OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM IS IN CRISIS. School governors and headteachers are having to cope with the biggest funding deficit in living memory, a massive recruitment shortfall, record numbers of teachers leaving the profession and worryingly large numbers of young people with mental health issues caused by stress - and who are tested to within an inch of their lives.
You would think that the newly appointed Secretary for State for Education, Damian Hinds, would be busy trying to solve some of these issues - but you’d be wrong. On 11th May he announced £50 million additional money for the expansion of just 163 out of our 3,000 secondary schools. Those 163 schools are grammar schools.
When she misguidedly went to the electorate in June 2017, Prime Minister May promised in her manifesto to build more grammar schools. Those plans were scuppered when she lost her majority. The additional £50 million will potentially create thousands of new places in grammar schools, which are already located almost exclusively in middle class areas. The Department for Education (DfE) has drawn up a memorandum of understanding for these schools to apply for the funding and agree to improve their admission arrangements to increase access for poorer children.
Currently only 2.5% of pupils in grammar schools are in receipt of free school meals. But as Alix Robertson reported in Schools Week (11th May 2018), there is “no firm obligation on any school to comply with any terms of the agreement”. So it’s money for old rope - or, once again, for the few, not the many. Hinds sells his policy on the basis of educational benefits for disadvantaged pupils and increasing social mobility and parental choice. In reality, if you wanted to improve education for disadvantaged pupils you would not cut Sure Start Centres to the bone, create a benefits system where a million children live in poverty and make £2.8 billion pounds of cuts to education since 2015. The very few children who will ‘benefit’ from grammar schools expanding are likely to be from middle class families, heavily tutored to pass the eleven plus, and with parents with aspirations for private education but not quite able to afford it.
There is no evidence that grammar schools increase social mobility; in fact the opposite is true. The Education Policy Institute study of grammar schools in 2016 found they had no positive impact on social mobility and, where they exist, had a negative impact on existing non-selective schools, particularly for poorer pupils. Indeed, grammar schools make no impact, either negative or positive, on overall pupil attainment once prior attainment and pupil background is taken into account. We do know that selection has a negative effect on those pupils who are not selected by a series of flawed tests administered to eleven-year-olds.
The vast majority of our pupils go to their local community primary and then on to comprehensive secondary schools. Their needs have been swept aside, and the Tory Party has ignored its critics, including the 500 headteachers who recently called for a reversal of the cuts. The Tories continue in their quest for an outdated, elitist system that perpetuates privilege.
The DfE recently published its longawaited consultation on grammar schools entitled Schools that Work for Everyone. It makes grim reading for Damian Hinds and Theresa May. Of the 5,274 respondents, the most popular answer to the question, what percentage of poor pupils should be taught at a grammar school, was 100%.
The NEU alongside others, such as NAHT, the headteachers’ union, are fighting against the Tories’ austerity agenda. Expanding selective schools is a kick in the teeth for the majority. Parents, grandparents, school staff and governing bodies up and down the country know that this government, of the few and for the few, must go.
retired headteacher and National Education Union (NEU) member