WHY DID GREENING HAVE TO GO?

 

Why did Greening have to go?

Several theories are in circulation about why Justine Greening had to go as Education Secretary.

Firstly,she was not loyally carrying out the wishes of the Prime Minister. More than  this,  she was delaying and obstructing.  The Prime Ministers  wishes can pretty much be summed up as  the proposals in the  pre-election  education Green Paper drafted by her former adviser Nick Timothy.

And its also known that Greening, along with Jo Johnson ,were not entirely in agreement with May on her approach to tuition fees.   Given the joy expressed by Nick Timothy in the Daily Telegraph  at  Greenings departure there seems to be some mileage in this. Timothy has urged Damian Hinds, the new education secretary, to be “brave enough” to cut tuition fees.

Greening was not radical enough, the argument goes, in pursuing the  structural reforms —  that is more academies, free schools , faith schools  and of course  grammar school expansion . Instead, she wanted to see an unrelenting focus on the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils. So  not so much the other group,  favoured by May, those who are  just about managing to get  by.  So Greening realigned DFE Policy to focus on improving social mobility.  May is also keen on social mobility, of course,  but has a rather different approach to achieving it.

It was something of an open secret that Greening was uncomfortable with the structural agenda and increasing selection in the state system. This was  hardly surprising . The  response to the Green Paper was underwhelming.  Experts lined up to rubbish its proposals  with  a coalition of education professionals, across the political spectrum, saying, that the proposals did nothing at all to advance the government’s own agenda , providing more good school places. Significantly, we are still awaiting the government’s response to the public  consultation on the Green Paper.

On grammar schools, analysis is pretty clear . Though grammars, which by and large are good schools, might deliver a small exam grade benefit to those who gain entry, this is at a significant price to those,  often poorer children, who do not pass the entry test. More grammar schools are therefore likely, if anything, to worsen the country’s social mobility problem. So to invest time, scarce resources and political capital in this area really doesn’t make a lot of sense, and rides a coach and horses through the evidence base.

Its true that the initial academies scheme saw significant improvements in student outcomes. But the  most recent expansion of  the academies programme  has shown mixed results . Indeed LSE research points to  little, or no, significant attainment effects .Nor have  academies significantly narrowed the achievement gap, certainly at  secondary level. Greening understood this.

As far as tuition fees go Greening  and  Johnson blocked an attempt by the prime minister to overhaul them — cutting fees and possibly the interest rate charged to students.  They had argued that although the system was sound in principle, sharing the financial investment between the state and the student, as both accrue  benefit, the 6.1 per cent interest rate on loans should be reduced and maintenance grants for poorer students restored immediately, rather than after a lengthy review.  But, Mrs May’s advisers wanted to use the review to challenge Labour’s appeal to young people, which hurt the Conservatives in the election. Damian Hinds, the new  education secretary, and Sam Gyimah, the new universities minister, are understood to be more sympathetic to No 10’s ambitions for the level of fees to be reconsidered.

Post-16 education funding needs reform , but cuts to university fees and loan rates would in effect  direct more government subsidies to the disproportionately privileged children who attend the UK’s universities. This would use up scarce resources that could be applied to make a real difference to social mobility. Social mobility in this country has stagnated. But most agree that there is no silver bullet to addressing the challenge, nor is it just up to schools.  It is widely accepted, for example,   by those who look at the evidence, that if you want to improve social mobility some of the best returns come from early pre-school interventions. If England is to address its social mobility problems, it needs to intervene earlier and increase the supply and development of good teachers and school leaders. We are having real difficulty in recruiting and retaining both.  If you don’t have a sustainable supply of good teachers and leaders no amount of tinkering with structures and selection is going to make a jot of difference to  outcomes across the system.

Some in government had complained that Greening was a charisma free zone. But since when has charisma been a requirement for cabinet ministers.? Think,  Chris Grayling ,Jeremy Hunt  and  Philip  Hammond.  They    are still in the Cabinet ,arent they (and two of these three are probably less competent than Greening)

So, some observers see the appointment of Hinds as an attempt by May to seize  back some control of the education agenda- so more selection, more free schools a lifting of the cap on  religious school admissions and so on . In other words re-establishing and relaunching the pre-election Green paper agenda. That would be curious politics given that the architect of the Green paper Nick Timothy was sacked following the near disastrous  election and the Tories lost seats based on their platform including of course a commitment  more selection and grammars.

