Was Michael Gove right?

On 3rd June 2016, Michael Gove drew ridicule when he stated “People in this country have had enough of experts”. However, Theresa May’s announcement that her government are now seeking to actively support1 the reintroduction of selective schools goes against all evidence-based expert opinion.

We mocked Mr Gove but the reintroduction of selective schools may well prove he was right. There appears to widespread support across the right-wing press and the Telegraph website is currently indicating 77% of their readership support the policy.

To make such an argument, I accept that I do need to present credible evidence undermining the case for selective schools. As noted by Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC Education Editor:

Many thought the debate about grammars had become almost irrelevant.

and it is therefore not surprising that recent academic research regarding the impact of selective school’s has been limited. Ironically, I suspect that this may have allowed such an antiquated policy to get its foot in the door.

However, digging through the archives, there are multiple articles and data sets that undermine and contradict the proposal that selective education improves education outcomes for communities. For a quick summary, in 2013 Chris Cook of the FT presented compelling analytical data that deprived families “do dramatically worse in selective areas”, that “introducing selection is not good at raising school productivity” and that as “a way to raise standards or to close the gaps between rich and poor, it is hard to find evidence that [selective schools] are effective”. There have also been more specific studies focussed on selective areas such as Buckinghamshire, which concluded that “the low prevalence of FSM eligible pupils in the grammar schools casts doubt on their ability to aid social mobility.”

In light of such evidence, Professor Stephen Gorard recently concluded in a Guardian article that “selection by ability is currently the very antithesis of an evidence-informed policy”. Even more pointedly, Sir Michael Wilshaw (the outgoing Chief Inspector of Schools) recently stated that the idea that poor children will benefit from a return of grammar schools is “tosh” and “nonsense”.

So why do so many people appear to support the reintroduction of grammar/selective schools?

Undoubtedly, most people are emotionally compromised when it comes to education. The only objectively credible argument for selective education I can find revolves around efficiency. There seems to be a certain truthiness in the idea that is easier to teach groups of similar abilities so that strong pupils can be stretched and challenged and others provided more time and support.

However, the teachers I know are more than capable of teaching a mixed-ability class and just require the time to prepare various differentiation methods. The idea also overlooks the importance of peer interactions with massive benefits in most subjects for working alongside a variety of abilities. Where needed, setting of subjects is also obviously much more flexible (and changeable) than segregation at a school level.

Fundamentally a lack of good schools in certain areas and potential lack of time for teachers to prepare a fully differentiated lesson schedule can both be solved by one thing; recruitment, training and retention of more excellent teachers. Another disruptive and unmandated change to the schools system will just do even more damage (as evidenced by England’s deterioration in results compared to Scotland and Wales, which have not faced Govian academisation).

I am very glad to see Tim Farron has committed to opposing these plans in all ways possible and I hope to see Lib Dems in the House of Lords unanimously vote against any legislation that supports the entrenchment of social divides. I hope as a part we can unite to defeat such archaic ideas and we can also prove Mr Gove wrong and place evidence and experts at the centre of policy-making for our nation.

* Jamie joined the Lib Dems in 2014 and was elected as City Councillor for West Chesterton in May 2018.

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39 Comments

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Sep '16 - 2:46pm

    I agree completely that the proposal to bring back selection according to ability, in order to help the under-privileged but bright child, is not evidence-based.

    I have to challenge this point though, ‘ We mocked Mr Gove but the reintroduction of selective schools may well prove he was right,’ because we are in danger of looking back with rose-tinted spectacles upon a particularly turbulent and poisonous period in education history, under the charge of an education secretary whose principle in effecting change was one of ‘creative destruction.’

    Unfortunately, we saw this principle (and the same protagonists – Gove and his SpAd Dominic Cummings) at work all too well, and tragically effectively in the EU Referendum campaign earlier this year.

    Michael Gove was/is not right about education. In fact, his policies set the direction of travel for the boldness of Theresa May’s new offer to parents.

    It was Gove who massively expanded the academies scheme in order to break the link with local government. It was Gove who then allowed academies to set their own admissions policies, which led to accusations by Tory Councils no less that academies were getting around the prohibition for selection by ability.

    https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/04/tory-council-gove-academy-schools-admissions.

