Every school should welcome every child. There should be no barriers to any state school. Schools funded by taxpayers should be open to children of all taxpayers.
But some schools put up fences. Some schools discriminate against children who aren’t a certain religion. Some schools avoid taking children with special needs. They tell parents, ‘Your child would be better off at the school up the road.’ Some schools have expensive uniforms from sole suppliers. They might as well say, 'Supermarket blazers not wanted here.'
And some schools reject children whose ability is average. That’s most children - because most children will be average. And these schools won’t do their bit to help those whose achievement is below average either.
These schools are called grammar schools.
Grammar schools choose which children to take. How do they do it? By setting a couple of short tests early in Year 6. Children who fail are officially rejects. And that was most children in the days when all children took the 11+.
Children don’t have to take the 11+ today. But where there are grammar schools, pupils will be coached and tutored so they can ‘pass’. If they pass the grammar will welcome them. If they don’t they will not be welcome.
It’s true most grammars are good or better. All the more reason for them to open their doors to ALL children. Children of average or below average achievement would surely benefit just as they benefit from being in any good school.
And that’s what we want for all children. An education system that works for every child not just a few. And a system that works for every child is a system which welcomes every child.
What would such a welcoming school system look like? It would have schools which value every child. Schools which don’t build fences to keep certain children out. Schools which believe every child deserves a high-quality education. Schools with loyal teachers who stay in teaching.
A welcoming school system would show its commitment to children and young people. How would it do this? By actions, not just in high-sounding words. By making sure schools are properly funded. By making sure there are enough suitably-trained teachers. By making sure there are enough school places.
It’s a system which welcomes parents. Because parents have the biggest influence. A welcoming school system wants parents, all parents, on its side.
It’s a system which knows educating children isn’t just about schools. It’s a system which has policies to pull people out of poverty. It’s a system which makes sure local authorities have enough money to keep libraries, local museums, leisure facilities and SureStart centres open. It’s a system which earmarks enough money to child safety so vulnerable children don’t fall through the cracks.
It’s a system which values teachers in the classroom above pundits on popular papers. And it’s a system which rises above political posturing and vote-chasing. At least, it should do. But what we’re seeing in England is the growth of an education system which divides not unites. A system which allows schools to turn their backs on certain groups of children. And it will waste a great deal of talent. Such a system won’t be welcoming.
And that should be the goal: a school system which welcomes every child.