Minister insults all non-selective schools by implying 'world class education' only found in grammars.

Janet Downs's picture

Disadvantaged pupils, those eligible for the pupil premium, will be able to ‘benefit from world class education’ because the government’s giving money to selective schools to expand, the Department for Education said.

This implies that world class education, whatever that vague description means, is only found in grammar schools. 

Schools minister Nick Gibb said:

Selective schools are some of the highest performing schools in the country and so it’s right that more pupils should have the opportunity to benefit from the world class education they provide. ‘

It doesn’t appear to have dawned on the minister that schools which choose pupils on their likelihood of passing exams are going to perform more highly in league tables than schools which don’t.

 Even judged on Progress 8, grammar schools have an advantage.  Pupils are more likely to take eight or more exams that qualify for P8 than schools which cater for all pupils.  And non-selective schools in selective areas are likely to be the most disadvantaged by the P8 measure because they have a lower proportion of pupils likely to attain GCSE grade 5* or take eight qualifying subjects.

98% of grammars are good or outstanding, said the DfE.  That’s true, which raises the question about how far Ofsted has been influenced by exam results.  

Many of these selective schools haven’t been inspected for nine years or more.  Eleven of the sixteen grammars successful in the first round of the Selective Schools Expansion Fund haven’t been visited by Ofsted since 2008.  Six were last inspected as long ago as 2007.

It appears, then, the education system in England is overseen by a department who thinks an allegedly world-class education can only be found in England’s selective schools.  Yet thousands of non-selective schools in England are good or better. 

We keep being told, ad nauseam, that the proportion of pupils in good or better schools has increased since 2010.  But the DfE’s insinuation that only grammars offer world-class schooling suggests there are differences within Ofsted grades:  all outstanding schools are equal, but some are more equal than others.


*Although grade 4 in reformed GCSEs is classed as a ‘standard’ pass, it’s grade 5 which is used for accountability purposes. It surely won’t be long before politicians and pundits start criticising schools for not getting enough strong passes and saying anything less than a 5 is a fail.  Grammar schools, unsurprisingly given their intake, will have more pupils gaining a grade 5 than all-ability comprehensives and significantly more than  creamed secondary moderns. 


CORRECTION 22 February 2019 08.14: The headline has been changed from 'World class school places only found in grammars, minister implies'.  The original heading was ambiguous and could have given the impression I was agreeing with the minister.  Article typo also corrected.


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John Mountford's picture
Thu, 21/02/2019 - 16:51

There is no doubt that English education is a game of political football. The DfE's remit is to promote the education policy of the party in power. As much as people like me believe civil servants should not appear openly enthusiastic about grammar schools, because it creates a bad taste for those who think otherwise, it is not their place to oppose government policy. The expansion of grammar schools was a manifesto commitment of the Tories. The electorate clearly, in our broken electoral system, voted for this. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that a minister, even one renowned outside his party for gross misrepresentation of data, chooses to exaggerate the positive impact of his party's policy while rejecting any and all its failings. No matter what we may believe Gibb implied about grammar school education, he actually stated that "‘Selective schools are some of the highest performing schools in the country". In that regard he is making a valid point. The issue is that we are not comparing like with like.

To this extent, Janet, I suggest your headline statement risks playing into the hands of those who support grammar schools and see the views of those who oppose them outright as baseless and bigoted. I know you would not intend such a conclusion to be drawn. Your sincere endeavours to challenge government policy over grammar schools is well known and highly valued.

As Chief Executive of the Grammar School Heads Association, Jim Skinner, states on the DfE press release, praising the latest development, "Along with the Selective School Expansion Fund, this work is making an important contribution to ensuring more children receive the high quality education that is right for them." Mr Skinner's attempt to justify the system he serves is based on a lie when he points out, "The number of pupils reaching secondary age means that it makes absolute sense that, just like other good and outstanding schools, they are able to expand." The lie exists in the fact that grammar schools, as he well understands, are not 'just like other good and outstanding schools.' They are fundamentally different. They select few from the many and in doing so it is at best disingenuous and more appropriately obscene to suggest this justifies their existence. It is the responsibility of our society to offer the best we can so that ALL, not the few young people get an education that "is best for them.". The very existence of grammar schools positively prevents this, and don't get me started on private education!!

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/02/2019 - 08:19

John: thanks for pointing out the ambiguity of the headline.  I've now changed it.

Re Skinner's comment about grammars being able to expand.  This implies grammars were not able to do so until the DfE bunged them money to grow.  But he knows very well grammar academies can increase their pupil admission numbers and have done so.  And how does he think the Kent satellite grammar got built if not with, er, money?  

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