‘THERESA May’s plans for new grammar schools are a regressive move and a distraction from the real problems facing schools and education,’ Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said yesterday.
Courtney was responding to the Tory PMs plans to expand the grammar school programme, a programme that has led a chorus of critics, including teaching unions and Labour and Liberal MPs who say that the system stinks of ‘segregation’ and ‘selection’.
Courtney added: ‘Teacher retention and recruitment is at dangerously low levels, assessment is in disarray and insufficient school funding is impacting on the quality and range of educational experiences teachers can offer students.
‘These are the issues that need addressing, not a return to an archaic idea that has been roundly rejected for decades. Social mobility is a problem but as all the evidence shows it is one that will not be addressed by selective education.
‘A Sutton Trust report showed that less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals, while many grammar school heads were concerned that children from middle class families were coached to pass the entrance exam.
‘The Conservatives experiment with education is not working. Parents and teachers have seen the consequences of choice in school provision. Figures show that two academies per week in England are facing formal interventions due to concerns about performance. Many free schools have been caught up in mismanagement and financial scandals. Grammar schools are nothing more than window dressing. It is time for government to step back and take a long hard look at what is needed to ensure that all children are given the education they deserve.’
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: ‘The Prime Minister says that she wants an “element of selection in the school system”. Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility zsar, says that this risks “recreating an us and them” in the education system.
‘Milburn goes on to warn of a “social mobility disaster”. It is clear from these statements that neither of them have a clue what is already happening in schools now. There is already more than an “element” of selection in the system. Selection is deeply rooted and the warnings on the adverse impact on social mobility are too late.
‘The education policies of the previous coalition government, continued by this one – premised on extensive and excessive autonomy for schools and the obsessive pursuit of deregulation – have rapidly increased covert selection, often targeted at pupils from materially deprived backgrounds.
‘Sending out strong advance signals to prospective families that if their child obtains a place at the school they will be expected to make significant financial contributions to school funds, requirements to purchase uniforms from expensive sole suppliers and charging for educational activities are all strategies of covert selection.
‘It is now a reality that access to education for some children and young people is based on their parents’ ability to pay. Over three million children in the UK live in poverty, a key inhibitor to educational progress, and experience every day the harsh realities of cuts to welfare, specialist services and support, education grants and the wider effects of the recession.
‘The values and ethos of a public education service, which should secure and deliver the entitlement of all children and young people to access high quality education, have been seriously compromised. Structural change in education is the hallmark of the last six years of government, despite the fact that there is no evidence that it raises standards.
‘Rather than becoming consumed in a debate about even more educationally and socially divisive changes to the structure of our school system, the Prime Minister should focus on tackling the deep educational inequalities which are the legacy of her predecessor.’
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘With a growing shortage of teachers, a shortage of school places and questions about the success of the academies programme, expanding pupil selection is a massive distraction from the real issues facing our education system. All children deserve to go to a good school, not just a chosen few.
‘All the evidence shows pupil selection depresses the chances of poor children even further and privileges pupils whose parents can afford to coach their children to pass the 11+ exam. Expanding the selection of pupils was not in the manifesto on which the Conservative Party was elected, so the government has not got a mandate to do this.
‘It is hard to see how creating more grammar schools fits with Theresa May’s promise when she became prime minister that every policy will be examined to check its effect will benefit working families. Nor does will it support Justine Greening’s key priority of improving social mobility.’
Meanwhile, Justine Greening has indicated that the ban on grammar school expansion will be lifted. Answering an urgent House of Commons question from Labour, following reports that Theresa May had agreed the government should build a new wave of ‘inclusive grammar schools’, Greening confirmed that this was proposed. We do think selection can play a role,’ Greening told MPs.
She was responding to a question from her Labour counterpart, Angela Rayner, who condemned the government, both for the decision and the way it was leaked to a newspaper following a private meeting of Tory MPs, rather than announced to parliament.
Rayner said ‘the cat is finally out of the bag’, over grammars, ‘The prime minister has said this policy is justified because we already have social selection. Quite how making things worse by bringing back grammar schools as a solution remains a mystery. This policy will not help social mobility but will entrench inequality and disadvantage.
‘It will be the lucky few who can afford the tuition that will get ahead and the disadvantaged that will be left behind. A policy for the few at the expense of the many.’
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said the plan ‘is so flawed that it does not stand up to the most basic scrutiny.’ He said: ‘I assumed that grammar schools were the obsession of a few on the right of the Tory Party who seem to want to stop the world as they want to get off, but it seems this thinking has seeped into Number 10.’
Grammar schools became the selective tier of the Tripartite System of state-funded secondary education operating in England and Wales from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s. Grammar schools were intended to teach an academic curriculum to the most ‘intellectually able’ 25 percent of the school population as selected by the 11-plus examination.
As a result children from the age of 11 were streamed, general by class, with the sons and daughters of the rich attending private schools, the middle class attending Grammar schools and the children of working class families being forced in to Secondary Modern schools.
These were schools were where working class children were pigeon holed into accepting a life of low paid jobs or unemployment.