The Government isn’t planning to reintroduce the 11+, claimed former Education Secretary Michael Gove on The World at One*. This would be ‘totally wrong…a retrograde step’.
Restoring the 11+ isn’t what the Government is trying to do, he claimed. There’s no plan to reintroduce 11+ tests across the country. Education Secretary Justine Greening has made the same claim. But it’s disingenuous to imply there won’t be some kind of screening. It might have a new name - Centre of Excellence Aptitude Test (CEAT) perhaps - but it would still be the 11+. To paraphrase Shakespeare, 'A cabbage by any other name would smell as foul'.
What the Government is doing, Gove said, was taking a ‘detailed, evidence-based approach’ to increase the number of good schools. But all the evidence is against selection at 11 (see here, here and here). It may (and I say ‘may') help those who are selected but it has a negative effect on the rest. And any positive effect doesn’t appear to last: the Sutton Trust found pupils from comprehensive schools outperformed their equally qualified peers from both private schools and state grammars at university.
Nevertheless, Michael Gove says the Government is taking a ‘detailed, evidence-based approach’. But as we know, the attitude of the Department for Education to evidence is inconsistent and slippery**.
It is wrong to be guided by ‘pristine ideology’, Gove said. He had introduced new selective schools at age 16 so being ‘utterly opposed’ to selection was ‘silly’. But supporting selection at 16 is not the same as supporting selection at 11. Schools which offer A level courses select by ability because the exams require a certain prior level of achievement. Secondary schools, however, all offer the same exams – GCSEs.
Gove claimed the approach by Prime Minister Theresa May and Education Secretary Justine Greening was ‘unimpeachable’. It is right, he said, to be motivated by what works. But as noted above, a selective education system does not work for the majority of pupils.
A former Conservative Education Secretary Edward Boyle said the 11+ system was wasteful. Mounting evidence showed selection at such an early age was flawed. That was over 50 years ago. But half-a-century later a Tory Prime Minister is still calling for grammar schools. It would be laughable if it were not so serious. Boyle had the courage to speak out against selection – it cost him his career. But today we see another former education secretary doing a complete about-turn from his previous emphatic opposition to grammar schools. A cynic might say such a change of heart is a calculated career move.
REMINDER: You have until 12 December to complete the consultation about the ‘garbage’ grammar proposals. Be warned: the questions imply respondents already agree with the proposals. If you disagree with them, say so.
*Full interview here (education views from 18 minutes).
**See my comment to the Education Select Committee on the DfE’s use of evidence here (scroll down).