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May 16, 2007

Tories and Grammar Schools

This will cheer UKIP:

The Conservative Party will officially sever links with academic selection in the state sector today, accusing grammar schools of entrenching social advantage.

David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, will warn grammar school supporters in the party that they cannot harp back to the past.

"We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright, poor kids," he will say.

That leaves UKIP as the only party unequivocally supporting the idea of academic selection in the education system.

Yes, yes, I know there's a difference between academic selection within a school (streaming) and by school (grammars and sec mods) but seriously, is there anyone at all left who thinks that there should still be mixed ability classes?

May 16, 2007 in Politics | Permalink

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Comments

I do. It seems idiotic to have lessons in music or art or sport split by 'ability', and it seems impractical to split every subject by ability in that subject - and impossible if you've already sent one lot of people to a grammar school and the others to a secondary modern.

Tim adds: Music? Split by ability? So, when I was taking Grade VI trumpet at the age of 15 I should be taking my music lessons along with someone struggling over the difference between 3/4 and 4/4? Sport? Ever heard of first team, second, third? You've just chosen two subjects where we most definitely do, already, and obviously rightly, split and teach by ability.

Posted by: Matthew | May 16, 2007 9:06:02 AM

The school i went to didnt teach games like that in terms of teams. I cant believe most do . Surely the first eleven plays other schools?. On mixed ability classes unless you are proposing huge bussing between schools then you are going to have them more in a secondary modern system than a streamed comprehensive as you decided talent at everything can be determined by an exam at age 11, which clearly it cant.

Posted by: Matthew | May 16, 2007 10:14:12 AM

Of course there should be mixed-ability classes. Otherwise how can smaller schools offer a wide range of subjects?

Posted by: Gdr | May 16, 2007 12:48:01 PM

Matthew, there will be far more variation in ability in a comprehensive school than in either a grammar or a secondary modern; obviously so, because the cohort is the union of the high-ability and the low-ability. However, the major purpose of the 11-plus was to distinguish not just 'bright' and 'not-bright' but 'academic' and 'non-academic' - what would now be termed 'vocational' - and educate them according to their strengths.

On the main point, Willetts appears not to realise that the purpose of the education system is to educate to the best of its ability, not to engage in social engineering. To claim that selection on the basis of ability offers advantages to the middle-classes is to say that the children of poor people are dim. State-funded grammar schools did precisely the opposite - they enabled bright children of poorer families to get an education otherwise reserved for the rich who could afford to pay twice.

Posted by: Ian Bennett | May 16, 2007 12:51:09 PM

Which politician stood up today and said it was an outrage that 20% or so of primary school leavers couldn't read or add up properly? HM Loyal Opposition? Nope, twas The Goblin King, who the heck is he going to blame that on?

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | May 16, 2007 12:57:12 PM

Willets must be incredibly stupid to say this before Brown has committed himself on an education policy. The Tories will look ridiculous if Brown now advocates any kind of selection by ability.

Posted by: James C | May 16, 2007 1:20:32 PM

Ian - the issue here is whether or not there should be any mixed-ability classes. You (and Tim) seem to think that ability at science naturally correlates to ability at languages, which I can personally testify is not necessarily the case. You also believe that a child's future potential is decided already at 11, which I don't agree with either. Furthermore, unless the grammar school itself is streamed, and then with different streams for every single lesson, then there is always going to be mixed-ability classes (in fact only with one-to-one tuition could you avoid it).

You say "state-funded grammar schools did precisely the opposite - they enabled bright children of poorer families to get an education otherwise reserved for the rich who could afford to pay twice", but this is precisely the view that Willetts is attacking, as he knows it isn't to any useful extent true. To say children from poor familes don't get into grammar schools is not to say that they are dim, but to quote facts. In england's remaining selective LEA's, only 5.8% of children eligible for free school meals attend grammar schools, compared to 26% of those not on FSM. As the education in secondary moderns is worse than in the comprehensives, this means 94.2% of poor children get a worse education, and 5.8% a better one.

This is for two reasons - first, already by age 11 children from poor backgrounds are underperforming, and second, the admissions procedure appears biased - those who are clever have a smaller chance of getting into the grammar schools.

Posted by: Matthew | May 16, 2007 1:29:53 PM

"an outrage that 20% or so of primary school leavers couldn't read or add up properly"

It is an outrage (and not one, obviously, that grammar schools would affect positively).

But who is the "goblin king" - David Cameron?

Posted by: Matthew | May 16, 2007 1:40:17 PM

The Goblin King is Gordon Brown (some prefer "The Gobblin' King, not sure which is correct).

The Goblin King features in various the nursery rhymes that so delight my kids

"See saw, Marjorie Daw
Johnny shall have new master
He shall have but a penny a day
Because the Goblin King takes nearly all of it in tax, national insurance and tax credit and housing benefit withdrawal"

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | May 16, 2007 3:12:08 PM

>As the education in secondary moderns is worse than in the comprehensives, this means 94.2% of poor children get a worse education, and 5.8% a better one.

So it's better to ban grammar schools and ensure 100% of poor children get a worse education then?

Posted by: Stephen | May 16, 2007 3:35:22 PM

How can 100% of children get a worse education? Worse than what?

Posted by: dsquared | May 16, 2007 4:11:05 PM

Worse than a private education.

Posted by: Stephen | May 16, 2007 4:28:33 PM

"We tell Labour that comprehensive schooling is egalitarian. We tell the conservatives that it is cheap.
And we educate our own children privately."
Sir H Appleby

Posted by: Neil Craig | May 16, 2007 4:41:54 PM

You (and Tim) seem to think that ability at science naturally correlates to ability at languages, which I can personally testify is not necessarily the case.