    To quote: ” Under Gove’s reforms, academies can implement their own admissions code. A small but growing number of schools, mainly sponsored academies, use ability banding as part of their criteria, according to research by the London School of Economics on behalf of the Sutton Trust. Schools might turn away pupils who do not fall into the right band, even when there are surplus places.”

    Why was selection by ability explicitly prohibited? Because it was ruled out by the Lib Dems in coalition. Let’s never forget that.

    I suspect Michael Gove, Toby Young, Nicky Morgan et al are secretly delighted that the explicit selection cat is now out of the bag and probably implemented in some form by Mrs May’s government.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Sep '16 - 3:24pm

    Jamie, the motive here is excellent , the method is where we need to put in the effort. The teaching of mixed ability, has often in the past been the norm ,in comprehensive schools , not as much now , with more of them streaming within the schools.This is the solution.

    As Liberals rather than Conservatives or Socialists , this nuanced but rather definite distinction needs to be emphasised.

    The Conservative will always at worst hark back to an imaginary era, and campaign effectively , for a better yesterday ! To all too many of this ilk , selection at any age is just up their street , a social Darwinism, their default position, survival of the fittest , even if deciding academic fitness or other such absurd notions ,with no finesse, as young as eleven !

    The Socialist believes in sameness ,even while preaching diversity, or freedom, neither of which is really their speciality, and so ,all together now, and at all age groups , in school or out ,is the norm , because the norm ,and conforming to their version of it ,is sometimes the default position for them.

    As Liberals we need to look at every child or adult as an individual , and therefore every one of us differs in our needs and at varying stages of development . We need to speak against grammar schools, but for selection , not into arbitrary categories at early ages,into separate schools and pupils labelled like products, but into subjects within schools , fluidly at all times, the individual needs paramount , changing , accordingly.

    We must not be the party of the processors ,any more than that of the producers, interests, in education or not .Because those who know the processing of children as wrong way , and are producing results in schools that are the right ones, whether as professional or parental or political advocates, know that only a classical Liberal sensibility, aligned to a social Liberal actuality ,can do what has to be done.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Sep '16 - 4:28pm

    Lorenzo Cherin
    ‘ The teaching of mixed ability, has often in the past been the norm ,in comprehensive schools’

    Can you point me to any evidence where mixed ability teaching was the norm in the comprehensive school outside of team sports or creative arts from year seven to year eleven?

    ‘…not as much now , with more of them streaming within the schools.This is the solution.’

    I taught an academic humanity subject in the comprehensive system for fifteen years from the late 1980s, and was not required to teach mixed ability beyond the first term of year seven ( that was to allow time to assess pupil aptitudes before setting). If it did occur in the state system, I did not come across it, certainly beyond year seven classes (my experience extends to more than a single school and more than one county).

    Can we please put to bed once and for all the erroneous belief that comprehensives teach academic subjects through broad spectrum mixed ability teaching.

    I would also point out then even when children are setted according to ability, there will inevitably be a variation of ability within that class. This is why differentiation of material is often required even within a top set of ability through to the lower sets.

  • Sadly, I fear this doesn’t have much to do with education.

    I saw a chilling / informative Twitter exchange recently among some Brexit supporters, whose logic was that education is decided by people who have been in selective education (I.e. Public schools) deciding for the majority, and that they now wanted to have the selective education as well.

    The way it read carried the assumption that people felt excluded by the role of the privately-educated, and assumed that their children would benefit by being at grammar schools. This feels like the politics of envy being whipped up among people who will then be disappointed when their children don’t make it to grammar schools.

    I am sure that the actual educational decision should be evidence-based, but if we are actually into rousing people’s support by mobilising their aspirations, regardless of the actual effect, then the parallels with the arguments for Brexit are chilling, and the Tories could be heading to a decision made on spurious grounds. Not encouraging.

    The snag is that this means the idea would need to be challenged not on grounds of evidence (which will be ignored) but by putting the emotional/aspirational case for non-selective education.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Sep '16 - 4:56pm

    Helen Tadcastle

    A little unfair , I think , as most of my piece above was not saying that mixed ability is very much present at all, and you singled out one comment I made to show the very point you make, that mixed ability should and is not the norm !

    As for evidence ,that it was there more once than now , I am not going to name names , like some Macarthy style whitchunt, you know as well as I do that in some areas going back to the 1970s , and for some ideologues on the left, that mixed ability was advocated at worst , tolerated at best , sometimes in some schools. Not always , not necessarily often , but then again , that is not what I implied , let alone , said.

