Tories’ “obsession with selective schooling is damaging the educational chances of children” – Pugh

The BBC reports:

England is to get its first “new” grammar school for five decades after ministers allowed a grammar school to build an “annexe” in another town.

Weald of Kent school in Tonbridge will open a site in Sevenoaks, Kent – side-stepping a ban on new grammar schools.

But Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said this would not “open the floodgates” to more schools being allowed to select by ability.

…The decision to allow the new grammar school site, with places for 450 girls, has raised expectations of similar bids in other parts of the country.

But Mrs Morgan said this was a “genuine expansion” of an existing school – describing it as “one school, two sites” – and it “does not reflect a change in this government’s position on selective schools”.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman, John Pugh MP said:

It is not possible to have selection in schools without rejecting some pupils. Selective schooling leaves too many children behind at an early age and does not solve the serious problems with school places that many local authorities face.

In a competitive high-skill economy we must ensure all schools achieve excellence by improving standards, but that is not done by creating new selective grammar schools that only benefit a few students.

The Conservative Party’s obsession with selective schooling is damaging the educational chances of children up and down the country.

* News Meerkat - keeping a look-out for Liberal Democrat news. Meerkat photo by Paul Walter

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134 Comments

  • @John Pugh perhaps you might like to examine the facts before knee-jerking against selective education.

    State comrehensives foster huge inequalities due to “selection by house price”: http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/0 … n-britain/

    Some schools recognise this and are recreating Grammar Schools within Schools which provide better outcomes for pupils: https://www.tes.com/article.aspx?storycode=6327587

    The most socially-selective schools are supposed comprehensives:

    “95% of the top 500 comprehensives take fewer pupils on free school meals than the total proportion in their local areas, including almost two thirds (64%) which are unrepresentative of their local authority area with gaps of five or more percentage points.”

    http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/selective-comprehensives/

  • PHIL THOMAS 15th Oct '15 - 4:31pm

    Is Tom Brake MP in Carshalton against Selection ? Where there are Grammar Schools you never hear the Lib Dems speaking out against them ?

  • Shouldn’t the real line be one of localism? Why does it take years of dithering and a decision by the Secretary of State, to get a new school in Sevenoaks approved to meet local need. If we believe in localism, that means allowing decisions to be taken that you wouldn’t approve of nationally, but it’s still the right thing to do.

    My view for the little it’s worth, is that if you’re going to run a grammar school system it’s daft that they can’t expand proportionally with school populations.

  • Peter Watson 15th Oct '15 - 4:43pm

    @TCO “The most socially-selective schools are supposed comprehensives”
    The report to which you link states, “We find that the overall rate of FSM uptake at the top 500 comprehensives measured on the traditional five good GCSE scale is just below half the national average, 7.6% compared to 16.5%, in almost 3,000 state secondary schools. Only 49 of the top 500 schools have free school meal rates higher than the national average.”
    Another Sutton Trust study states, “Less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals – an important indicator of social deprivation – whereas almost 13% of entrants come from outside the state sector, largely believed to be fee-paying preparatory schools. The average proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals in selective areas is 18%, and it is higher on average in other areas where grammar schools are located.” (http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/poor-grammar-entry-grammar-schools-disadvantaged-pupils-england/)
    This suggests that actually, the most socially-selective schools are grammar schools rather than comprehensives.
    But as a wise man once said, “eligibility for free school meals, is a poor indicator [for under-representation]” (https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-the-impact-of-the-budget-on-students-46755.html#comment-366734), though perhaps that does not apply when he believes it supports his case.

  • “It is not possible to have selection in schools without rejecting some pupils. Selective schooling leaves too many children behind at an early age and does not solve the serious problems with school places that many local authorities face.”

    Yes that applies to ALL good schools.

    A local Comprehensive school is ‘selective’, only it selects to ensure that it actually takes a comprehensive intake and that all villages and schools in its ‘catchment’ are fairly represented, and hence cannot be accused of taking the “cream”. The school is located in a deprived area (as defined by government) and the catchment includes towns and villages up to 11 miles away. By the way it has consistently been among the top schools for academic achievement and value added, hence it is massively oversubscribed.

    Because of the principles of the school, it has no intention of expanding on its current site and so acts as a training school for an increasing number of other schools located primarily within it’s catchment, but also beyond. the view of the school isn’t that it is in competition with other schools, but that “every child matters”.

  • @Peter Watson the Sutton Trust finds that:

    “The vast majority of England’s most socially selective state secondary schools are non-grammar schools”

    “only 17 of the 100 most socially selective state schools in England are grammars”

    “the impact on the academic results of non-grammar state schools’ due to the ‘creaming off’ of pupils to grammar schools is negligible.”

    “Grammar schools as a whole do not seem to take their fair share of economically disadvantaged pupils, although there are other groups of schools for whom this is just as much true.”

    http://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/non-grammars-socially-selective-state-schools/

    @John Pugh

    It is not possible to not have selection in schools without condemning some pupils to selection by house price. Non-selective schooling leaves too many children behind at an early age and does not solve the serious problems with underachievement that many children in sub-standard comprehensives face.

    In a competitive high-skill economy we must ensure all pupils achieve excellence by introducing selection, but that is not done by supporting selection-by-housing-costs comprehensive schools that only benefit a few pupils.

    Your obsession with opposing selective schooling is damaging the educational chances of children up and down the country.

  • The opposition to selective schooling is based on the desire to limit every child to the opportunities open to the least able.

    The challenge is to ensure that children of all abilities receive the appropriate level of education. Streaming according to ability should be a process of optimisation. Those who are academically bright need more difficult challenges to stretch their ability. Those who struggle require a slower pace and more sympathetic coaching. Those with poor ability need the most help.

    Streaming should not be a single event. There should be flexibility by subject and over the school life of the pupil.

  • It is not possible to have selection in schools without rejecting some pupils

    The same is true of selection for university places, or selection for jobs. Selecting the best and rejecting the rest is what life is all about.

    There’s simply no point in pretending that all pupils have the ability to contribute to our ‘competitive high-skill economy’; some of them simply don’t. In the past they would have found work in unskilled jobs but now they will simply be dead weight.

  • @ TCO “only 17 of the 100 most socially selective state schools in England are grammars” (The Sutton Trust).

    Now a bit of basic maths (yes, I had a grammar school ‘education’) suggests, as TCO says that 17% of the most socially selective state schools in England are grammars. Now according to the DFE there are 163 grammar Schools out of a total of 3826 publicly funded secondary schools in England (i.e. 4.26%).

    If TCO does his sums again, ergo, he’ll discover that Grammar Schools are disproportionately four times more socially selective (17 /4.26) than none grammar schools.

    The Sutton Trust, by the way, is funded by a multi-millionaire who made his fortune running an American private equity firm.

  • Why should grammar schools ‘only benefit a few students’? Why should they ‘damage the education chances of children up and down the country’?

    This is political claptrap, not a serious debate about education. Why are grammar schools so popular if they cause such damage?

  • @ Peter ” Why should grammar schools ‘only benefit a few students’?”

    Because they reject the children they don’t admit at the age of eleven…… and any “serious debate about education” would examine the research evidence of the consequences of that at such a young and arbitrary age.

    Try this research evidence by the University of Bristol and then decide if it’s political claptrap/

    PDF The result of 11 plus selection – University of Bristol
    http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/…/wp150.pdf

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Oct '15 - 8:42pm

    I am both in total agreement with John Pugh and flabbergasted by the lack in basic understanding that grading children at 11 years of age is socially, educationally, morally and economically illogical and inefficient.

    That fellow Liberal Democrats can state “In a competitive high-skill economy we must ensure all pupils achieve excellence … by introducing selection” is mind boggling.

    Aspiring for ALL pupils to achieve excellence is a true progressive and Liberal aim. That selection at 11 years of age and division into separate schools and systems supports this defies any sort of rational examination.

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Oct '15 - 9:06pm

    Peter 15th Oct ’15 – 6:47pm “The opposition to selective schooling is based on the desire to limit every child to the opportunities open to the least able.”

    Sorry Peter but that is standing the actual reasoning on its head. The opposition to selective schooling is based on the desire to ensure that opportunity to develop to their full potential is open to every child and young person.

    We should accept that all individuals possess a complex mix of academic, practical, artistic, social and other skills and that these develop at different rates and often change with time.

    I don’t have an issue with streaming according to ability in all of these areas but from the moment we place children in separate (academic-only) schools, for a high proportion of them, educational, employment and life outcomes become significantly more predictable.

  • nvelope2003 15th Oct '15 - 9:32pm

    Recent opinion polls show a large majority of voters support the return of grammar schools even when they were asked if they still wanted them if it meant reintroducing secondary modern schools, though the majority was reduced in that case. The research on this subject is not altogether conclusive so perhaps we should trust the people and give them what they want or what that be too controversial in a “democratic” country. The proof seems to be reflected most clearly in the observation that many of those who want comprehensive schools for the masses prefer to send their own children to selective or private fee paying schools, an option not open to most voters.

  • nvelope2003 15th Oct '15 - 9:34pm

    line 4 above should read “would that be too controversial”

  • What’s the problem with selective schools? Is it that children of hereditary benefit recipients are less represented there than the children of the middle classes? Well, they have, ahem, different aspirations. If we want a “thriving economy”, we should, as unfortunate as it looks, somewhat limit to a “fair” society.

  • I agree with this article. The vast majority of the population go to comprehensive schools and more youngsters than ever before go onto higher education. The grammar school system is based on a social model that has changed.

  • Grammar schools provided the best education in the state sector by a long way, so we made building new ones illegal.

    Secondary modern schools provided a third rate education, so we kept them.

  • @David Raw well I’m genuinely glad you had the opportunity of a grammar school education and that you have the luxury of pontificating on the superiority of comprehensive education without actually having to have suffered it. Some of us were denied that opportunity by the likes of Crosland, Williams and Thatcher, and our children will also be denied the education best suited to them by the continued obstruction of the comfortable governing classes safe in the knowledge that neither they nor their offspring will go near one.

  • @Stephen Hesketh the idea that all pupils can be excellent academically is patent nonsense; its equivalent to saying everyone can be above average. That a fellow liberal Democrat can believe this is mind boggling.

    That isn’t to say that all pupils can’t achieve their potential but that’s a very different thing. Even Marx believed from each according to their ability to each according to their need. Some children need academic hothousing in a separate environment to reach their full potential. Why would you deny them that?

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Oct '15 - 10:43pm

    Peter 15th Oct ’15 – 10:16pm “Grammar schools provided the best education in the state sector by a long way, so we made building new ones illegal. Secondary modern schools provided a third rate education, so we kept them.”

    Peter, does that mean that you believe all secondary schools should be grammar schools … or that we should condemn all but the most academically able at the age of 11 to a “third rate” secondary modern education?

