Selection helps ‘ordinary working class families’ say Tories. Research shows they’re wrong

Janet Downs's picture

 ‘We will bring back grammars.’  That’s the Tory Manifesto message.

Never mind international evidence shows selection harms those who aren’t selected

Never mind that mountains of research reveal the harmful effects of selection.  

The ban on new selective schools will be dumped if the Tories win the election.  It’s in the Manifesto so Tory MPs critical of the policy will be silenced.

The Manifesto says ‘…slightly more children from ordinary, working class families attend selective schools as a percentage of the school intake compared to nonselective schools.’  The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has already panned the Department for Education for making claims about ‘working class’ pupils.  It’s not possible to discover whether pupils are working class, the watchdog said.  It appears the Tories aren’t bothered by the watchdog’s criticism.  Vague waffle makes a better soundbite.

Perhaps ‘ordinary, working class families’ are the ‘just-about-managing’ which Tory leader Theresa May claims to champion.   But if it’s impossible to discover who are working class, then it’s misleading to claim all just-about-managing families are working class.  And why include the adjective ‘ordinary’?  This smacks of the distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘underserving’ poor.

But are there proportionately more children from just-about-managing families in grammars than in non-selective schools?

There are not.   Research* from UCL, Warwick University and Bristol University find there’s ‘no support’ for the Manifesto claim.    

The Manifesto repeats the tired claim that selective education reduces the attainment gap between ‘rich and poor’ grammar school pupils to ‘almost zero’.  But there is no attainment gap between rich and poor pupils when they enter grammars because selection chooses only high-achieving pupils.  It’s easy to eliminate a gap when none exists.  It’s worrying that university-educated May hasn’t grasped this.

The Tories say their proposed education changes ‘will have great effect’ but they can’t ‘overcome the unfairness of selection by house price, where ordinary, working class families find it difficult to access the best schools because they cannot afford to live in the catchment area’.

Much is made of selection by house prices.  But nearly nine-in-ten of schools in England were good or better in their latest Ofsted reports.  Unless the Tories are being highly selective in deciding which of these ‘good or better schools’ are ‘best’, are we really to believe that just-about-managing families are squeezed out of the catchment areas of 90% of England’s schools because these 90% are only in areas where houses are expensive?

The policy to resurrect grammar schools shows a willingness by May to be swayed by prejudice.  Even right-wing think tank Bright Blue says ‘the crusade to increase grammar schools is driven by personal experience rather than the evidence’.  This is not the mindsight Britain needs in a Prime Minister.  May describes herself as a ‘bloody difficult woman’ but belligerence and bias are handicaps in delicate negotiations.  May’s stubborn adherence to a discredited policy suggests she could defer to her personal opinions rather than be swayed by well-argued reasoning.  If she enters Brexit discussions with the attitude that May knows best, then her rallying cry of ‘Forward Together’ may pitch Britain over the cliff.

*NOTE:  The research defines “just-about-managing” families as those in the range from the 20th to the 40th percentile of SocioEconomic Status Index.  The full analysis is here.



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john bajina's picture
Fri, 19/05/2017 - 14:44

If Mrs May thinks she will steam roll more Selection through Parliament, she is in for a shock.

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