The Tories are finally abandoning their symbolic commitment to grammar schools, of which there are only 164 left in England anyway, with a ban on any new ones. Sure, the change is designed to allow them to appear to be ‘Blairites’ in supporting city academies more forcefully than Gordon Brown, but it does lead to the semi-amusing and semi-frustrating situation of waking up to hear David Willetts on Radio 4 ‘explaining’ what we’ve known for decades.
So for hopefully the final time, why are grammar schools – and the associated academic selection at age 11 – such Bad Things again?
- One Size Fits All? – it’s somewhat strange that this charge is levelled at comprehensive schools by those who think you can judge a child through a single entrance test at eleven years old. Those who develop later don’t stand a chance.
- Tutoring – the richer parents simply pay their way into grammar schools, as well as strategic house-buying.
- Unnecessary – can’t bright kids do well in mixed ability education? Of course they can. If you have some kind of mental block at the idea of going to school alongside less academically able students, get a grip. If the teaching isn’t good enough, or the discipline isn’t strong enough, then challenge it.
- Divisive and Demoralising – who wants siblings to be divided into the haves and the have-nots on the basis of a test at age 11? Don’t bother claiming that they’ll get the education ‘best suited’ to them – you ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ an entrance exam for a reason. In the meantime, grammar schools drain the best teachers away from the others, leading to a worse education for those who need it most.
- Inflexible – schools can’t magically grow bigger and smaller each year. Select at age 11, and children who don’t quite pass the test but could have done equally as well as those who do are locked out.
- Unimaginative – don’t cream the most academically able kids away – allow them to contribute to a genuinely comprehensive school and see what exciting things can happen. It’s not very impressive that a pre-selected cohort of clever students get good exam results. Deliver value added and make a difference to children’s lives, rather than just taking them along a set path.