  • does that mean that you believe all secondary schools should be grammar schools … or that we should condemn all but the most academically able at the age of 11 to a “third rate” secondary modern education

    Given that there aren’t enoguh good teachers (or good pupils; adding stupid or disruptive pupils to a class lowers the level of achievement of the best) to give every pupil a first-rate education, it is surely better that the most academically gifted are given a first-rate education (and those who aren’t as gifted inevitably get a worse education), rather than everyone gets a third-rate one?

    Basically, either you have a two-tier system in which someone (the poor, say) lose out, or you have a one-tier system in which everyone loses out. I say some people shouldn’t lose out, and given the choice, it shouldn’t be the poor who do lose out, it should be the stupid.

  • Dave Orbison 16th Oct '15 - 12:57am

    Bim – just to be clear are you saying as a society we should make a decision as to a person’s worth and if so simply based on their academic ability? You actually believe that only the academically should be helped now and the rest written off? A form of modern-day natural selection? All justified by the need to ration available resources. Then by extension why not only look after only healthy people and those suffering from illness. Those with serious debilitating illnesses who are no more than a drain limited NHS resources, perhaps they too should be written off too. After all if they are ill what’s the point of spending money on such unproductive individuals they just holding us back. Is this a Liberal Democrat philosophy? I didn’t think so but am somewhat shocked by some of the contributions here.

  • Dave Orbison 16th Oct '15 - 12:58am

    l 2 above ‘academically gifted’

  • It’s easy to hype up grammar school by concentrating on one or two failing schools here and there, Most people are not losing out under the present system and quite frankly would lose out just as they did in the past under the eleven plus. Honestly the grammar school argument is based more on nostalgia for a mythic golden than anything concrete.

  • Here’s some facts.
    The proportion of students gaining 5 0 levels/GCSE in the has risen from less than I in four in the 1970s to over 3 in 4 by 2011. During the 50s and 60s only between 1% to 2% of kids from a blue collar background gained entrance to university, which is why the pro-grammar argument has now shifted its rhetoric to the idea of a top university. Two thirds of kids from working class background who attended grammar schools either left early or achieved less than 3 O’Levels. Even if you reduce the argument to top universities 85% of those who enter Oxbridge from disadvantaged backgrounds attended comprehensive schools and grammar schools actually underperform because they have already screened and excluded late bloomers etc. during the 11 plus test.
    In short, Grammar Schools were not successful or well liked. I would argue that pop culture, and a general broadening of cultural horizons in the post WWII era had a much greater impact on social mobility than Grammar schools. in other words it became more important to include previously ignored groups because they had more spending power and political clout than in earlier eras. Maybe what is happening now is much more down to closing ranks and disenfranchisement. Personally rather than reintroducing grammar schools I would look very closely at who is employing who and where it seemed obvious that an old boy network was in operation I would introduce strict quotas, Unscientific nonsense about the brightest and the best is a smokescreen for plain old favouritism and in some cases nepotism,,

  • @Stephen Hesketh does that mean you believe we should condemn all but those most able to afford houses in the catchment areas of good schools to a third rate secondary modern education?

  • @Glenn “Even if you reduce the argument to top universities 85% of those who enter Oxbridge from disadvantaged backgrounds attended comprehensive schools and grammar schools actually underperform because they have already screened and excluded late bloomers etc. during the 11 plus test.”

    So by your reckoning grammar schools are an outstanding success given that they provide 1/6 of the pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds entering Oxbridge, yet represent only 1/12 of the secondary school population (164/c2000).

  • @David Orbison are you saying we should ignore what’s best for the individual if that happens to be a school that selects by academic ability? Are we going to make entrance to university, music academy, sports teams, open to all because not to do so condemns everyone else to being written off as a failure? Do you believe simultaneously that none should be enslaved by conformity yet everyone should attend the same sort of school regardless of what is best for them? I never thought I’d see a supposed lib dem espousing such contra-preamble views.

  • Tony Dawson 16th Oct '15 - 8:25am

    Every single grammar school intake of (say) 800 pupils places about 2400 pupils into ‘non-grammar’ schools. These used to be called ‘secondary modern’. They were not modern but the consideration given to their processes and output was always ‘secondary’. 🙁

    Where there is ‘streaming’ in education it needs to be different for different subjects and also flexible in each subject for transfer throughout a pupil’s career. Grammar schools just stream in the crudest manner acoss all subjects at a single snapshot point in a child’s career and the pupil ten is deemed to be suitable for upper-stream education across the range of subjects forever. Other children are then deemed to be suitable for lower-sream education across the whole range of subjects forever. Whoever came up with this ludicrous idea, they surely could not have been educated!

    I went to a grammar school and was sometimes really frustrated in class by the way in which our science, maths and foreign language classes were held back by pupils who clearly got into the school because of their good performance in English and Art. My best friend at primary school did not get into the grammar school because though he was also a sharp mathematician, he had serious difficulties in writing prose – these days they would probably call him dyslexic.

    All state schools should seek to get the best out of every pupil at whatever level that pupil is in each separate subject. Non-grammar schools (the schools for the grammar school test rejects) cannot do this and neither can grammar schools.

  • Tony Dawson 16th Oct '15 - 8:31am

    @Bim

    “either you have a two-tier system in which someone (the poor, say) lose out, or you have a one-tier system in which everyone loses out.”

    Your clear lack of logic, Bim suggests that you lost out badly. My daughter, whose parents were on below average earnings, went from her state Primary school to her local comprehensive school, followed by a Russell group university with a first class degree and got the top scholarship to take her through Bar school after a first class law degree. You think she ‘lost out’?

  • TCO and Jedibeeftrix,
    You’re just hearing what you want to here. Grammar Schools were not that successful. Which is why they fell from favour. Quite frankly, I think an awful lot of people push the idea of grading intellect at ludicrously young ages because they see the world in sub-nietzschean terms with themselves as amongst the ubermensch.

  • I’m amazed that any Liberal Democrat can defend grammar schools. They existed to help an elite cohort get into university. Ostensibly that cohort were selected on the basis of their academic achievement, but the tests that are set to get into grammar schools these days are only passed by those who have undertaken extensive tutoring.

    The fact is that there is no shortage of bright young people getting into university. Results at GCSE and A-Level are increasing year on year (there’s a separate debate about grade inflation) and more young people than ever are going to university. I despise the rhetoric that grammar schools provide some kind of ‘ladder’ because comprehensives are equally good (if not better) than grammars are getting able children into university.

    What we DO have a shortage of in this country is young people with practical skills able to take on manufacturing, design, engineering and construction jobs. We have a shortage of nurses, paramedics and midwives. As a country we are not providing young people with effective pathways from school to these kinds of skilled jobs for which practical hands-on experience is more use than a degree. This is the educational challenge that we urgently need to solve – both for the young people who are losing their way when they could be gainfully employed and for the sake of the economy and society as a whole.

    And more grammar schools will not meet that challenge.

  • I attended a comprehensive school in Bristol that Ofsted tried to close twice whilst I was there and it will finally, albeit 10 years later, be closed in 2016.

    I can safely say I’ve experienced some of the worst of what comprehensive education has to offer – lack of support for children with special needs, lack of encouragement for children who excel in certain subjects and rampant bullying that is ignored by the teachers, three of whom were later convicted of sex offences against children. Only 38% of children attained five GCSEs at A*-C in my year, luckily I was one of them. Last year at Bristol Grammar School, pupils attained 98% A*-C GCSEs, and that’s all of their GCSEs, not just five of them..

    I’m aware that there are good comprehensive schools but I wouldn’t wish the experience I had on anyone, including my children when I have some.

    Comprehensive education fails bright students, it fails those with special needs, it enforces conformity, mediocrity, ignorance and it ignores the individual. We should be looking at alternatives and selective education should be a part of that.

  • Sarah, you say “I’m amazed that any Liberal Democrat can defend grammar schools. They existed to help an elite cohort get into university.”

    They were created to help ordinary kids get to university and thereby break the power of the elite who went to places like Eton. Just look at the proportion of public school boys in the cabinet now and compare it with what it was like in the 70s and 80s. It’s almost as bad as it ever was.

    There are massive problems with the power of elites in this country, but I really think you need to recognise what a real elite looks like and it looks like

    https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/the-bullingdon-club/

    Not like

    https://headcgs.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/east-devon-schools-boys-tennis-tournament/

    As liberals we need to consider what elites we are really worried about – those that perpetuate themselves and the powers that be or those that offer a hand up to enable others to compete. I know which is by far the most scary to me.

  • David Evans. I quite agree about elites and that we should be aiming to break down the power of established elites wherever possible. It’s essential that university education is open to all and structural barriers broken down. There is encouraging news from some of the professional services employers that they’re excluding details of the schools and universities that candidates attended from the selection process because it wasn’t helping them to select the most suitable recruits.

    But that’s just focussing on the top 15% of achievers. I’m more concerned about how we educate ALL our children . The evidence suggests that bright children from all backgrounds are successfully gaining university places in the current (largely non-selective) system. We aren’t providing similar opportunities for those who aren’t destined for higher education. And that’s why opening more grammars won’t solve the current issue.

  • @David Evans it’s great to finally be able to agree with you – you raise exactly the right point. Comprehensive school pupils may be going to University, but the top Universities (and professions) are not filled with their products. Grammar schools did and do break this stranglehold.

    @Sarah Olney “What we DO have a shortage of in this country is young people with practical skills able to take on manufacturing, design, engineering and construction jobs.”

    And comprehensives address this how, exactly? It seems to me that diversity of provision is exactly what is called for, and relatively cheap grammar schools would free up money to be spent on the more expensive equipment required for vocational training.

    @James Gane “I’m aware that there are good comprehensive schools but I wouldn’t wish the experience I had on anyone, including my children when I have some.”

    Agreed – echoes mine from some 20 years previously.

    “Comprehensive education fails bright students, it fails those with special needs, it enforces conformity, mediocrity, ignorance and it ignores the individual. We should be looking at alternatives and selective education should be a part of that.”

    Agreed. Yes, comprehensive apologists will always point to examples of people who do well from comprehensives, but either the comprehensive is a grammar school in all but name (due to its ability to select by house price) or it’s despite their background. What they never point to is the many more who are totally failed by their comprehensive school, which means for the 90% of those who can’t go to selective private or state schools will always be facing a lottery as to how they will do in life.

  • @John Mariott “I refer to your comment that “Comprehensive education fails bright students”. Your problem is that you are allowing your own unfortunate experience to cloud your judgement. ”

    I would suggest that James Gane’s experience is far more common than the opposite, given the over-representation of independent and grammar-school pupils in the top Universities and professions.

    Grammar school pupils compete successfully with independent school pupils; comprehensive school pupils don’t.

  • @Peter Watson
    @John Marriott
    @David Raw
    @Simon Shaw
    @Stephen Hesketh
    @Glenn
    @Dave Orbison
    @Tony Dawson
    @Sarah Olney
    @Rankersbo

    So which of you attended comprehensives, and which grammar schools? I’m pretty sure the answer will be grammar school in all cases.