Greening deserved better treatment, frankly.

Interestingly, Mr Hinds is also passionately   committed to  social mobility. He wouldn’t do too much harm if he took on  board the  strategy that his predecessor was developing. It is worth looking at the APPG on Social Mobility report that ,as Chair, he published a couple of years ago. It reveals a sensible acknowledgement of what evidence tells us about where the priorities should lie in education to improve attainment, narrow the performance gap and to improve social mobility. Not included  in the reports  check list of actions  was  the need to  expand  grammars, increase  selection throughout the system , increase the number of  faith schools nor indeed  the need to lift  the admissions cap on faith schools.

Its hard to believe that the government would embark on a policy that is not evidence based,  but stranger things have happened in politics recently.

Just in case, the anti selection lobby  is girding its loins.

Advertisements

Careers Guidance , CEC and Money Trees -New Insights

Dr Deirdre Hughes is one of a small group of academics   regarded as an expert on careers education and guidance. She has just published a  new paper ’’Careers work in England’s schools: politics, practices and prospect’  . Her verdict on the guidance landscape is that ‘The present system of support for careers work in England’s schools is chaotic and congested.’  Her particular concerns also extend to ‘ the disparities that exist and social inequalities that arise when young people have restricted access to independent and impartial careers guidance’.

The Government has long promised a Careers Strategy, aimed at addressing our dysfunctional system so the dots are joined and  better outcomes follow .   This ,we are told, is due out this autumn.  The point about our  current system is that there is plenty of excellent careers advice out there,  from professional advisers, through  individuals , companies , hubs  and partnerships,  but its just that access to it is fragmented and inconsistent,  across the country. And has been for many years.

The Careers and Enterprise  Company (CEC)  set up with taxpayers money, by Nicky  Morgan, nearly three years ago,  aims  to  provide  greater coherence,  across piece , acting  as an enabler and facilitator, knocking heads together. Its impact though on improving access for young people to good professional guidance has been  less than obvious. .

So what is the Careers and Enterprise Company up to? Well it’s a good question.

The first point to make about the CEC is that it was supposed to be self-funded. That was  the intention when it was established . But this is clearly not the case. The taxpayer is still footing its bills.  It now looks and behaves like a new quango.  Government has pleaded poverty when it comes to Careers Guidance. No ring- fenced money was available for schools to support guidance, all money on careers had to come from (autonomous)school budgets . In short there was no magic money tree for Careers.   So within this austere context  its somewhat bemusing  to witness the gradual expansion of the CEC   which  has  no problem in accessing new funds and with no deadline  set  for it to be self-sustaining.  Austere times,  indeed!

Secondly, almost all its work is about promoting enterprise, and creating links and engagement between employers and schools,  while championing good work experience too.  Good though this may be, it hardly amounts to careers education or guidance.

Ministers have been highly supportive of the so- called eight ‘Gatsby’ benchmarks which   are supposed to inform good careers guidance  across the piece.  However, confusingly, the CEC just champions, randomly  as it happens, two or three of these  eight, mutually supporting  benchmarks. In effect   it is prioritising some, to the exclusion of others.  They will claim there is nothing random about their approach, its based on evidence. Maybe,  but  all the other benchmarks are evidence based too.

It also seems to misunderstand the difference between inputs and outputs. Its fine at measuring the former, not so good at measuring the latter.   Indeed, Ministers championed the success of the CEC within its first year of operation, but had no benchmarks against which to measure its success.   Counting the number of transactions or interactions conducted by any organisation  tells you nothing about the impact  its  having or the value its adding.

There is a broader danger here too. And that is that the new Careers Strategy will be all about providing a justification for the existence and continuing role of the CEC, rather than getting back to first principles to mend a broken system that fails far too many young people. What the CEC is involved with, and experimenting with, may be part of the solution,  but it can only be part of it,  if it  continues to ignore the other benchmarks and does nothing to ensure that there is easier access to independent professional careers advice and guidance in schools and colleges.  While there is some excellent work going on in schools and among providers to provide high quality guidance, far too many young people don’t have access to this  On this  the CEC seems to have  adopted a Trappist’s silence.

