks Leah, for putting your finger on the fear factor. I feel rather shielded from this debate, living as I do in Wales. Our education system comes in for flak because of our sinking down the PISA league tables of late in comparison with England, Scotland and N Ireland. However, the system here is predominantly comprehensive with a smattering of private schools. I went to a comprehensive school in Wales and so do my kids. They are doing fine. Because the system is pretty homogenous it offers an opportunity to improve and the current trend is away from excessive testing. Time will tell if this can tackle the falling-attainment question. Wales is the most economically deprived of the home nations, which might go some way to providing an explanation to the attainment puzzle.

But returning to the fear factor, I detect in my contacts with friends and family with kids in the English system a higher level of neurosis about schooling and "getting my child into the right school". It's a phrase which has fascinated me for a while. It implies a strong element of competitive shopping. It marks you as a bad parent if you don't get your child into the right school by being sharp elbowed and also pushing your kids to the hilt. And as someone has already pointed out, Alan I think, this militates hugely against any co-operation between parents and still less schools which are in the business of netting the 'best' (i.e. most academically able) children. I sense too, based purely on anecdote and personal experience, that this angst passes down to the kids. Let me be clear: my kids are already under massive pressure this year as they sit GCSE's and A levels respectively. But, notwithstanding the publishing of schools' results and the need to please politicians in Cardiff Bay, schools here still seem less stressed than the English ones and so do the parents. I've noticed the off-spring of the more stressed parents adopting a shield of nonchalance towards exams and testing. One of the lesser reported side-effects of all this stress testing is cynicism on the part of the kids. They seem to intuit that the exams mean more to the school and parents than they do to them. I'm honestly not arguing that Wales has the answer. Just that here we are not subjected to quite the intense degree of segregation.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 10:31

Ah, Alan! Isn't this strange? That we feel our education can be at risk by speaking? Now, I'm asking people to speak. Creating an environment where people don't speak is dangerous; the thoughts don't go away - if anything they boil into anger towards others or to ourselves. I love when people speak! Everything real I've learnt in the last 9 months since starting this education project is because I've spoken, then other people call me 'stupid!' so I smile and say 'teach me, please' - it's disarming and, because I care about understanding this, I'm a good student to those who care enough to communicate what they know, over what they've decided I am.

Roger, Michele (and others here), how about this: At some point schools will be seen as what they are: Buildings for Educational Purposes. Nothing magical about them. No need to to be stuck in only one for 5 or 7 years of youth. Students will simply register at their local school and be free to attend classes in any location they care to organise themselves to be at, alongside virtual classes/courses/learning too. Awkward ways of measuring success will naturally fall away: League tables? (“your school’s ranked lower than mine” - what does that mean or say to students?) Student destinations? (far too delayed! Students who lose themselves tend to blame themselves and stay silent). Teachers will own their work the same ways our sports coaches and music tutors outside of formal education do now. That’s what I hope for. They put me in a grammar and it was a wonderful school; students were great, teachers were great… doesn't mean it makes sense; unless ‘getting ahead of others’ is a virtuous aim in life.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 12:30

Leah and Michele. I am liking this debate very much but at the moment having to reply by phone. I'll come back to it later date.

Yes, there's lots of neurosis in England when it comes to choosing a school, which is exacerbated by selection. Angst is inevitably passed to children, not just by parents but also in the primary phase of education, from peer pressure, comments from teachers familiarising children with the11+ and also by the fact that children get their 11+ results before finishing their SATs.

Regarding the differences between England and Wales, this might be useful:

Yes, in Lincolnshire we are very very very afraid to speak out to rock the boat in the Mablethorpe Sutton on Sea tide. I agree silence is dangerous because it helps to maintain the status quo, which is not in the best interests of everyone. It stifles debate between professionals, students and parents to be able to develop a system that is fair to every child.

A example of fear dividing opinion is the secondary modern v grammar war isn't including parents who object to the 11+ because it's 'not the right platform' and 'your children are ok so what's your problem?' The problem is, democracy cannot happen only upon my doorstep, to create a better world it has to happen everywhere. I received the very same message from the another campaign group several years ago, and so it continues, there is never a right time to challenge ending the 11+. I was accused of being a nodding dog governor, and so I resigned. I have always regretted that decision. I care deeply about education as a social good. Should have stood my ground and not cared what others thought. However, fear isn't just the fault of locals it's whipped up by this government's policies. Unlike the NHS, education has been slow to catch on.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 18:55

Take heart, Alan. It's interesting how this move on the part of the Education Secretary may well have opened up more of a debate than she bargained for. Political commentators have picked up on the story and concluded the right wing of the Conservative party are very much in their comfort zone and so feel free to mention restoration of the grammar system in public. Mr Gove, for all his faults, kept the lid tight shut on the question of selection, preferring to pursue his academies programme. He knows selection is fraught with difficulty. But this latest move could well backfire. I may not be getting out enough, but I haven't picked up on any great groundswell nationally in favour of grammars. Of course, where they do exist, they are popular with those whose kids got in and less so with those whose kids didn't get in. But Leah's right. The not speaking out is a result of fear. The other big inhibition on the profession is the structure. Teachers teach in silos and tend of necessity only to know their own school. The unions are fragmented and unlike the doctors, don't all speak with one voice. I enjoy the privilege as a volunteer of being in 3 different schools and seeing how things work. If you get the chance, don't pipe down. You seem to be very well versed in the minutiae of your county and your opinions are valid. Do please voice them.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 19:25

Very well said, Michele.

agov's picture
Tue, 20/10/2015 - 10:56

Perhaps Gove just kept the lid tight shut on speaking about selection while knowing full well that academies are an invitation to quiet selection. Morgan isn't in the same class.


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