  • @John Marriott

    Thanks for your reply. I fully appreciate that I am biased on this matter, but I am hardly alone in my experience. Of course, there will be those who had positive experiences from comprehensives and go on to achieve great things but there are also thousands of people like me who have been failed by the system.

    I agree with you that education is not just about league tables, it should be about providing a safe environment during young people’s formative years, it should try to help them become useful and productive members of society, it should help people realize and fulfill their potential, unleash their creativity and most importantly, foster a positive attitude towards further education. Unfortunately the school I went to, failed on all these counts and I’m sure many other under performing schools do also.

    It was only after years of working full time in menial jobs from the age of sixteen that I rediscovered education through, and I know this is ironic given my stance on comprehensive education, The Open University, and am finally on my way to getting my degree.

    I do not claim to have all the answers to our education system. Are grammar schools alone the answer? Of course not, but I can’t abide people talking about comprehensive education like it’s the cure for all our ills. We must look at alternatives.

  • The elephant in the room here is that grammar schools provided a superb state education and they were scrapped for political and ideological reasons.

    They were detested because the selection system was seen through a political prism. In fact, properly managed, selection should optimise the match between ability and the education provided. Selection need not be a singe event with lasting consequences. The concept of streaming according to ability should be a continual feature across all subjects and throughout school life.

    This flexibility would in effect customise the education to the needs of individual students. There could be some overlap and interchange between schools.

    We should not have scrapped grammar schools in order to lower standards to a common denominator. We should have raised the standard of the rest of the system so that every child could enjoy a quality education.

    Finally, we need educational elite to make our nation competitive. That does not mean that the rest of the children should get a second class education. Social engineering for ideological reasons has blighted education for decades.

  • TCO.
    does the TCO still stand for Tory Central Office? Coz I think a couple of people have

  • TCO,
    Since you are into prying does the TCO stand for Tory Central Office because I seem to remember a couple of people have asked about that and it’s never been answered?.

  • Peter Parsons 16th Oct '15 - 5:37pm

    Peter 16th Oct ’15 – 4:37pm

    “Selection need not be a single event with lasting consequences.”

    But isn’t that what the 11+ did? One exam in your last year of primary school labelled you for the next 5 years (and possibly beyond).

    “The concept of streaming according to ability should be a continual feature across all subjects and throughout school life.”

    I completely agree and was what I experienced in the comprehensive system. It allowed me to be in an appropriate stream for subjects where I was academically stronger (maths/science) and also in an appropriate stream for those where I was less strong (arts/humanities/languages). I also experienced moving (or rather, being moved) between streams on multiple occasions, again in line with what you suggest.

    “There could be some overlap and interchange between schools.”

    Nice idea in theory, but probably impractical in many cases. In the area where I grew up, the secondary modern (when it existed) was in the town where I lived, and the grammar school was in the next town, 8 miles away. The logistics of allowing children to interchange between the two would have been somewhat challenging to say the least.

  • @ Peter Parsons
    The point I am trying to make is that selection or streaming can lead to better education. The challenge is to make it a bit more seamless or overlapping to give flexibility and more of a continuum. One of my sons attended the secondary modern for some subjects and the grammar school for others. It worked well and he went on to university.

  • Peter Parsons 16th Oct '15 - 6:29pm

    Peter,
    I do not disagree with your position on selection and streaming, I just don’t agree that reverting to grammars and secondary moderns is the only way this can be delivered. I experienced both the flexibility and continuity you refer to within in a single school within the comprehensive system alongside both selection and streaming per subject, changing from year to year (or even in-year). I spent my entire secondary school career in different streams for different subjects based on my relative abilities. It seemed to work ok.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Oct '15 - 6:53pm

    tpfkar 15th Oct ’15 – 4:41pm Taking the three Medway towns into a unitary council may have been right for them but left Kent County Council unbalanced and elected all-up, first-past-the-post. The competence of Tory control was demonstrated by their action in depositing what was then surplus cash with Icelandic banks. The attitudes of their leader at County Hall gives him more coverage than most of the MPs.
    How many miles should there be between an existing school and what is claimed to be an annex? For instance, should the teachers and schoolchildren be provided with bus passes? or should we assume that their parents all have cars available during the day?
    Should we believe that this decision is not a precedent?

  • @John Marriott “Had I gone to a comprehensive I would first of all been assigned a tutor group and would then, after some initial mixed ability teaching in new subjects, probably be taught in a set. In my case, I would probably have been in top sets for English, history, languages etc; but would almost certainly been in a lower, more appropriate set for maths and science. That’s usually how it works. Horses for courses.”

    Had you gone to a comprehensive, you would have had mixed ability teaching that would have left you either bored or struggling. If your school actually bothered to set you at some point, that would have been a double edged sword, for if you’d been in top sets your life would have been made a misery for being a swot – leaving you the option of under-achieving to appear “cool” or continuing to suffer. If put in a lower set you’d have struggled to learn anything as you’d have to suffer the constant low-level disruption, and occasional high-level disruption, of your fellow pupils. That’s usually how it works in Comprehensive schools.

    “When I passed the 11 plus in 1955 (you were right TCO, whoever you are) I ended up in the A stream at one of Leicester’s four boys’ grammar schools. ”

    Yes, I can tell – given your rose-tinted and inaccurate view of what Comprehensive schools are actually like.

  • Stephen Hesketh 16th Oct '15 - 8:28pm

    TCO 16th Oct ’15 – 3:28pm

    A interesting question ‘T’ – the answer to which you may not particularly like.

    I am actually a pretty good example of why splitting children into academic and non-academic at the age of 11 does not make sense. My birthday is at the end of August and so I was always approximately 6 months younger than the average for my year.

    I failed my 11-plus and went to the local secondary modern school. Only by the end of the fourth year there had I begun to catch up and then overtake my peers. I was, either by virtue of my age or as a facet of my genes and personality, probably all three, a late developer.

    On several occasions during my working life I have been subject to petty showing off from grammar school colleagues who, to this day, exhibit some residual confidence due to their exam success at the age of 11.

    The fact that I have had three reasonably successful but distinct phases of employment in my scientific career – during which I have always been able to bring to bear a blend of practical, academic and creative problem-solving skills which have resulted in the very same grammar school boys relying on me far more than I have ever relied on them suggests to me that judging children at the age of 11 may not be the most sensible, efficient or enlightened thing to do.

    But, on behalf of myself and the others you assume to have been the recipients of a grammar school education, but in fact were not, I thank you for the compliment. Yours, Stanley Secondary Modern, Southport 🙂

  • jedibeeftrix 16th Oct '15 - 9:53pm

    i was lucky enough to pass the 11+, and am deeply grateful for the fact.
    there was a quite good comprehensive that i probably would have got into, but the fear for my parents was ending up in the secondary modern.

    maybe after gove’s epic struggle to dissolve the blob a secondary modern (academy?) will be pretty good by 2020, however, i am intensely relaxed about the continued existence of selective schools in an area of comprehensive alternatives.

    i have nothing against selective education, as long as the alternative isn’t a second class education. teaching people to their ability does not mean discrimination, and equality of opportunity is explicitly not conformity to mediocrity. streaming is good.

  • From something of an outsider’s perspective, I find it extraordinary that British politicians are seemingly perfectly happy to sanction selection by gender, parents’ religion or catchment area (read property price / wealth) and yet selection by academic ability is somehow beyond the Pale. The majority of our Eurooean neighbours do the opposite, with better results & higher levels of social mobility. Even in (then) communist Czechoslovakia, where my parents were educated, selection by academic ability was & still remains an obvious and logical approach to improve educational outcomes and give pupils a fair chance, irrespective of parental wealth or beliefs. And yet in Britain we persist with the comprehensive experiment that has manifestly failed.

  • Domonic,
    It hasn’t manifestly failed. More youngster go into higher education and exam results have gone up rather than down, The real problem with Britain is that we have destroyed our industrial base, which leads to a low wage low skill economy. What we have now is a gigantic housing Ponzi scheme and service industries. The education system has little to do with it. What’s happening is that money is going to money , whilst graduates end up working in CEX and millions are on zero hour contracts. This why social mobility is going down. At the same time lot of the jobs grammar school kids would have gravitated towards have lost prestige. Grammar schools existed to service an era when bank workers, high street chemists and clerks were attractive jobs to the middle classes.. There are plenty of people doing those jobs who went to comprehensives but the fact is those jobs are about on par with working in a supermarket now. A decent plumber or chippy or electrician probably earns more on the one hand, whilst the well paid manufacturing sector barely exists anymore. The gap between average wages and the rich has grown more because of lowering wages and reduced prestige rather than education. The big drive now is to get more people on the housing ladder. This, again, has little to do with education as such which quite frankly is a bit of a smokescreen. Grammar schools are just touted as a solution with little rhyme or reason more as a way avoiding talking seriously about the consequence of decades of poor industrial policy. In truth Britain was not even booming when grammar schools were at their height. In fact it was already in economic and industrial decline. We don’t really export anything and anyway if our universities are so bad why do they attract so many foreign students. I live in Leicester and De Monfort, by no means a top university is packed with students from all over the world as well as lots of British students from local Comprehensives. Grammar schools are simply dredged up by the Conservative Party every now and again because their core vote and activists like them. It’s an empty cure all solution waved in front of them and easy way of reassuring them that the state is very very bad and that the olden times were awesome because they’re small statist and have an aging voter base.

  • Dave Orbison 17th Oct '15 - 6:16am

    TCO – “So which of you attended comprehensives, and which grammar schools? I’m pretty sure the answer will be grammar school in all cases” and “if you’d been in top sets your life would have been made a misery for being a swot”

    Your prejudices fail you once again as your are wrong with your assumption about me. I went to a Comprehensive. The 11-Plus had stopped two years earlier. I was put in top sets yes, but sorry to shatter your fantasy, my school days were the happiest days of my life. The ‘swot misery’ stuff that you expected made my life a misery is something more typical of a TV drama. This may come as a shocking surprise to you, my school mates comprised of those in top sets of course AND can you believe, those put in ‘remedial’ classes? Fancy children mixing like that. Outside of school I socialised with those (to use school jargon) in ‘mixed ability’ groups. Some of my mates though not gifted academically were fantastic at sports. Some were not gifted at all. But we made no value judgements about each other – we mixed and got on well. Oh and yes I went on to go to university. By the way one my best friends failed his 11-Plus. He went on to get a PhD in chemistry and lectures in a university. Grammar schools are not the success that you fantasise about and comprehensive education is not horrific.

  • @John Marriott “Game, set and match to you, my friend! The Latin motto of my local town council is ” Auditur et altera pars”, which roughly translates as “one should listen to the other side and not assume one is always right”.”

    “Au contraire”. All Dave Orbison did was use his own anecdotal experience at a school which had been a grammar until two years previously and was to all intents and purposes still operating under the grammar school ethos.

    The stark fact is that comprehensives provide a miserable experience to many of those who go there (as mine and James’s stories attest), and we can see the effect in the entrenchment of the top University places and jobs going to the minority who attend fee-paying schools. The only state school pupils who break into this virtual monopoly are those who go the few grammar schools remaining.