    I am glad that you show what was the bulk of my heartfelt advocacy of a better way than grammar schools, that Liberals are sensible on this and should be , even if a little too willing to not see their agreement with fellow Liberals as the often most important thing where it is there !

  • Peter Watson 10th Sep '16 - 6:16pm

    The 11+ seems to provide an excellent way to protect middle-class children from their poorer peers (apart from a few particularly bright and hard-working exceptions) and offer a surrogate for a socially exclusive private education at the tax-payer’s expense, so for Telegraph readers, what’s not to like?
    Also, I do love the irony of hearing “experts” (including someone from the Campaign for Real Education) who apparently don’t understand the value of evidence when it comes to making decisions, but it does make me worry about the poor quality of the education they represent.

  • For every new Grammar School you open, you have to open three secondary modern schools.

    Tory slogan for the next election ? Forward
    ……….. to the Fifties.

  • nvelope2003 10th Sep '16 - 9:00pm

    David Raw: There were grammar schools for hundreds of years before the fifties. In any case were the fifties so bad ? There was practically no unemployment or narcotic drugs, except for the degenerate rich, crime was fairly minimal and obesity was rare. There was a comprehensive system of public transport. The food was mostly wholesome and junk food unusual unless you include sausages and fish and chips. Of course there were problems but most people were looking forward not spending all their time complaining about minor irritations, and of course there were grammar schools replete with many working class children for the academically minded and other schools for those of a practical nature who kept the country going where they could learn useful things instead of the impractical stuff which drives so many young people crazy with boredom now. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Denis Mollison 10th Sep '16 - 9:26pm

    nvelope2003
    You are drifting from one time period to another. On the “hundreds of years” scale, most children didn’t go to school at all. The significant social mobility post-WW2 was driven by the expansion of middle-class jobs; any poor children who got into grammar schools were of course beneficiaries of this, but it does not mean that the selective system was good. Academic studies show that outcomes for both the brightest and the least bright are better in a comprehensive system than in a segregated (grammar/secondary modern) one.

    We need more money and other support put into any substandard comprehensives, not a return to selection at age 11. And, even more, resources for pre-school education.

    Fortunately in Scotland, this step backwards will hopefully not be imposed on us, just as we have escaped the scams of academies and “free schools”>

  • An interesting article but could you please also report in similar detail on the abundant evidence (by the Sutton Trust, amongst others) that the comprehensive system also fails to address the problem of lack of social mobility? In schools with a small proportion of free school meals, BOTH the high and low achieving pupils do better

    http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/1Attainment_deprived_schools_summary.pdf

    Of course that report never uses the words “comprehensive school”, since it would be non-PC to point out that peer group is a dominant factor in success in education. Selection by ability creates successful and less successful peer groups, but so does selection by catchment area.. At least the former has some vague connection with merit rather than simply birth and privilege, however..

    The tone of this article really reminds me of some of the worst Remain propaganda in the referendum, in which it seemed no sane person could possibly favour Leave..

  • nvelope2003 10th Sep '16 - 9:54pm

    Denis Mollison: You are making the same mistake as Mr Raw – parroting slogans to justify your own prejudices. Of course I am aware that most children did not go to school hundreds of years ago but a surprising number did and by the time the Forster Education Act was introduced in the 1870s almost 90% could already read and write.

    I did not say I supported selection at 11 or at any specific age. Selection at 11 was probably wrong but there was a provision for review at 13 and in any case things have to be tried and tested before they are set in tablets of stone, even if they ever should – probably not.

  • Stevan Rose 11th Sep '16 - 1:35am

    “For every new Grammar School you open, you have to open three secondary modern schools.”

    No you don’t. Who has asked for the return of secondary moderns? You can have specialist academies and comprehensives working alongside Grammars.

    In respect of the original question, though it pains me to say so, Gove is right. In virtually every field you can think of there are competing “experts” often holding completely opposing views. You (we all) choose to quote and push the views of the “experts” that reinforces your (our) existing opinions and prejudices. This is as true in the education field as it is in economics, antiques, law and elsewhere. Government by experts is a technocracy not a democracy. But remember that other parties also have their experts and evidence that supports something completely different. If all experts agreed you wouldn’t need political parties or elections.