CECs Flaws  

Hughes  identifies  at least three fundamental design flaws to the CEC:

 

Firstly, the Careers and Enterprise Company is a ‘market player’ competing withother national and local careers providers and relies primarily (though not exclusively) on enterprise and mentoring volunteers from business, supported by government funds.

Secondly, whilst it has fully adopted a set of universally agreed benchmarks for ‘good careers guidance’ – welcomed by those working in the careers sector – and supported a new tool for schools’ self-assessment against the benchmarks – it has so far failed to make any serious attempt to achieve a stable careers programme in schools (benchmark 1); embrace or acknowledge the need for better use of labour market intelligence /information (LMI) (benchmark 2). This is clearly illustrated in its first published research report ‘Moments of Choice’ (CEC, 2016d). The company remains silent on linking curriculum learning with careers (benchmark 4) and young people’s access to personal guidance (benchmark 8).

And thirdly, it has chosen to prioritise use of scarce public funds to aid further experimentation rather than directly supporting impartial and independent careers guidance for young people to be made available in all schools in England’.

Hughes concludes that all schools and colleges require leadership and practical support if they are to develop effective careers work  And If,   as she calls it,  the English careers experiment (CEC) continues in its present form, greater fairness, transparency and accountability are required between private and public sector arrangements.

She says ‘ An important and, as yet unresolved issue is whether the role of government is to pump-prime a new player in the careers market (one which is neither fully independent or fully-private ownership) – and for this to be self-sustaining within a set timeframe – or whether government’s role is alternatively to guarantee access to careers provision and ensure quality by bringing coherence to an unregulated marketplace.’

She adds that ‘there is a growing and justifiable demand for Treasury funds to be directed into regions for more targeted delivery of CIAG in schools and local communities.  A renewed strategic focus combined with the economies of scale that can be achieved through an all-age national careers service merits further attention. you randomly bolt on initiatives, mix careers and enterprise nomenclature, for example, enterprise co-ordinators reliant on employers and volunteers for careers work in schools, and overlook the added-value contribution of career development professionals’ work, this complicates understanding.’

How do we mend a dysfunctional system , albeit one  that  includes  areas of  real excellence,  to ensure all young people have easy access to good independent professional guidance at  crucial stages in their lives  and ensure that the barriers that prevent this are removed? Can we  better harness and direct the  excellence already  in the system  and build  on  it?  The  answer clearly is not to keep calm and just  carry on,  relying on the CEC and its experimentation.  There are clearly resources available. Cant we use them better to secure the outcomes  and returns we need ?

Note

The Industry Apprentice Council, set up by Semta, has  just delivered a survey which suggests that many apprentices feel they  received poor careers advice and that there is a gender bias in much careers guidance . Many in the sector, however, believe that much of the outstanding work that is being delivered  by  professional  advisers, with young people, on the ground ,often in difficult circumstances and with  limited resources , is not being given   sufficient recognition in terms of its quality and its  impact on outcomes. The reality on the ground is that professional advisers are  at the forefront in highlighting apprenticeships aswell as  other non-traditional pathways   into employment that are increasing in scope.  Nor has there been much recognition of significant improvements in quality assurance throughout the sector and the increased professionalism of the sector and improving  status . If schools conduct careers education and afford access to qualified independent professional guidance experts that is the best way to ensure they are equipped to  make informed career  decisions.

WHAT NOW FOR EDUCATION POLICY?

What  now for education policy?

With no Education Bill in the Queens speech, what will be keeping Ministers busy?

The minority government  and reshuffle that never was  means that Theresa May now has little freedom of movement. So what might this mean for education policy? It seems rash in this climate to make firm predictions, but here goes.

Funding

We know that May had planned no real terms increase in per capita funding for schools. If pre-election policies stick, there will be a decrease of around 3-6% over this parliament unless the government really is wedded to less austerity, as implied by our new environment secretary Michael Gove. The increase in pupil numbers will place pressure on schools both primary and secondary. Some further marginal cost savings and efficiencies might be squeezed out of schools but for many, probably most, there is no wriggle room left. Also, bear in mind inflation is close to 3% and rising. If more funding is not available and Greening wants more there will be two consequences.