Matthew, this is utter rubbish: no one is saying that those good at science are also good at languages. You stream according to ability in different subjects. If my (admittedly private) school could manage it with 1600 pupils, I'm sure that grammars can do it with fewer.

The point is that the grammar/comprehensive difference is merely coarse streaming -- a practical first step -- which then progresses to fine streaming within schools.

It was I who coined the term "The Gobblin' King" in this post. It was a play on words in that Gordon gobbles up your money and because I'd watched Labyrinth recently and thus captioned his picture in the following manner: Gordon Brown: "I am the Gobblin' King! I have taken your money to the Gobblin' Castle, in the middle of the Gobblin' City, at the centre of my Labyrinthine tax policies."

DK

Posted by: Devil's Kitchen | May 16, 2007 5:08:13 PM

Grammar schools are advantageous to the children who go there because there is no stigma for being the bright kid, and by the nature of the system, the parents tend to care about their kids' education at least a bit, which tends to contribute to a better environment for all who are involved. This means it is easier to recruit better teachers, and so on.

It's good for the kids who go there, and it doesn't harm - except in the most tenuous way - those kids who don't. Leave it alone, Cameron.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | May 16, 2007 5:25:30 PM

Yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that I will ever vote Tory again while Cameron is leader.

Posted by: David Gillies | May 16, 2007 6:10:27 PM

Central government should not be deciding which types of school people go to at all.

Posted by: chris strange | May 16, 2007 6:41:35 PM

More grammar schools will only challenge the ascendancy of the private education sector which is presently booming:

"Parents are turning to private schools in increasing numbers due to mounting job and travel pressures on families, leaders of the fee-paying sector said last night.

"Despite a national decline in the number of children of school age and a 5.9% increase in average fees, annual figures from the Independent Schools Council showed 509,093 children in private education in Britain this year, up from 505,450 in 2006."
http://education.guardian.co.uk/publicschools/story/0,,2072190,00.html

"Record numbers of children are being sent to independent schools, figures released today show.

"The figures - which cast a shadow over 10 years of the 'education, education, education' policy promoted by the Blair government - show the numbers have risen from 505,450 last year to 509, 093 in 2007. Independent school headteachers said Mr Blair's policies were responsible."
http://education.independent.co.uk/news/article2511439.ece

It has long been a central and recurring theme in Conservative policy that state funded services should not be allowed to crowd out legitimate private sector business. Why would I want to spend all that money in school fees to send my son to Eton if the grammar school down the road achieves better A-level results? As it happens, there are two maintained boys schools within walking distance of where I'm writing this which achieved better A-level results last year than Eton:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6250419.stm

A thriving grammar school sector represents the most serious prospective threat to increasing private sector school enrolments. I therefore feel confident that private sector schools will warmly welcome this new Conservative policy for schools which will help to ensure that wealth will be able to continue to buy access to good schooling and the best universities without being hampered by unnecessary competition from the subsidised state sector.

Posted by: Bob B | May 16, 2007 10:50:14 PM

Why would I want to spend all that money in school fees to send my son to Eton if the grammar school down the road achieves better A-level results?

Because education in not purely about exam results. Could I have spent three years wielding an oxyacetylene torch to build steel sculptures at the local grammar? No.

That's not to denigrate grammars, but it is an illustration of where governments have gone wrong: education is not simply about exams.

DK

Posted by: Devil's Kitchen | May 17, 2007 1:29:48 AM

Admittedly the local maintained grammar schools with better exam results than Eton won't provide quite the same valuable contacts for later career development but the better exam results improve the prospects of getting a place at one of the better universities and at very much lower cost for the parents. Besides:

"The UK's most expensive private schools are producing pupils who achieve the worst grades at university, according to research. An eight-year study of graduates' results by researchers at the University of Warwick suggests that the more parents pay in school fees, the less chance their children have of getting a good degree."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2552523.stm

Obviously, that fascinating correlation immensely strengthens the case for preventing additional unfair competition for private sector schools, motivated by profit, from the state maintained grammar schools. State subsidised activities shouldn't be allowed to crowd out profit-seeking, private sector business.

Posted by: Bob B | May 17, 2007 6:28:10 AM

[ You stream according to ability in different subjects. If my (admittedly private) school could manage it with 1600 pupils, I'm sure that grammars can do it with fewer]

surely it is more difficult for smaller schools to have lots of streaming, not easier? For given numbers of teachers and classrooms, the scheduling problem gets harder the more subdivisions you make.

Posted by: dsquared | May 17, 2007 7:20:21 AM

Admittedly the local maintained grammar schools with better exam results than Eton won't provide quite the same valuable contacts for later career

Blah, blah. That is to entirely miss my point about education not being purely about exams. The state have convinced everyone that these are the only important things because exam results are easily manipulated to show political "success".

surely it is more difficult for smaller schools to have lots of streaming, not easier? For given numbers of teachers and classrooms, the scheduling problem gets harder the more subdivisions you make.

Subdivisions do not have to be too fine. For the first three years at Eton, for instance, the sets (streams) were divided roughly like this:

Everyone in a set for English was also in the same set (and schedule) for Geography, History, RE and PE.

The three sciences were also run in the same set.

Maths was separate.

Languages (French and Latin and, for the masochists, Greek) were also in the same set.

After those years, sets were differentiated according to what subjects you were taking.

DK

Posted by: Devil's Kitchen | May 17, 2007 8:36:49 PM