    If you’re happy to see this entrenchment continue and deepen, then stick with the status quo ante*. If, like me, you want to see it blown apart, then comprehensives have to be got rid of and the sooner the better.

    * – my comprehensive didn’t teach Latin, unlike the grammar school I would have been able to attend had I been born ten years earlier.

  • nvelope2003 17th Oct '15 - 3:23pm

    Why is it always assumed that secondary modern schools were inferior ? Not every child is interested in academic study and many hate it. It was not true that only snobs and middle class children went to grammar schools. In my area the children were mostly working class with a few from families where the parents worked for the council or had an office job or a small shop. Hardly a hot bed of snobbery as the writer Suzanne Moore claims.
    The main problem with the present system is that there is inadequate provision for non academic children who are good at practical things so they get very bored and angry. I know many who hated books and study but had a successful life when they left school, building their own businesses or in other skilled work, though they often relied on their wives to do the paperwork. Harold Wilson could not have been more misguided when he said he wanted every school to be a grammar school. It was the last thing most children needed. If he had said he wanted many schools to be a technical schools he might have got nearer to the truth. It was a tragedy for the UK that those schools were abolished too. I suppose because Germany had them we thought we could manage without them. How wrong we were. But even technical schools were not for everyone as I had a close relative who went to one and although he enjoyed the practical subjects he disliked the class work (History, English etc) and stopped attending them at school leaving age. We need different schools for different groups of people. Contrary to what was said there was bullying of clever children at the local comprehensive school though – it was not just a TV story. Some of my colleagues told me they were stopped from gaining full advantage from their school days by abuse from other children if they showed any interest in the lessons.

    Why is it always assumed that selection must be at 11 by one examination any way ? There are other ways if it is considered necessary.

  • Jim Alexander 17th Oct '15 - 7:05pm

    Selection for grammer Schools allowed working Class Children a chance in life based on merit

    As pointed out Middle Class Parents simply move into the areas with Good Schools which then creates Ghettos of Poor Education where even the brighter kids get dragged down due to low standards

    The Policy of non selective education has done more harm to less well off Children than any other Policy in the UK

    If you are poor your only chance is a decent Education – we need to stop pretending that we actually care about kids from poor backgrounds – if we did we would allow the brighter kids to go to better Schools – by denying this we create areas where every Child is dragged down to the lowest common denominator

    Middle Class MPs need to stop living in la la L:and

  • Dave Orbison 17th Oct '15 - 10:08pm

    Jim Alexander – I assume your comments were very much tongue in cheek and so very funny.

    If not, then I profoundly diagree with you and the snobbery and assumptions in your comments which seem rather alien to LibDem philosophy. What would Shirley Williams say? PS if you went to public school I’d ask for a refund as you get D- for punctuation.

  • @David Orbison. Which bit of Jim Alexander’s comments do you fund amusing?

    The bit where he says middle class people congregate around good schools leaving poorer people in educational ghettos?

    Because thats the truth and that any supposed Lib Dem should scoff at this and poke fun at someone’ s spelling without knowing anything about their background says far more about them.

  • Peter Watson 18th Oct '15 - 9:41am

    @TCO @Peter Watson “”So which of you attended comprehensives, and which grammar schools? I’m pretty sure the answer will be grammar school in all cases.”
    Absolutely not.
    I’d given up on this thread as it became more about personal prejudices and experiences but I could not leave an aspersion like that hanging.
    I studied for my O-levels at a rural comprehensive in an area where incomes were not high and where going to university was very much not the norm. I studied for my A-levels at a further education college that also taught hairdressers, chefs and mechanics. I achieved 3 As at A-levels, distinctions in 2 S-levels (IMHO a better way to assess the brightest students than the lottery of an A* grade), won a national prize for my A-level Chemistry score, and turned down an offer from Cambridge for the bright lights of London.
    What does this tell us about comprehensive schools? Not a lot. And neither does your own experience, whatever that might be: the plural of anecdote is not data. But every successful child who studied at a comprehensive school is evidence that the system can work. Every child who went to a grammar school but was unsuccessful is evidence that selection is not a panacea.
    If teaching children separately based on academic ability is a good thing, why would anybody want to implement it with such a blunt instrument as a single test (for which children can be coached) at the age of 10 or 11 to split them into two groups. Setting children based on ability, aptitude and actual performance in that subject (all of which can change as a child develops) within a comprehensive school allows children with different abilities in different subjects to be taught appropriately and makes moving up or down between sets during any school year much more straightforward than changing school.

  • Dave Orbison 18th Oct '15 - 11:37am

    TCO -“Au contraire”. All Dave Orbison did was use his own anecdotal experience at a school which had been a grammar until two years previously and was to all intents and purposes still operating under the grammar school ethos.” and “* – my comprehensive didn’t teach Latin, unlike the grammar school I would have been able to attend had I been born ten years earlier.”
    Once again you make incorrect assumptions about my education. Whilst I agree with Peter Watson that normally little can be learnt or reliably extrapolated from one’s own experience. However, in this case I think it worthwhile in persisting with a few more facts as to my educational background as it further illustrated how wrong you are and that you are simply blinded by your own prejudice. Furthermore, your prejudice seemingly has no bounds. Not content in making generalisations which are shown to be incorrect you compound your prejudice this by inventing a whole scenario so as to explain why you still must be right. Perhaps it would be more gracious just to accept you got it wrong.
    For your information I attended the former grammar school for two years only between the ages of 11-13. It was by then a junior high school. I then transferred to the former secondary modern which had a new building added to the secondary modern campus. There I remained until I completed my A-levels before going to university. Incidentally, you are wrong about learning Latin too. I actually started learning Latin in the former secondary modern school. A schoolmate and I soon realised this was a big mistake on our part. We switched from Latin to woodwork which, despite it being a mixed ability class, enabled both of use to pick-up an O-level in woodwork. This, in addition to a further nine O-levels before A and S levels and university. TCO, to quote John Marriot: game, set and match.

  • Re: TCO – “So which of you attended comprehensives, and which grammar schools?”
    Well, no one has actually questioned the validity of John Pugh’s statement, does raise questions…

    Firstly, there has not been a bar on schools expansion, in fact for ‘successful’ schools with sufficient demand it has been positively encouraged. So whilst Labour did in 1998, ban the creation of new grammars, they didn’t block existing grammars from expanding…

    Subsequently we have seen schools with room on their existing sites (ie. they have ‘large’ playing fields) expanding. However, what happens when there is insufficient room on the existing site and there is no convenient suitable site closeby (ie. within walking distance)?

    People need to remember that over the 5-year term of this government, based on current population projections, we will need at least 500 new primary schools, which in turn means we will need to build circa 100+ new secondary schools, or allow existing schools to expand… So this isn’t really anything to do with whether grammar schools are or are not a good thing, but providing sufficient school places to satisfy demand.

    From what has been published this case presents no grounds for John Pugh (grammar school alumni) to make the statement he has.

  • TCO – “So which of you attended comprehensives, and which grammar schools?”

    I think you are asking the wrong people; the people who you should be asking are the parents who are wanting to send their children to grammar schools, I suspect a significant number will have had attended comprehensives and did not have a “middle class” (whatever that is) upbringing.

    I think the real issue isn’t where grammar schools are or are not detrimental but that those who’s job has been to oversee our maintained education system (ie. DfES and LEA’s and their advisors) have failed to deliver something better than what has gone before.

  • @Roland the point I’m trying to make is that many of those on this thread trying to argue how wonderful comprehensive schools are do so from he luxury of having had a grammar school education.

  • @Peter Watson, @Dave Orbison – I got 10 O-Levels, four A-Levels, an S-Level and went to Cambridge, all from a Comprehensive, but it doesn’t change my views that they are terrible. Why? Because I got lucky and I’m very well aware that it was solely down to the extreme good fortune of having a (highly altruistic) Cambridge PhD on the teaching staff that I achieved what I did.

    Someone’s future should not be down to that sort of variability, and in a system where talent of all sorts is spread thinly across general schools far too many individuals (and I stress that word) will not fulfil their potential.

    The comprehensive system is wholly unjustifiable from a liberal perspective for these reasons:

    – it ignores individual need by imposing a centralised one-size-fits-all solution on everyone
    – it allows the wealthy to buy access to the best schools through catchment-area house price inflation
    – it doesn’t provide the most able with the soft skills they need to challenge the entrenched private-school hegemony that dominates the upper echelons of our universities and professions
    – it prevents the kind of virtuous circles that provide a real motor for achievement of potential
    – it creates enslavement by conformity rather than encouraging freedom from it
    – it creates ghettoes of low aspiration that cannot be broken free from
    – it makes achievement too often down to the lottery of circumstance rather than through need

    I am utterly, utterly shocked at the number of supposed liberals who are comfortable with this deplorable state of affairs.

  • @TCO – From my experience, I find it impressive that many of the schools I find doing well now, started out as secondary moderns… Whereas some of the grammar schools from my era have crashed and burned…

    By the way, the school I mentioned above started out as a City Technology College in 1991 and became an academy in 2008.
    (https://www.libdemvoice.org/tories-obsession-with-selective-schooling-is-damaging-the-educational-chances-of-children-john-pugh-47888.html#comment-381990 ).

  • Peter Watson 19th Oct '15 - 5:57pm

    @TCO (15th Oct ’15 – 5:41pm)

    Returning to your earlier referencing of a Sutton Trust report:

    “The vast majority of England’s most socially selective state secondary schools are non-grammar schools”
    “only 17 of the 100 most socially selective state schools in England are grammars”
    163 grammar schools out of 3329 state-funded secondary schools (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/433680/SFR16_2015_Main_Text.pdf) is less than 5%, so representing 17% of the “most socially selective state schools” is disproportionately high. In fact the report also states “54 of the 100 most socially selective schools are faith schools” (and by my reckoning 8 of them are grammar schools) so perhaps you should be more vexed about that than comprehensive education.

    “the impact on the academic results of non-grammar state schools’ due to the ‘creaming off’ of pupils to grammar schools is negligible.”
    The report also states, “161 schools (5% of non-selective schools nationally) lose more than 20% of their
    potential pupils to grammar schools.” “The study found that there is a general tendency for this creaming effect to impact on nonselective schools with relatively able pupils. Hence although they may lose some of their most able pupils, the fact that they have more of these pupils in the first place means that their overall composition is not unbalanced. The study also finds that schools that lose pupils to grammar schools are performing no differently from other similar schools in academic terms. One consequence of this widespread but low level impact is that there is no clear cut-off for defining selective areas. Self-contained selective systems do not exist in England.”
    i.e. the creaming-off effect is minimised because there are a small number of grammar schools pulling in a small proportion of children from a wide area which would not be the case in a fully selective system.

