The Government Green Paper, ‘Schools that work for everyone’, is Doublethink

Janet Downs's picture

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.








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agov's picture
Fri, 16/09/2016 - 10:13

I missed George Osborne on R4 this morning but apparently he said grammar schools don’t help the majority: “80% of the discussion is about where 20% off the children go” and that he intends to be "“the voice for the liberal mainstream of the country". So that's good news. Especially as Justine Greening obviously doesn't really believe in the policy. That seems to just leave the small number of Tories who are either (a) morons who believe the nonsense about grammar schools being good for everyone or (b) elitists who don't care about anyone except the brightest, a group of which they often, unaccountably, include themselves.

Nigel Ford's picture
Fri, 16/09/2016 - 12:28

Having heard Theresa May cut to ribbons by the leader of the opposition on QT in parliament, on Wednesday, I couldn't help but think what an appalling defence of grammars this useless PM espoused, seeing she was meant to know her brief. Even playing devils advocate, any one of us who oppose the old binary system with every fibre of our body could have made a more eloquent job than this dinosaur of a PM.

Good to see that George Osborne is prepared to publicly express his doubts, but is he the best person within Tory ranks to do so? A former ex public school, Bullingdon boy, who, and this is significant, sends his kids to private schools. He will be an easy target for hypocrisy and pulling ladders away, by the pro grammar brigade, especially if they were educated at one themselves, e.g. Chris Grayling or David Davies.

There are enough Tory MPs who attended comps and RG universities, who could oppose Mother Theresa's policy, on the grounds of superfluity yet alone unfairness, by stating they fulfilled their potential at comprehensive school with a broad socioeconomic mix of pupils. Former leader, William Hague begged his parents to be taken away from Ripon GS after one term and be sent to his local comp in Wath-on-Dearne, which he couldn't praise too highly. Shame he's not still in the Commons to rebut the green paper promoting these educational changes.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/09/2016 - 12:44

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that raw recruit Justine Greening, a former comprehensive pupil, will be likely to oppose May.  She was appointed by May and may not feel secure enough to fight May's plans.  If she doesn't support May, she could risk being sacked right at the beginning of her ministerial career.

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