  • Allan Brame 11th Sep '16 - 8:24am

    @Stevan Rose
    ‘You can have specialist academies and comprehensives working alongside Grammars’

    No you can’t. If the brightest students are creamed off by a Grammar School, the Comprehensive is no longer comprehensive. An all-ability school needs to include the whole range of abilities; if it does not, it is a Secondary Modern

  • nvelope2003 11th Sep '16 - 9:19am

    The problem for the advocates of a fully comprehensive system and opponents of grammar schools is that so many of them send their own children either to selective schools or independent schools so whatever the experts say it has the whiff of do as I say not as I do. Most people feel as that old advert said if it is not good enough for Mrs Jones it is not good enough for me.

  • Peter Watson 11th Sep '16 - 10:01am

    @nvelope2003 “The problem for the advocates of a fully comprehensive system and opponents of grammar schools is that so many of them send their own children either to selective schools or independent schools so whatever the experts say it has the whiff of do as I say not as I do.”
    “so many of them” is such an imprecise term that this statement risks sounding like an attempt to smear all those who oppose grammar schools by implying hypocrisy. Perhaps it should be quantified or supported by naming names.
    For what it’s worth, I went to a comprehensive school as do/did my children.
    However, i am not convinced that sending my children elsewhere would necessarily be hypocritical. If I lived in an area with grammar schools I am sure that I would want my children to attend one since the alternative would be a socially unbalanced secondary modern rather than a comprehensive school. I believe that the issue of private vs. state schooling is a very separate one and I would not seek to ban those with the money from choosing to opt out and pay for their children to be taught in small classes in well-funded, socially exclusive schools. As long as those parents still pay their taxes (and if independent schools do not benefit from undeserved tax breaks) then that leaves more money per pupil in the state system than would otherwise be the case.

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Sep '16 - 10:25am

    @nvelop2003

    “there were grammar schools replete with many working class children for the academically minded and other schools for those of a practical nature who kept the country going where they could learn useful things instead of the impractical stuff ”

    Except that the third part of the tripartite education system – technical schools – laid out in the 1944 Education Act was so poorly implemented that it was barely visible. If it had been implemented properly I suspect there would be a much more positive culture in the UK embracing the scientific and engineering knowledge and skills needed for the modern world (possibly resulting in less pressure from parents to get their own kids into grammar schools) than seems to be the case.

  • @Allan Brand. There are many excellent non-selective schools in areas that still have grammars. Not by any stretch the old secondary moderns but first rate specialist academies and comprehensives. Talk them down if you want but Ofsted reports would be a better measure.

    Grammar schools are currently only available in middle class areas as they’ve been removed from any LEA that isn’t a one party fiefdom. They will remain out of the grasp if this party and Labour whilst both remain committed to destruction of the education system of choice for residents. Perhaps we should look to the US and elect school boards to oversee education policy and operations.

  • It would be nice to know what specialist knowledge and qualifications – if any – Stevan Rose and ‘nvelope 2003 bring to the table to enable them to make so many sweeping statements based on Daily Mail type nostrums.

    What we have seen so far are wild generalisations and dodgy made up stats on the state of literacy in 1870. Not only that, but to describe a distinguished mathematician and statistician as “parroting slogans to justify his own prejudices” is quite revealing.

    Nuff said, end of.

  • Sue Sutherland 11th Sep '16 - 1:15pm

    This obsession with grammar schools is very narrow minded because it concentrates on only one type of intelligence. No one has commented on Helen’s statement that team sports and art aren’t streamed, but now there is more money invested in sport, developing exceptional talent, we are, at last, seeing a spectacular Olympic and Paralympic medal haul and we are all so proud of our sportsmen and women who are also given honours by the Queen. Nobody seems to complain about this, yet it is a form of elitism. These athletes talk about the importance of the team and how other people winning gold spurs them on to great achievement too.
    There are many talents needed by our society so it is a complete waste to just concentrate on the academic. I believe very intelligent children need the same nurturing as very great sportspeople. I’ve recently moved to Manchester where those good at football have special training so why do we seek to deny the same opportunities to the academic? We need brilliant scientists, economists etc so let’s treat those children the same way. We don’t have to force a whole load of bright children into the narrow confines of a grammar school, instead why don’t we give them extra attention in the company of like minded pupils and teachers who want to stretch their minds? All the other talents can be treated in the same way by schools in a particular area working together to provide this extra tuition instead of after school clubs. I suppose this is what Academies were intended to do but I don’t think they’ve been particularly successful.
    Children who love art or music or sport, or who like to care for others, or to explore the natural environment could all be catered for if this cooperation rather than competition between schools was encouraged. I have always valued creativity but several creative people that I know feel their experience of school was destructive and undermining, and yet we need their skills too. For example, the fashion industry is an important part of the economy. Entrepreneurs are desperately needed too but a grammar school is unlikely to encourage those skills.
    We are Lib Dems and we value individual talents and skills so our kind of education system should nurture a wide variety of ways of being. This might also be a way of private schools earning their charitable status if they can provide this kind of specialist tuition for all children in a community.