    “Grammar schools as a whole do not seem to take their fair share of economically disadvantaged pupils, although there are other groups of schools for whom this is just as much true.” Indeed. The report refers to 50 academically selective non-grammar schools (nearly half of which are faith schools) so it appears to emphasise that supposed academic selection, whether in a grammar school or not, leads to more social selection.

  • Peter Watson 19th Oct '15 - 7:24pm

    @TCO
    Congratulations on also being a comprehensive school success 🙂
    Your experience seems to emphasise that good teachers are more important than school structures, but this is anecdotal (and you have been mischievously creative with biographical details in the past …)

  • Peter Watson 19th Oct '15 - 7:29pm

    @TCO (19th Oct ’15 – 8:47am)
    You suggest that comprehensive education is illiberal for several reasons, though perhaps it is more liberal to eliminate the variability to which you refer rather than have a one-shot all-or-nothing test at 11 to determine which opportunities a child should be deprived of, academic or vocational.

    I’ve had to drop quotes from your post to keep this in LDV’s limits so hopefully this makes sense …

    A grammar + secondary modern approach is also a “centralised one-size fits all solution on everyone”: take a test, wheat to the left and chaff to the right because the state knows best.

    The 11+ allows the wealthy to buy tuition and coaching for the test regardless of any academic ability, and the geographic effect you describe would still apply to the primary schools that prepare children for secondary education. The evidence that you provide (as well as much other evidence) shows that grammar schools are very socially selective and far from being a tool for social mobility.

    Surely the ability to relate to the vast majority of the population is a more important soft skill than being able to relate to a tiny handful of people. You seem to be suggesting an approach that involves joining that hegemony rather than challenging it, though it seems to be defined more by social exclusivity than academic ability and it is hard to imagine the Bullingdon Club boys feeling too inclusive towards a grammar school oik who would still be wearing the wrong school tie.

    I would suggest that it is more illiberal and that it is more likely to create enslavement by conformity and ignorance if we segregate children at age 11 and brand many of them as failures, if we deprive those who are good at maths but weak at literacy the opportunity to develop those skills, if we put obstacles in the way of late developers or those who are simply young within the academic year, etc.
    Education should be about helping all children to realise their potential without their opportunities being set in stone by an arbitrary test at an arbitrary age.

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Oct '15 - 8:55pm

    Peter Watson 19th Oct ’15 – 7:29pm

    “You seem to be suggesting an approach that involves joining that hegemony rather than challenging it”

    Absolutely!

    The TCO approach is one which ignores individuality and diversity and indeed that academic prowess is only one facet of the richness of human existence that we Liberal Democrats value.

    Great real life contributions from a fellow chemist if you don’t mind me saying so 🙂

  • nigel hunter 19th Oct '15 - 11:43pm

    I did not do well at school ,only obtained one ‘o’ level (it’s my age!!) That would make me a failure not just at age 11 but after leaving school entering the big wide world I became more interested in . My horizons grew, new challenges needed to be defeated. I gained more qualifications ending in a BA Hons degree.. At age11 you have no idea of what life challenges will come your way. Failure at the 11plus is nothing , it should not be the end,your life develops later

  • Dave Orbison 20th Oct '15 - 7:14am

    Nigel – exactly!

    Stephen and Peter – trivia but I am also a chemist, what coincidence? 😀

  • My husband is a chemist !

  • @Peter Watson “A grammar + secondary modern approach is also a “centralised one-size fits all solution on everyone”.”

    I’ve consistently argued for Grammars as part of a varied educational provision. Outside of grammars I’m open to what the other sorts of schools should look like and I would envisage (and encourage) them to offer other specialisms. It’s your poverty of imagination that says the alternative must be “secondary moderns”.

    Trafford has alternative schools that are all rated outstanding. Not being a grammar school does not of itself mean a school is bad. Plenty of comprehensives are dreadful.

    “The 11+ allows the wealthy to buy tuition and coaching for the test regardless of any academic ability, and the geographic effect you describe would still apply to the primary schools that prepare children for secondary education. The evidence that you provide (as well as much other evidence) shows that grammar schools are very socially selective and far from being a tool for social mobility.”

    But the current system is equally if not more socially selective and the poor have no chance of changing their circumstances because of the huge property price barrier. Why won’t you engage with this point? Do you support this position?

    “Surely the ability to relate to the vast majority of the population is a more important soft skill than being able to relate to a tiny handful of people. You seem to be suggesting an approach that involves joining that hegemony ”

    You seem to be putting words into my mouth that I didn’t say. You seem very happy to allow the current elite to self-perpetuate; that doesn’t seem very liberal to me.

    The ability to relate to the vast majority of the population is an admirable skill, but isn’t mutually exclusive with being able to infiltrate the current sealed elite.

    “I would suggest that it is more illiberal and that it is more likely to create enslavement by conformity and ignorance if we segregate children at age 11 and brand many of them as failures”

    Having a test to establish aptitude does not brand people as failures – it’s your failure that you view performance in an aptitude test as indicating failure. Why should it? Why should establishing the optimal direction for someone lead to “successes” and “failures”? Even in the bad old days, pupils transferred into grammar schools at later stages and there’s no reason why the system couldn’t accommodate this.

  • @Stephen Hesketh “The TCO approach is one which ignores individuality and diversity and indeed that academic prowess is only one facet of the richness of human existence that we Liberal Democrats value.”

    The Hesketh approach is to ignore individuality and diversity and insist that academic prowess should not be recognised but be suppressed in a “one size fits all” solution.

    Children are not chemicals and schools are not reaction vessels, Stephen; you do not get consistent results with the same ingredients and conditions.

    My approach recognises that we need to shape our education system to best facilitate the diversity we find around us, and that can best and most optimally achieved by providing a wide range of educational establishment catering for all sorts of different specialisms, of different sizes, of traditional approach and avant garde approach, with four term years, you name it.

  • @Peter Watson “Congratulations on also being a comprehensive school success :-)”

    I was lucky to have a teacher who helped me to gain good A-Level grades and a University place, but the school failed in so many other ways in preparing me to take up that place and in other life skills that I’ve had to learn the hard way.

    I now volunteer my time to coach youngsters from FECs basic skills to prepare them for entering employment. Mainly this is because they have no exposure or understanding of what is required to perform even basic competences within a working environment.

    The same thing is true for far too many children in Comprehensive schools. For example, Oxbridge now has an admirable record in outreach to state schools, but they can’t admit pupils who don’t even apply in the first place – often because of poor or non-existent advice from schools who say it’s “not for them”. That makes me so angry to hear. There is too much poverty of ambition, and part of this was lost from schools when they were “rebranded” as comprehensives; no alumni network to fall back on to pass on their life skills to former pupils, no examples set of distinguished former pupils.

  • Peter Watson 20th Oct '15 - 10:20am

    @Stephen & Dave
    Strictly speaking I’m a chemical engineer, but it was a love of chemistry that led me in that direction and I spent much of my first year at uni planning to swap to chemistry. Interestingly there was another chemist who I often agreed with when he used to post regularly on this site (bcrombie).
    I don’t know TCO’s background, but I have to wonder if there is a humanities/arts vs. maths/science dimension when it comes to views on grammar schools. (To be clear, I am not insinuating that scientists take a better evidence-based approach, I am genuinely curious about whether different subjects and interests might have an influence). Often grammar schools are commended as an opportunity to teach the classics which would not have appealed to me as a geeky teenager. Perhaps maths and science are well-served by the comprehensive education system in a way that less useful subjects are not (now that is me being mischievous 😉 )

  • ” In truth Britain was not even booming when grammar schools were at their height. In fact it was already in economic and industrial decline.” (Glenn 17th Oct ’15 – 2:44am)
    Well I suggest the balance of power was probably tipped in the late 70’s early 80’s, when the alumni of the post-war grammar system took over from their parents generation in sufficient numbers to change the economy…

    “It hasn’t manifestly failed. More youngster go into higher education…” (Glenn 17th Oct ’15 – 2:44am)
    Yes and no, there has been a lot of smoke and mirrors here. I suspect it will require a number of FoI requests and some hard number crunching to prove the lie that successive governments have spun! The critical question isn’t whether more young people are going into higher education but whether the proportion of places being offered by the Russell Group of universities has kept pace with the numbers of eligible students; I suspect that it hasn’t, primarily because of the higher and higher grades being attached to place offers compared to the late 70’s. [Aside: Interestingly, one is applying the logic of grammar’s.v.comprehensives to universities; yet!]

    “The real problem with Britain is that we have destroyed our industrial base, which leads to a low wage low skill economy. ” Don’t disagree here, in fact we are now seeing just how much the government is intent on destroying our high-tech engineering capability by contracting out major projects such as new nuclear, railways etc. to foreign businesses. It’s a bit of a shock to think that we only have to capacity to assemble a couple of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines and that’s only because we’ve allowed the yards generous delivery timescales (necessary just to keep this limited capability)…

  • Many here seem to be under the impression that ‘catchment’ area’s are set in stone when they are not! ‘Catchment’ is defined by either/both the LEA and the academy. I find it interesting that the simplest way to largely sidestep the postcode lottery is to change the catchment area and conditions of entry. Hence where there are successful schools parents should be lobbying their LEA and the school to change the catchment to ensure a wider community can benefit from the presence of this school. So in the specific case of the Weald of Kent school, I would presume one of the conditions of opening the Annex was for the school to serve a much larger catchment, which is more likely to include a more representative cross section of neighbourhood’s within the LEA area.

  • Peter Watson 20th Oct '15 - 11:18pm

    @TCO
    “I’ve consistently argued for Grammars as part of a varied educational provision.”.
    As John Pugh points out above, “It is not possible to have selection in schools without rejecting some pupils.” Once the most academic pupils are removed, the schools that teach the other children are no longer comprehensives.

    “Trafford has alternative schools that are all rated outstanding. Not being a grammar school does not of itself mean a school is bad.”
    Indeed. However I would suggest that elsewhere you seem to conflate the concept of a “good” school with one that achieves good exam results even when it might not be “adding value” to the children it takes in. The Sutton Trust report linked to earlier points out that under the current system the effect of a small number of grammar schools on the composition of schools around them is very much diluted but this would not be the case if the selective sector expands.

    “the poor have no chance of changing their circumstances because of the huge property price barrier. Why won’t you engage with this point?”
    On the contrary, I pointed out that the 11+ will not address this problem at all for children at primary schools which have a much smaller geographic catchment area. Children in those more affluent areas will be better prepared for the 11+. Reducing the importance of living within a specific catchment area in the school entry process would address this directly, offer more choice to parents, and not require a complicated change to the structure of the school system.

    “Having a test to establish aptitude does not brand people as failures”
    Out of interest, how do you view the outcomes of the 11+? Traditionally it is viewed as pass or fail, but you seem to be rebranding it as pass or pass in a different direction. Either way it sounds like an illiberal approach where the test replaces choice.

    “Even in the bad old days, pupils transferred into grammar schools at later stages and there’s no reason why the system couldn’t accommodate this.”
    Relocating to a different school and established year group can be very difficult for children.

