The Grammar Green Paper is called, without a trace of irony, Schools that work for everyone. But its proposals are only likely to ‘work’, if they work at all*, for a minority of children.
The Green Paper admits that in areas where selection exists, pupils attending non-selective schools in these areas ‘may not fare as well academically – both compared to local selective schools and comprehensives in non-selective areas.’
The Government’s proposed solution is not to abandon selection but to increase it on the spurious ground that selection will ‘work’ for every pupil.
These supposedly ameliorating ideas** include the insistence that selective schools will be allowed to expand if they ensure ‘good quality non-selective places locally’ by:
1 Taking some pupils from lower income households (as long as they pass the 11+, of course – grammars are only interested in the ‘bright’ poor).
2 Set up a new non-selective secondary school (for the rejects).
3 Establish a feeder primary free school in a low-income area. Such schools would raise parental expectations that their child would automatically gain a grammar place. But that wouldn’t be the case, of course. And setting up a school in a low-income area doesn’t necessarily mean that low-income pupils would form the bulk of the intake. Research by School Dash found poorer pupils were underrepresented in primary free schools compared with deprivation in their local areas**.
4 Partner with existing non-selective schools or encourage flexibility by allowing pupils to enter the grammar at different ages. If the Government wants grammars to increase flexibility then it follows that some pupils would have to leave to make way for chosen incomers. It’s unclear how the parents of deselected children might react. Or how rejection would affect the discarded pupils. Or how schools, already creamed of high-ability pupils, would feel about losing the few they have and be obliged to accept the grammars’ failures.
In reality, these requirements are so much hot air. Grammar academies can ignore them. Academies have the freedom to increase their Pupil Admission Number without permission. Unless the Government is planning to remove this freedom from all academies, then grammar academies can expand without bothering with the above requirements.
Allowing existing non-selective schools to become selective, is another proposal, provided there’s local demand. The effect on neighbouring non-selective school would be negative. Over time they would be stripped of their high-attaining pupils. Of course, all non-selective schools could take up the opportunity to become selective. As the Mail said: ‘Every school in England will be free to convert to a grammar…’ It’s unclear where the 75% of children who fail the 11+ would be educated if every school takes up this freedom.
Multi-academy trusts (MATs) will be encouraged to set up ‘centres of excellence’ for their high-achievers, the Government proposes. This sends out the message that ‘excellence’ is only required for high ability pupils. The rest can make do with something less than excellent. That aside, it would only work in MATs where academies were close enough to enable easy, cheap transport. Some MATs have academies over a very wide geographical area. It would be impractical for these to set up ‘centres of excellence’ several counties away from places were their pupils live.
Much of the Green Paper is taken up with what Sam Freedman calls in his barnstorming piece for Conservative Home, ‘trying to work out how to mitigate the ill-effects of its own proposals.’ The Green Paper is an example of Doublethink – holding two contradictory ideas at once. It accepts existing grammars have a negative impact on the majority but thinks expanding selection will be positive. It won’t.
*It appears the grammar school ‘advantage’ doesn’t last. The Sutton Trust found that pupils from comprehensive schools outperformed their equally-qualified peers from state grammars and independent schools at university.
**Summary downloadable from Schools Week here.
***The same findings applied to grammar and faith schools.