  • Nigel Jones 11th Sep '16 - 1:20pm

    Like all Education policy issues, this has many important aspects, but the fundamental concept is that we are dealing with young human beings. They cannot easily and should not, be crudely divided into 2 distinct types and they should not be divided as whole persons into 2 types. Given the present day economy and society, we can do so much better than that and run a system that takes account of their complex variety of changing aptitudes, talents and abilities and their need to work and live side by side, accepting their differences.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Sep '16 - 1:58pm

    Sue Sutherland
    as often talks sense! Do see my comments twice above, as I like what you write.

    David Raw
    we are on the same side on this one , more or less, but it is not going to help if you refer to good colleagues needing to prove their expertise or say they ‘ re holding views from the Daily Mail !

  • It is a bit disappointing to read an Observer editorial referring to ‘what parents want’ because this implies acceptance of the market in school choice(it is actually preference but never mind). It implies that the choice of the ‘best’ school, even if available, is all that is needed. It isn’t because the education of a child is the joint responsibility of parent as well as school. Parents who support their kids with enthusiasm including involvement with the school contribute significantly to outcomes for their kids. Parents who don’t for many reasons but very often because they lack aspiration produce the opposite effect. This is actually inequality in our society and accounts for the ”tail’ in overall outcomes. The child of an econonomically poor home who is bright and is nurtured and encouraged at home is very likely to succeed at any school Grammar or otherwise.

  • nvelope2003 11th Sep '16 - 9:11pm

    Ian Sanderson: So we do not have an economic crisis now, or women being undervalued ? The Suez crisis has been replaced by the Middle East crisis as if it ever went away, gays still get beaten up even if not by the police and our balance of payments on manufactured goods is in a desperate state, but the things I mentioned were positive benefits now gone, maybe for good.

    David Raw: I stopped buying the Daily Mail when my partner became too ill to read it and sadly died a few months ago. I am more likely to read the Morning Star. My statistics on literacy, not school attendance, were not invented.
    I am not sure that specialist knowledge is the only factor to be considered in this debate. It would be wrong to abolish a form of education which has existed for hundreds of years and which conferred a certain outlook and a spirit of inquiry in its students. The love of classical music seems to have gone from young people to be replaced by hideous noise. This saddens me. Only old people seem to go to concerts except the last night of the proms. My school days were mostly happy ones.

    Professor Denis Mollison: I am sorry if my comment caused offence which was not intended but just made in the course of robust debate. My sincere apologies.

    Nonconformistradical: that is a name I like ! We had a very good technical school in what was a rural area and the Principal was well respected in the area but you are right and we should have followed the German system but apparently British snobbery prevented it and it still does. The obsession with academic abilities is still holding us back and the present system is not helping though Kenneth Baker is still try to help.

  • nvelope2003 11th Sep '16 - 9:30pm

    I am surprised that Liberal Democrats are so keen to impose a one size fits all system of education. I expected that this party would be in favour of choice and variety, not a Stalinist uniformity, while it is apparently ok to accuse anyone who does not follow the party line of being unqualified or having Daily Mail nostrums, apparently a serious crime. Is there some Liberal Democrat official who decides if someone is unqualified and “moderates” there post ?

  • nvelope2003 11th Sep '16 - 9:32pm

    sorry – their post, not there post

  • I don’t read the Daily Mail, never have done and my grammar school didn’t teach me what a nostrum is. I wasn’t aware that one needed a B.Ed to have an opinion on education. I have 15 years direct experience within the education system if that helps. 7 in primary, 5 in secondary grammar, 3 at university, if that helps. Never did a 6th form, wasn’t that keen on school. Had I stayed I may have been taught about nostrums. Once you have an opinion you can pick your favourite expert as evidence you must be right and everyone else is wrong.