  • Peter Watson 20th Oct '15 - 11:26pm

    @TCO
    School transfer and a varied range of school types selecting on a different basis sounds like a very complicated system.
    But perhaps there is a way that all of this can be accommodated.
    We could put all of this “varied education provision” on a single campus; share resources, staff and administrative costs to avoid redundancy and duplication; encourage teachers to move around freely to where they are needed; allow children to study different subjects where each is most appropriate and to transfer more easily between them as they develop.
    And we could call this something that reflects its comprehensive nature.

  • @Peter Watson “As John Pugh points out above, “It is not possible to have selection in schools without rejecting some pupils.” Once the most academic pupils are removed, the schools that teach the other children are no longer comprehensives.”

    I don’t see either of those as bad things.

    “On the contrary, I pointed out that the 11+ will not address this problem at all for children at primary schools which have a much smaller geographic catchment area. Children in those more affluent areas will be better prepared for the 11+. Reducing the importance of living within a specific catchment area in the school entry process would address this directly, offer more choice to parents, and not require a complicated change to the structure of the school system.”

    I agree that we have should remove geographical catchment from the equation. But inevitably you will still get over-subscribed schools, and there has to be some method of determining who goes to them. Perhaps we could differentiate the schools into offering specialities, and then have an aptitude test to determine the best destination for the pupils?

    “Out of interest, how do you view the outcomes of the 11+?”

    As a way to determine the most suitable educational route for the pupil taking it.

    “Traditionally it is viewed as pass or fail, but you seem to be rebranding it as pass or pass in a different direction. Either way it sounds like an illiberal approach where the test replaces choice.”

    I thought Liberals were about challenging traditional viewpoints. A test is far less illiberal than a system based on wealth.

    “Relocating to a different school and established year group can be very difficult for children.”

    Can be difficult for some children, and no one would force them to move if they didn’t want to. On the other hand it will be highly beneficial for other children, and at present they are denied this option by the system you support.

  • @Peter Watson “School transfer and a varied range of school types selecting on a different basis sounds like a very complicated system.”

    I don’t think so. But even if it were, that shouldn’t be a barrier if it’s the right thing to do. We have no problem with hospitals specialising in order to concentrate skills and expertise; yet we expect generalisation to work in the most important asset we have; our children.

    “We could put all of this “varied education provision” on a single campus; share resources, staff and administrative costs to avoid redundancy and duplication; encourage teachers to move around freely to where they are needed; allow children to study different subjects where each is most appropriate and to transfer more easily between them as they develop. And we could call this something that reflects its comprehensive nature.”

    That sounds like the epitome of centralised, one-size-fits-all statism.

    Alternatively, we could concentrate specialisms on different and diverse campuses, that enable specialisms to flourish and reflect the diverse needs of pupils, some of who need small schools and some need bigger ones. Not every pupil will thrive in a 3000 pupil mega school.

  • Peter Watson 21st Oct '15 - 10:25am

    @TCO “A test is far less illiberal than a system based on wealth.”
    The evidence appears to point to the 11+ test reinforcing the advantages due to wealth.

  • Peter Watson 21st Oct '15 - 10:34am

    TCO “We have no problem with hospitals specialising in order to concentrate skills and expertise; yet we expect generalisation to work in the most important asset we have; our children.”
    This seems a bizarre comparison. Hospitals can specialize because experts can diagnose what specific needs a patient has and what treatment they require. You appear to be suggesting that we can view an 11 year old child in the same way: a quick diagnostic test will determine that one child deserves Latin but another does not, one child should be sent to an institution to be taught more history and less maths, another should be sent somewhere else to be taught plumbing, etc.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Oct '15 - 10:54am

    TCO, however well meaning your belief in grammar schools, the result on the vast majority of the 11+ failures was not dissimilar to this advert from my childhood: https://www.john-west.co.uk/advert/1966-red-salmon

    To suggest that opponents of the Tories attempts at the backdoor reintroduction of grammar schools, “sound like the epitome of centralised, one-size-fits-all statism.” is quite ridiculous.

    Even satire relies on a modicum of truth but, nontheless, A* for over-egging.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Oct '15 - 11:06am

    Peter Watson21st Oct ’15 – 10:34am in reply to TCO

    “you appear to be suggesting that we can view an 11 year old child in the same way: a quick diagnostic test will determine that one child deserves Latin but another does not, one child should be sent to an institution to be taught more history and less maths, another should be sent somewhere else to be taught plumbing, etc.”

    Once again I totally agree Peter.

    A related consideration I have not noticed elsewhere in the thread is that someone might be truly outstandingly gifted in one area but, due to not being good at maths AND English, find themselves, in all but a minority of cases, effectively excluded from academia for life.

  • “We could put all of this “varied education provision” on a single campus; share resources, staff and administrative costs to avoid redundancy and duplication; encourage teachers to move around freely to where they are needed; allow children to study different subjects where each is most appropriate and to transfer more easily between them as they develop.” (Peter Watson 20th Oct ’15 – 11:26pm).

    This has been tried and to my knowledge shown to be failure, resulting in schools within the campus being graded so that pupils rapidly learn the pecking order… Likewise trying to divide up schools by year groups. Due to the way pupils and schools are currently assessed, the middle school system has also been found wanting, middle schools don’t have any exit targets on which they can be measured against.

    No what everyone is missing, is why can’t state schools become more like independent schools rather than factories churning out turkey twizzlers ?

  • “Once the most academic pupils are removed, the schools that teach the other children are no longer comprehensives.” (Peter Watson 20th Oct ’15 – 11:18pm)

    So what?! Well I can accept that a PC box ticker might be upset, but a normal person who wants a job and this country to have future, without having to resort to unsustainable levels of immigrant workers?

    It is time to get real. the idea that every school can be a ‘comprehensive’ and deliver outstanding results is dead. What we actually need isn’t comprehensive schools but a comprehensive education system. Let me just throw a little incendiary into the discussion: I have friends who have children with special needs, finding a ‘comprehensive’ school (because government policy dictates SEN children should be educated within the normal school system) that can cater for their needs and in which they won’t be excessively bullied, is proving tricky.

    As I’ve said before only a fool would say that the existence of the Russell Group of Universities dumbs down the post-1992 mass market ‘universities’ (where the main expansion in higher education has happened). However, taken as a group, we do now have a comprehensive range of universities; although there are voices (from within the post-1992 universities) that are wanting to re-introduce ‘polytechnics’ etc., because it would enable them to deliver a clearer differentiated message to the market…

  • Peter Watson 21st Oct '15 - 12:53pm

    @Roland “This has been tried and to my knowledge shown to be failure, resulting in schools within the campus being graded so that pupils rapidly learn the pecking order”
    To be honest I was trying to hint that a single comprehensive school could be considered as providing those things but I was probably being too clever for my own good 🙁
    There is an extent to which comprehensive education reminds me of an approach to software development called XP (or Extreme Programming) which identifies good practice and takes it to the extreme. If academic selection and segregation is a good practice, then a comprehensive school takes this to the extreme by allowing children to be grouped on a per subject basis with teaching tuned to ability and aptitude with far more finesse than the binary choice of a grammar school or a secondary modern, and transfer up and down between ability groups is much more straightforward than a complete change of school. The richness and variety of children’s needs and abilities is not fixed at any given age, and flexibility within a school should be more accommodating of this than competition between schools.

  • @Peter Watson “If academic selection and segregation is a good practice, then a comprehensive school takes this to the extreme”

    To my mind the Grammar takes this to the extreme for a niche… Which is the real problem with all extreme models, they only really work for niche applications (one reason why I’ve tended to treat various innovations software development that have got the magic bullet treat with a degree of scepticism).

    Hence whilst the Grammar model might have worked when ‘academic’ ability could be defined as being good at a narrow set of core subjects, it starts to fail when you introduce a wider range of subjects, something that many have come to realise as being important. To my mind the ‘Comprehensive’ came out of the school of thought that reacted against the grammar/non-grammar division which seemingly generated large numbers of ‘losers’. The pupil preselection, streaming and segregation that many practice is an attempt to deliver an education within the constraints they have been given [Aside: Yes comprehensives do practise preselection, if you attend any of the open days for prospective applicants it will be made clear what their expectations of those wishing to apply are, BTW I do recommend attending these events, the scary thing I had a couple of years back was walking into one school and being taken straight back to the 1970’s then walking into another and seeing something almost alien until I paused to think about things – I decided that if I recognised it as a school I would have attended then it almost certainly hadn’t progressed and applied the wealth of R&D on child development and learning that has happened in the intervening decades…]

    ” The richness and variety of children’s needs and abilities is not fixed at any given age, and flexibility within a school should be more accommodating of this than competition between schools.”
    Agree, however, I suggest as a starting point, we address these issues within the majority of our Comprehensives rather than worry about the existence of grammar schools. Forcing the remaining grammar schools to become non-selective comprehensives will do nothing to address the issues raised by “every child matters” within our existing comprehensives; only then can we celebrate the diversity of education our schools present which will enable us to downplay the inter-school competition implied by the league tables.

  • @Peter Watson “You appear to be suggesting that we can view an 11 year old child in the same way: a quick diagnostic test will determine that one child deserves Latin but another does not, one child should be sent to an institution to be taught more history and less maths, another should be sent somewhere else to be taught plumbing, etc.”

    No – you’re suggesting that.

    I’m suggesting that if we group pupils together so that they are more well-matched in terms of aptitudes, abilities and interests, we will benefit in the following ways:

    – be able to create reinforcing effects by concentrating funds together to gain more bang for your buck than spreading it thinly – one school with a well equipped technical block rather than 5 with poorly-equipped ones, for example
    – reduce the extreme divergence that creates feelings of dispossession and alienation towards those extremes by those in the middle
    – allow the development of esoteric and niche subjects which would never get off the ground in a one-size-fits-all school because there wouldn’t be the demand

    As it is, state comprehensives don’t offer either Latin or Plumbing, so we’re failing on all counts.

    @Stephen Hesketh “A related consideration I have not noticed elsewhere in the thread is that someone might be truly outstandingly gifted in one area but, due to not being good at maths AND English, find themselves, in all but a minority of cases, effectively excluded from academia for life.”

    You can’t spend much time around academics, then. Outstanding gifts usually find an expression.

  • @Roland I like the idea of a comprehensive school system, not comprehensive schools. We have no trouble recognising that individuals’ needs can often be best met within dedicated institutions – we offer them for sport, music and the arts and it’s uncontroversial.

    Can someone who supports comprehensive education explain to me why it’s necessary to have a school that has all abilities in it and no specialisation?

  • http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/comprehensive-schools/

    I recommend you read this post by Peter Hitchens, where he describes the German model:

    “For in Germany there is no rigid 11-plus exam. There is selection, but it is done in a way that somehow seems easier to accept. Parents can insist that their child goes to grammar school.
    But if the child then cannot keep up after a year or so, he will be given two chances to catch up and only if he still fails will he be transferred to an ordinary high school, where he will still be able to take the Abitur but where standards are not so high.
    German education experts are puzzling-over how to improve these schools, but it has not occurred to anyone that the solution is to close the grammar schools, or to merge the two types into comprehensives.”

