Education Secretary Justine Greening said yesterday that expanding grammar schools would ‘absolutely not’ mean a return to the 11+ selection exam, TES reports.
It’s not know how Greening intends to select pupils if not by testing. Teacher recommendation, perhaps? Open to abuse. Monitoring children’s work over time? Susceptible to external help. Interviewing pupils? Time consuming.
In areas where selection still exists, the 11+ never went away. Unreliable, susceptible to coaching and tutoring, these two short tests have been the only way to decide whether children go to grammars.
Greening defends the expansion of selection as extending parental choice. But parents don’t choose grammars – grammars choose the children. And in selective areas there is no choice for parents wanting a truly comprehensive school. Selection means creaming off high ability pupils – non-selective schools in selective areas are filled with those deemed ‘not clever’.
‘…one of the areas we are consulting on is whether children should be able to go into selective schools at different ages, rather than just at age 11,’ said Greening. Pupils can already enter grammars at 16 (Pupil Admission Numbers for eligible external pupils permitting). But entering grammars at 12, 13 and 14 would depend on their being space for incomers. Grammar schools usually fill their places – we’re constantly told about how many children are turned away. Space in grammars for late developers could only be made by ejecting children who are already there. Moving children in this way would be disruptive for both schools and children. And for the rejected children it would mean greater humiliation than not being selected in the first place.
Separating children at age 11 and then shuffling them further throughout their secondary education until the start of two-year GCSE courses when, it would be hoped, children would not be moved from one school to another in the name of ‘flexibility’, is inefficient.
This was recognised over half a century ago. Schools Week reports that a junior schools minister in the early 60s, Christopher Chataway, wrote that his boss recognised the evidence against selection was too great. Chataway later wrote:
‘He could see the injustice and waste caused by a system that tried to divide children at the age of ten into two types, which for all the tactful circumlocution might just as well be called for the clever and the stupid’.
This Education Secretary was not, as you might expect, a Labour minister. It was Edward Boyle, Education Secretary in a Conservative government. His opposition to grammars cost him his career.
Greening has two options: the first is to promote a policy which is divisive and wasteful; the second is to show the same courage as Edward Boyle and reject the extension of a system which, to paraphrase Boyle, sorts 11 year-olds into the bright and the dim.
Defeat 'garbage' grammar policy - complete the consultation. Details here.
UPDATE 11 October 07.07: Greening appears not to have read the consultation question paper. There is no specific question about moving children into grammars at other ages other ages. The suggestion appears in the consultation document at the bottom of a 'menu of options to ensure that new or expanding selective schools contribute in a meaningful way to improving outcomes for all pupils' (p25). Greening is, therefore, right to say she's consulting on moving children in and out of selective schools at different ages (although the 'out' isn't mentioned, of course). But respondents would have had to plough through the 25 page consultation paper to find one sentence referring to it. (Note: this update was amended and expanded on 12 October at 08.27 in response to agov's comment below).