    I think, Lorenzo, that unfortunately you and I may not all be on the same page here. There’s a few pro-grammar Lib Dems but we are a minority. What we have in common with fellow members is a desire for all children to get an excellent education and to maximise social mobility. The how is where we may disagree and I can’t see either side here conceding regardless of the quality of academic credentials.

    Something I find very odd is opposition to selective education pre-16 but it’s perfectly fine to apply selection on ability at 16+ and 18+ and indeed some posters here do the selection and cast some less able students’ dreams into the gutter. Genuine questions to the experts… How do you explain that?

  • Richard Underhill 12th Sep '16 - 9:08am

    Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were journalists, looking for something new to say every day. Being in government requires consistency to push through some policy.
    The announcement on grammar schools, supported by the MP for Sevenoaks, who is also the defence secretary, serves as a distraction from other issues such as NHS funding or relations with the EU;
    it also meets the Howe-Lawson test of coming early in the parliament (after the tory leadership election) compared with the abolition of exchange controls or a conflict with the national Union of Mineworkers;
    it throws some red meat to blue supporters with whom it may be popular despite academic research from people who know a lot more about education than I do.

  • Stevan Rose, there is nothing odd about selection at 11 compare with selection at 16+ or 18+. Selection at 11 is across the board in all subject compared with selection at 16 or 18 where more specialist areas of study are considered. More importantly, at 16 or 18 young people are more able to make their own choices and in the right environment will have developed differently and naturally.
    However, there are problems at 16 and 18. The current government is set on a hard and fast distinction between academic and vocational education, which is not only artificial but made for some people at too early an age. The previous Labour government was mistaken in rejecting Mike Tomlinson’s proposals for a qualifications system that embraced both and enabled youngsters to mix both.

  • nigel hunter 12th Sep '16 - 11:08am

    Michael Murpurgo failed his 11+. This failure in the long run did not do him any harm. The 11+ should be got rid of.It labels children as failures from an early age with all the harm that ensues. I did not do the exam. I hd a yearly check on my progress dropping from 4th class down to 6th class. As I developed from child to teenager noticed this decline. and pulled my socks up ending in the GCE class (got 1, hoped for more). Gradually entered night school gathered up English ,Maths other qualifications ending up with a BA Hons degree Exams only show you intelligence on that day, we grow up at different rates Assistance at school for children as individuals (all with different talents) is required so they are not classed as failures ,cos they cannot pass exams.
    If there has to be an addition to the school systems available Technical Colleges should be developed to develop engineering skills ,robotics woodwork. a host of skills always needed in a rapidly developing world. .

  • Ian Sanderson: The only major industrial disputes now are in the public sector, like the NHS, or government controlled industries such as the Southern Railway where the operator has been ordered to introduce new working practices regardless of the consequences for the users or the staff. There were few dispute before the Government decided to intervene.

  • @ Nigel Hunter “Michael Murpurgo failed his 11+. This failure in the long run did not do him any harm”.

    Michael Morpurgo is opposed to the re-introduction of the 11 plus. A careful reading of his comments reveal that failing the 11 plus did indeed affect his self confidence and progress as a child and made him extremely unhappy. Two great aunts financed him into private education and he did gradually regain confidence and progress.

    The vast majority of people cannot afford this type of solution to 11 plus failure – nor can they afford the private coaching that middle class parents will pay to ensure their children have an advantage in selection by exam.

    Agree with the rest of your post, Nigel.

  • Peter Watson 12th Sep '16 - 2:09pm

    @Sue Sutherland “team sports and art aren’t streamed, but now there is more money invested in sport, developing exceptional talent, we are, at last, seeing a spectacular Olympic and Paralympic medal haul”
    But at the same time, we are regularly told about the obesity epidemic and the poor health and low activity levels of British people, and since the Olympics were held in London in 2012 it is reported that the number of people participating in sport has declined. So perhaps focusing attention and funding on a sporting elite has not been a benefit to the country as a whole.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Sep '16 - 10:23am

    @Stevan Rose

    You probably mean me when you talk about selection at 11+, 16+ and 18+. I have written here against selection at 11, and I have been and admissions tutor in my university department.

    As ever, we have the illiberal line being used that wants to make out that there are only two positions that can be taken on any issue, so that if one is not a fanatical supporter of one line, one must be a fanatical supporter of the other. So often this shuts down debate, because it means serious points trying to get a sense of balance are not listened to.