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Oct '15 - 11:26pm

    TCO 21st Oct ’15 – 3:30pm
    “You can’t spend much time around academics, then. Outstanding gifts usually find an expression.”

    Dr O, it clearly comes as a great surprise to you that I, like the majority of other people, live in an everyday world where, oddly enough, we are not surrounded by academics. My belief is that the potential of many thousands of men and women have been lost to us solely because they didn’t make the grade at the age of 11.

    In my experience most people have significant abilities in one area or another. Opportunity and encouragement are the key to their discovery and development. Unlike you I did fail my 11+ and go to a secondary modern. I do know what it is like to discover for myself the test to be somewhat flawed as a determinant of later academic ability. And I do know that success begets confidence and that confidence begets further success. I know myself to be one of the lucky ones.

  • ” My belief is that the potential of many thousands of men and women have been lost to us solely because they didn’t make the grade at the age of 11.” (Stephen Hesketh 21st Oct ’15 – 11:26pm)

    Unfortunately, getting rid of the remaining (selective) grammar schools will most probably mean that Comprehensive schools (ie. the maintained schools sector) will be failing an even larger number of pupils… I suggest the root cause of the problem you have with the 11+ isn’t the 11+ per say, but what quality and level of education that is provided to those who did not pass the 11+. In your specific case, we are looking at those who were deemed sufficiently able to take the 11+ but for whatever reasons didn’t make the grade on the day.

    In my case, I’m concerned about the quality of education and opportunity that is available to those who, for whatever reason, don’t wish to send their children to either independent or grammar schools.

  • @Roland “… I suggest the root cause of the problem you have with the 11+ isn’t the 11+ per say, but what quality and level of education that is provided to those who did not pass the 11+. In your specific case, we are looking at those who were deemed sufficiently able to take the 11+ but for whatever reasons didn’t make the grade on the day.”

    Exactly.

    As Peter Hitchens says:

    “I have long thought the 11+ a poor method of selection, and favour the German system of selection by assessment and mutual agreement, with those who reject their assessment being given (I think) two years in the Grammar School to prove the assessors wrong. This is a good part of the problem. Proponents of the grammar school system *as it was* chose to destroy the whole thing rather than reforming the parts which were bad, and keeping the bits which were good. Too few places? Build more grammar schools. Too few girls? Admit more girls. Selection too rigid? Make it more flexible. Poor primary schools in poor areas disadvantaging the poor? Put resources into those schools to bring them up to the highest standard. And so on.”

  • Stephen Hesketh 22nd Oct '15 - 6:08pm

    Roland 22nd Oct ’15 – 12:18pm

    Sorry Roland, my problem is much more fundamental than you suggest.

    Personally I am happy to accept streaming within subjects; I really do not want those less able in a topic to hold back the more able. I don’t see that is in anyone’s interest but what I do find it quite amazing that some are prepared to support a two tier system, because in spite of protestations, that is what it leads to.

    A two tier system where the life chances of the majority are sealed at the age of 11 taking no account of individual development rates; where life chances are decided because a child is either good at or coached in Maths and English; a two tier system which today would reinforce advantage far more than anything seen in the past … I could go on but Peter Watson has already made the points so well.

    If I were to pinpoint my objections they essentially revolve around fairness and opportunity; in having an educational system that creates, in as much as is possible in a free, fair and Liberal society, a level playing field for all children and young people (and the not so young) to gain and develop the skills for a fulfilling life, to have value and dignity, to be able to support themselves and their families and contribute to wider society.

    Some may try to paint this as being one size fits all etc but this is just so off target. Our early years, individually and statistically, are so crucial to later lives. To health, education and income. Of all things Liberal Democrats should support an educational system aimed at the creation of a fair, free and open society in which the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community are balanced and in which no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

    Do the Tories share these values and vision for our society or do they, time after time, favour the rich, the powerful and outcomes of division over cohesion?

    John Pugh is absolutely right to highlight what the Tories are up to here.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '15 - 7:13pm

    @TCO
    Peter Hitchen was re-publishing an article from 2004 about his visit to a German school. He noted that “grammar schools in Wismar encompass half the secondary-age schoolchildren in the town”. When talking to the school children he comments that, “Their parents are mostly professionals; architects, doctors and teachers.”

    In 2011 the Wall Street Journal reported, “Germany’s once-lauded education system is under fire. But fixing it hasn’t been easy.” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304066504576341353566196300)
    The article also includes:
    “Many policy makers believe Germany’s early-selection school system—one of the few in Europe that splits children up at around age 10—is at the heart of the problem.”
    “More than in most other developed countries, however, the biggest determinant of a German child’s educational track appears to be his or her family’s socioeconomic status.”

    Internationally, there is plenty of evidence that academic selection leads to a worsening of social mobility:

    Even though some countries track students into differing-ability schools by age 10, others keep their entire secondary-school system comprehensive. To estimate the effects of such institutional differences in the face of country heterogeneity, we employ an international differences-indifferences approach. We identify tracking effects by comparing differences in outcome between primary and secondary school across tracked and non-tracked systems. Six international student assessments provide eight pairs of achievement contrasts for between 18 and 26 cross-country comparisons. The results suggest that early tracking increases educational inequality. While less clear, there is also a tendency for early tracking to reduce mean performance. Therefore, there does not appear to be any equity-efficiency trade-off.

    (http://www.nber.org/papers/w11124)

    Rather than academic selection being a liberal approach, it seems to be something that is difficult to reconcile with ensuring that “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '15 - 7:15pm

    @TCO “gain more bang for your buck than spreading it thinly – one school with a well equipped technical block rather than 5 with poorly-equipped ones, for example”
    So your ideal solution is for 4 of the 5 school to have no technical block?

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '15 - 7:16pm

    @TCO “Can someone who supports comprehensive education explain to me why it’s necessary to have a school that has all abilities in it and no specialisation?”
    Can you explain why it is necessary to segregate children by ability and why it is important to have specialisation at a young age?
    Can you explain how a system that specialises should be set up? At what age do you segregate children? How do you accurately determine their aptitudes and how do you cater for them? Which specialisations are important? How do you ensure that anybody who has been inappropriately placed (or who simply changes their mind) can easily be transferred and integrated into a different school, in a different location where children have been taught different things? How do you extend this system to areas of low population density? Why do you think it is impossible for a comprehensive school to provide this?

  • @Stephen Hesketh (22nd Oct ’15 – 6:08pm) – I see you are confusing a number of strands, just as John Pugh has.

    “John Pugh is absolutely right to highlight what the Tories are up to here.”

    But he didn’t, I find it a little surprising that no one has challenged the point of view I put forward in a previous comment (18th Oct ’15 – 2:12pm). I think John Pugh has merely taken the known facts and come up with a conspiracy theory that fits his agenda. Yes, I don’t doubt that many Conservatives may favour grammar schools, but as yet I’ve not seen evidence or a coherent argument for the conclusion John Pugh has reached.

    So I’ve not seen any reason to believe that the approval of the Weald of Kent’s ‘Annex’ is a major change in educational policy, that will take us back to a two-tier system (a state of affairs I’ve no memory of as where I grew up we clearly had three distinct tiers of maintained schools and two tiers of private schools).

    We are in agreement about the aspirations for our education system (and on LDV, I have been a vocal supporter of the early years investments the LibDem’s achieved whilst in coalition), only I believe we need to make the maintained system better and so it can equal and surpass what went before (my comment of 15th Oct ’15 – 5:17pm indicates what can be achieved, only my aside of 21st Oct ’15 – 2:44pm indicates just how big the change in delivery is). Then and only then will we convince people to rethink their bias towards grammar and independent schools. There is a real danger that by needlessly attacking the (maintained) grammar schools we end up with a two-tier system: private schools and maintained “secondary moderns”.

    So yes there is a question over what sort of vision and values the modern Conservative party has and what style education system it would wish the country to have, but let’s not confuse this with the need to get more investment into our comprehensive schools and massively raising the standards of education delivered to each and every child.

  • @Peter Watson, as @Roland and others have pointed out, why does academic selection automatically make provision for those who don’t go down the more academic route worse than those who do?

  • @Peter Watson I note you failed to answer my question (presumably because you can’t), but I will answer yours.

    “Can you explain why it is necessary to segregate children by ability and why it is important to have specialisation at a young age?”

    Actually I would prefer that specialisation to take place at 13, and reintroduce the middle school system, but there is evidence that selection by ability creates virtuous effects that are not present in all-ability schools.

    “Can you explain how a system that specialises should be set up?”

    By allowing schools to set a curriculum and their own admissions policy which includes an admissions test and interview. I’m not averse to a voluntary system (such as that in Germany) either.

    “At what age do you segregate children?”

    Ideally at 13 (Year 9).

    “How do you accurately determine their aptitudes and how do you cater for them?”

    By testing them.

    ” Which specialisations are important?”

    Whichever specialisms schools decide to offer.

    “How do you ensure that anybody who has been inappropriately placed (or who simply changes their mind) can easily be transferred and integrated into a different school, in a different location where children have been taught different things?”

    By continuous assessment and end of year exams. Thousands of children move schools every year with no pbvious adverse effects.

    ” How do you extend this system to areas of low population density?”

    By offering free transport and, in the most extreme cases, weekly boarding.

    ” Why do you think it is impossible for a comprehensive school to provide this?”

    Because comprehensive schools have been in place for forty years and have manifestly failed to do so. We know this by looking at the ossification of opportunity at the top of our professions. In the 90s and 00s many of the people reaching the top had come through state grammar schools. Now, they will have been in the main privately educated. Independent and state grammar school pupils are disproportionately represented at Russell Group Universities; that is not the fault of the Universities, who bend over backwards to address the discrepancy, but the schools that feed into them. We also see it from the remedial activities that our firms have to undertake in order to employee the output of the majority of our schools, and that many employers would rather take migrants.