    Just because I have argued against selection at 11 does not mean I think there are no justifiable arguments for it. Nigel Jones makes the point I would make here, the case for having actual separate institutions becomes greater as what is taught becomes more specialised. At a university we set our own curriculum, we do not follow a national curriculum and enter our students into a nationwide standard set of qualifications like GCSEs. If we had the old system of O-levels and CSEs, I think there would be a case for selection at 13+ in cases where it is impractical for a school to teach both.

    When I select someone for the degree I teach (Computer Science) on it is because I know there are certain subjects that are good preparations for it and indicators of potential success (e.g. Mathematics, Latin) and certain that are not (e.g. Information Technology, Business Studies). Isn’t it cruel to take on someone whose qualifications suggest, on past experience, that they are bound to fail?

    It is a matter of balance, and on balance I accept selection at a later age. But also I do accept selection into individual streams in one institution at an earlier age. Again this is a matter of balance.

    Most of all, I argue against people when they say things that are untrue. For example, many of those who argue against comprehensive schools use an untrue line that suggests such schools generally have mixed-ability classes. They also use the untrue line that overall a selective system at age 11 is helpful to social equality, whereas the evidence suggests the reverse is true.

  • nigel hunter 14th Sep '16 - 10:51am

    The individual pupil should be assessed yearly as to his/her progress, strengths, weakness assessed guided into the area that their education and other abilities are best for them to aim for a successful and happy start to life. Adulthood and further development comes later. The Hive system of education is worth a look.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Sep '16 - 10:56am

    As a scientist, I believe in the use of experiments and evidence. Well, we have that in the case of selection at age 11. Substantial parts of the country, including the whole of the administrative county of Kent, have maintained an 11+ selective system. There’s the experiment: is there are more equal society with better social mobility in Kent?

    The evidence suggests “No”.

    As a university admissions tutor, I have handled thousands of applicants in my time. Mine is a reasonably high-ranked university, but not right at the top. From this, I have seen plenty of students from comprehensive schools that would be dismissed as “poor” get places at my university, I have also seen them get places at higher ranking universities because we may be their UCAS insurance choice. Again, here we have actual evidence. From what I have seen, the claim frequently made by advocates of selection at the age of 11 that for most comprehensive schools it is impossible to go from them to a high-ranking university, is false.

    You may say that the proportion who go to these schools and get A-levels good enough to get into the top ranking universities is small. But if there were a selective system, the portion who would pass the 11+ from their catchment area would be small, and not all of them would then get top A-levels. I don’t see evidence that a selective system means the overall proportion of the population from these areas getting top A-levels would be greater.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Sep '16 - 11:13am

    nigel hunter

    If there has to be an addition to the school systems available Technical Colleges should be developed to develop engineering skills ,robotics woodwork.

    One of the biggest problems in our society is when subjects like engineering, or robotics, or my own, Computer Science, are written off as subjects suitable for those pupils who are less academically able. The reality is that these subjects require high level mathematical and logical skills.

    This dismissal of such subjects as suitable for “Technical Colleges” while the academically able would go to “Grammar Schools” is having a disastrous impact on our country. It means not enough school-leavers with the right sort of qualifications and ability are going in to them. University engineering departments have closed down, or have to take in weak students who have to be taught dumbed-down material.

    During my time as admissions tutor for my university Computer Science department I had to reject a much higher proportion of applicants than other departments due to schools sending us applicants with poor maths and school references which in effect said “Johnnie is not very bright, but he likes playing with computers, so he’s ideal for your subject”.

    Meanwhile, those who do have the ideal qualifications tend to be forced into Medicine, Law, Economics and other such subject that are regarded as more prestigious.

  • nvelope2003 14th Sep '16 - 9:10pm

    I understand that the polite way for an academic to put down someone is to say he is a person of sound common sense.

  • nvelope2003 15th Sep '16 - 1:00pm

    Of course the nation needs engineers but maybe they are not paid as much as lawyers, doctors etc. We are a nation of snobs but maybe the Germans are less so and foreigners seem to admire people who are well educated and work hard while British people regard them as know it alls or swots and boast about their inability to do mathematics or science subjects and glory in their ignorance and obsession with trivia despite trying to get their children into the “right” schools for reasons of social prestige.

    The attempt to make comprehensive schools into grammar schools has not helped. It would have been better to have made them into Technical Schools.

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