  • @Peter Watson “Internationally, there is plenty of evidence that academic selection leads to a worsening of social mobility:”

    On the contrary:

    “a recent study of European schools has produced some very interesting results, worrying for those on the Left who believe selection is bad for the poor. Several continental countries still maintain selective state secondaries, and Germany has recently successfully restored them in the former German Democratic Republic (which, being
    Communist, was almost wholly comprehensive). This happened, in the states of the former East Germany, by
    popular demand. It is an interesting disproof of the repeated claim that ‘you can’t turn the clock back’. The
    survey, conducted across Europe by France’s National Institute for Demographic Studies, actually set out to
    prove that selective education discriminated against children from poor backgrounds. But it found that,
    when children were taught according to ability, family wealth had almost no influence on their achievements.
    By contrast, in non-selective systems, a poor background did influence outcomes, with British pupils
    doing particularly badly on this scale. The study,(published in the European Sociological Review) reached
    its conclusions by examining the reading performance of tens of thousands of 15-year-olds across 22 countries.”

    http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/theselectiondebate?dm_i=14DE%2C394UK%2CC1OSBY%2CBNAMO%2C1 (p171-2)

  • @TCO – re: social mobility and ‘selective’ education
    I recommend reading the book ‘Connected’, see http://connectedthebook.com/
    In previous education-related discussions on LDV, I’ve mentioned their research-based findings.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Oct '15 - 3:31pm

    @TCO (23rd Oct ’15 – 9:58am) “On the contrary”
    Actually I think you’ll need to do a little better than quoting Peter Hitchens, an interesting choice of Lib Dem icon 😉 ,
    He cites two sources
    The first of these is an academic paper by Breen and Karlson which seems to be a very dry evaluation of “tools for measuring the role of education in intergenerational social class mobility”. One of its conclusions is, “Our results suggest that the mediating role of education did not change across the 20th century: roughly half of the association between class origins and destinations is mediated via educational attainment.” I suspect that he is referring to the wrong paper.

    Hitchens’ other reference is a Daily Mail article which completely misreports (no surprise there) the academic paper that Hitchens probably meant (http://esr.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/02/18/esr.jcu040.short?rss=1). The conclusion of this study includes,

    Analyzing PISA data for 22 European countries is particularly advantageous for pursuing our concerns, as they allow applying multilevel analyses (student; school; country) and assessing the interaction effects between the characteristics of the educational system on the one hand and student’s and school’s socioeconomic backgrounds on the other hand. We find descriptive evidence that institutional parameters that foster freedom in education, such as an early selection with numerous tracks of study, a great significance of public selective schools, as well as of private schools with fees, jointly amplify socioeconomic inequalities in performances between students essentially by magnifying the effect of schools’ social composition on students’ competences.

    i.e. “early selection with numerous tracks of study … amplify socioeconomic inequalities”, which is the opposite of what the Mail article implies. That article even truncates a quote to change its meaning, stating “in early differentiated systems rather than comprehensive ones, primary effects of social origin express less within schools ” whereas the full quote is, “It shows that, in early differentiated systems rather than comprehensive ones, primary effects of social origin express less within schools and more between schools”.

    I suggest you try again. From the little I’ve seen here, Hitchens’ use of this “evidence” is pretty disgraceful, but you weren’t to know that.

  • @Peter Watson OK let’s cut to the chase.

    Our school system as it stands has selection by various means:

    – religious affiliation
    – 11+ exam
    – catchment area
    – ability to pay private school fees
    – informal connections (don’t underestimate this; I’ve seen it in operation)

    Given that there is imperfect supply and demand within the school system (in other words some schools are undersubscribed and some oversubscribed) what do you believe is the fairest method to allocate places to parents when the school is able to choose the pupils rather than the other way round?

  • @Peter Watson or let’s put it another way. We each have a child. I want mine to go to an academically selective school; you want yours to go to an academically non-selective school.

    Why should your wishes prevail in the majority of LEAs and mine only in a few?

  • @Peter Watson I note you’re still to respond to my question “Can someone who supports comprehensive education explain to me why it’s necessary to have a school that has all abilities in it and no specialisation?”

    I recommend this pamphlet which has a great many arguments both in favour of the status quo and against: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/theselectiondebate?dm_i=14DE%2C394UK%2CC1OSBY%2CBNAMO%2C1

  • Peter Watson 23rd Oct '15 - 5:37pm

    @TCO “I note you failed to answer my question (presumably because you can’t), but I will answer yours.”
    “At what age do you segregate children?”
    Ideally at 13 (Year 9).

    I suspect that we would simply end up with your idealised selective system versus my idealised comprehensive system, neither of which would convert anybody and neither of which would reflect reality.

    There are certainly problems within the comprehensive school system, but the evidence overwhelmingly seems to suggest that apart from elevating a few people, early selection in an education system entrenches social exclusivity.

    But I believe that we actually share more common ground than it might appear, particularly if considering specialisation at a later age.

    The sort of selective system that you advocate still requires children to be taught in comprehensive or mixed-ability schools up until the age they are segregated, so we both have a vested interest in ensuring that such a comprehensive system works for every child.

    We already have a system in which children make choices at the end of key stage 3 and I am happy to encourage the start of specialisation around that time within the framework of a few “core” subjects. Provision of more vocational options should be a feature of this. Children and parents can make much more informed choices about their futures at this age, based upon aptitude, ability and preference. Specialist subjects at that stage would require specific resources. Vocational and academic pathways might well involve selection, but I believe that children and parents would be doing their fair share of the selecting!

    I am very grateful for you making me think so much about all this: it’s very refreshing (and intimidating) to be forced out of my techy comfort zone into such a different area.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Oct '15 - 5:42pm

    @TCO Despite the time stamps, a few of your posts seemed to appear after my last post so please forgive me if it looks like I was ignoring them.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Oct '15 - 5:49pm

    @TCO “Why should your wishes prevail in the majority of LEAs and mine only in a few?”
    I think there’s an interesting point about the impact of one person’s choice upon another.
    If some parents choose to send children to ‘specialist’ schools (whether that specialism is academic, vocational, faith, or even catchment area) then other parents are deprived of the choice to send their children to a truly comprehensive school.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Oct '15 - 5:58pm

    @TCO (TCO 23rd Oct ’15 – 4:00pm)
    Some very important points about covert selection and parental choice being replaced by schools choosing.
    But none of these are addressed by introducing academic selection later in a child’s school career, so even if I believed the 11+ were a good idea, its best intentions would be undermined before a child sat it. That is why, whichever side of the debate we are on academic selection, there are many shared problems that we want to solve.

  • David Allen 24th Oct '15 - 5:10pm

    I suspect that the truth of this issue is not what either of the two political sides in the debate would like to acknowledge.

    For those who can get into them, grammar schools are (broadly) better than comprehensives – if only because they attract more resources and the best teachers.

    For those who are stuck with them, secondary schools (let’s drop this silly word “modern” shall we?) are broadly worse than comprehensives – if only because they attract less resources and fewer good teachers.

    So when the Right complain that scrapping grammar schools denies (some) children the best education , they do have a point. It is much the same point as arguing that, if you want everybody to have the chance to buy a Ford Focus, then there won’t be enough money to buy anyone a Lamborghini!

    In Communist East Germany, the State operated a highly selective form of education, in which a small minority of pupils were picked out as academically gifted and given specially privileged schooling. The Communists did this (in principle at least) in order to develop the next generation of intellectual leaders, managers, scientists and doctors.

    Would there be a case for fully comprehensive education for all, but in parallel with the selection at ages 11-16 of a small minority of the best pupils (not more than, say, 3-5%), on strict academic criteria, to be eligible for more advanced educational opportunities?

  • No Jedi. Unless selection for special opportunities was confined to a genuinely small minority, less than 5%, “comprehensive” education for the majority would not truly be comprehensive. It would just be a dishonest rebranding exercise for secondary modern schools, and I hope none of us wants that.

    There are of course reasonable objections to the idea of calling some children “gifted”, of hot-housing their education at the expense of social integration, etc. On the other hand, we do need excellence, we do need to stretch our best pupils, and we can’t easily do that well in comprehensives or even in grammar schools. I’m not even sure, mind you, that the answer is special schools for the gifted. It might just be summer-schools, or one-year-secondment opportunities, or Olympiad competitions, or all of these, alongside (yes, bog-standard) comprehensive schooling.

  • @David Allen “For those who can get into them, grammar schools are (broadly) better than comprehensives – if only because they attract more resources and the best teachers.”

    I’m not sure that that’s true, and even if it were, it’s not necessarily true. Grammar Schools are better for pupils who will thrive in that type of environment; one where academic learning is valued and praised, and there is a culture of learning and stretching pupils to achieve.

    For pupils who struggle academically grammar schools emphatically are NOT the best environment.

    “For those who are stuck with them, secondary schools (let’s drop this silly word “modern” shall we?) are broadly worse than comprehensives – if only because they attract less resources and fewer good teachers.”

    Again, I’m not sure that’s true or even necessarily true. For starters, the Sec Mods in Trafford are all rated outstanding. I’ve also seen evidence to show that there are plenty of comprehensive schools that are “worse” (if we take average grades) than Sec Mods. There’s no reason why resources and pay rates for could not be higher in non-grammar schools.

    For some pupils, an environment more focussed on getting a solid grounding in academic subjects, and then offering a wide variety of vocational and craft courses is absolutely the right type of environment and one where they would thrive.

    We used to have things called “direct grant” grammar schools, which offered places to all that passed the entrance exam but charged fees on a sliding and means-tested scale. Their restitution would be one way to reduce the resources ploughed into grammar schools, for example.

  • @Peter Watson “But none of these are addressed by introducing academic selection later in a child’s school career, so even if I believed the 11+ were a good idea, its best intentions would be undermined before a child sat it. That is why, whichever side of the debate we are on academic selection, there are many shared problems that we want to solve.”

    Indeed, and it’s nice to have a proper debate rather than suffer the overt or covert attempts to be called a Tory.

    However, rather in the same way that Universities are not to blame for the quality of pupils applying to them. so Grammar Schools are not to blame for the failure of primary schools, infant schools or indeed parents.

    Abolishing grammar schools because of other failures (in primary schools, in secondary moderns, and in having too rigid a system of intake) was taking a sledgehammer to a nut. It was the one bit of the system that was a demonstrable success, so rather than fix the bits that didn’t work grammar schools were destroyed by a mix of (public-school) egalitarians like Crosland, with the acquiescence of Tories who didn’t use them in any case.

  • @David Allen “There are of course reasonable objections to the idea of calling some children “gifted”, of hot-housing their education at the expense of social integration, etc.”

    Whilst I agree that calling children “gifted” isn’t necessarily a good thing, we seem perfectly happy to attempt social integration (almost always unsuccessfully) at the expense of the education of very academically talented children.

    “On the other hand, we do need excellence, we do need to stretch our best pupils, and we can’t easily do that well in comprehensives or even in grammar schools.”

    I’ve mentioned the direct grant schools in my post above. Perhaps the most famous example is Manchester Grammar, which acted as a “super-grammar” taking the very highest-scoring pupils in the Manchester and area 11+ exam. Many of the remaining grammars, especially if there are only 1 or 2 in a county, now behave in the same fashion.

    “I’m not even sure, mind you, that the answer is special schools for the gifted. It might just be summer-schools, or one-year-secondment opportunities, or Olympiad competitions, or all of these, alongside (yes, bog-standard) comprehensive schooling.”

    Very able children are conscious that they are different, at a time when difference is something they are trying to avoid. Putting them in an environment where they feel “normal” and not constantly having to hide their talent to avoid bullying or making others feel uncomfortable can be a real liberation for them (and I use that word advisedly and in full knowledge of its connotations). Bog-standard comprehensive schooling is the very last thing such children need.

    It’s also the case for all sorts of other children, of course, as has been pointed out by others in the thread above.

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