Firstly, the curriculum offer will be narrowed, as teachers and assistants are lost, pastoral support reduced and some school days shortened. Secondly, more schools will be tempted to join chains to afford some protection against cuts, although there may be limited capacity and few incentives for those running chains for this to happen at scale. My guess is there will have to be some adjustment in schools funding, to ease the burden, but it will not be as much as headteachers want and feel they need.

As for the free schools and academies programme, the programme remains the main delivery mechanism for much needed additional school places, regardless of the government’s stance on grammars and increased selection, which has been   radically scaled back  , will probably be    dropped altogether. Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 backbench committee, has suggested that there might be pilots on increased selection but that seems the best that the pro-selection lobby can expect. But even that in the current climate is a big ask

And, as far as the much vaunted new school funding formula is concerned, this will be placed, yet again, on the backburner. Clearly a new fairer formula is needed as the current system is unfair but as any new formula will create winners and losers, a minority government just cannot afford to upset even a minority of its backbenchers. Schools Minister Nick Gibb suggests that a new Formula will still be introduced, but this is unlikely as things stand .

Teacher recruitment and retention remains a big challenge. Getting enough leaders identified, trained, supported and deployed where they are most needed, is becoming a major priority and that will be Nick Gibb’s responsibility. Efforts to date have proved disjointed and piecemeal. There is currently no sustained pipeline of good heads, although there is some funding available  and a  new leadership college may be  in the wings. So, watch this space.

On the skills front there will be efforts to improve the quality and scope of apprenticeships as well as promoting higher degree apprenticeships and alternative routes into employment, beyond traditional degrees. Disappointingly, for the guidance sector, junior minister Robert Halfon was sacked. One of his main tasks had been to present a new careers strategy, which would be welcomed by all parties and employers particularly if informed by  all the so called ‘Gatsby benchmarks’, but this may be delayed further.

Mental health  is now seen as an issue from the Primary phase right through to Higher Education. The issue now is resources and  capacity within the system to address the challenge of identifying early  those with issues and getting them professional support before its too late.

Higher education

In higher education (HE), the new Higher Education and Research Act will be implemented, whether universities like it or not, they will be in a more competitive and accountable environment. The new Teaching Excellence Framework has  clearly embarrassed one or two leading universities, strong on research but poor on  teaching quality,  who  have  been  found to be wanting.  The TEF will be reviewed, and its metrics fine- tuned,  but,  make no mistake,  its here to stay.  With increasing numbers of students feeling they don’t get value for  money for their courses, and destination measures being published, as well as future earnings, the age of increased accountability in the HE sector is upon us. Vice Chancellors will be hard pressed to justify their inflated pay packets, under increased scrutiny.

May’s hard-nosed attitude to international students and tightening up visas will undoubtedly come under renewed attack and she is likely to have to concede some  ground under pressure from businesses, the research community and vice-chancellors, as UK universities slip down international league tables and Indian students, among others, no longer feel welcomed.

Brexit brings its own worries for the sector around access to  research funding, and in   attracting and retaining  both staff and students,. But there are also new opportunities for   collaboration, and for  transnational  partnerships around research,  enterprise , teaching and learning, and expect more satellite campuses abroad. .

Labour’s popular offer of no more tuition fees, which helped secure the support of the young vote, means that university funding will be back on the agenda. Expect think tanks to focus  in on this issue over the coming months.The interest rate that students now have to pay on their loans  is widely regarded as unacceptable.

The findings of the Sainsbury Review, which proposed the creation of T-levels and 15 technical routes for vocational and technical education, had been met with wide support both inside and outside the skills sector. While there are still crucial details about the implementation of the reforms, notably the content and progression routes around the proposed “transition year”, the spirit and substance of the reforms have been broadly welcomed. Institutes of technology should be up and running in this parliament, employer-led, with a STEM focus and operating on a hub and spoke model.

Schools

As far as the private sector is concerned, stagnant incomes, falling output and rising inflation could mean a tougher time for private schools. Demand from domestic consumers will probably remain at best, flat. But it’s always been a resilient sector that has weathered many other storms and will continue to attract international students and open satellite schools abroad to support its income streams. The biggest worry is obviously the prospect of a future Corbyn-led government that would threaten a school’s charity status and tax breaks. The higher education reforms mean more opportunities for private, alternative providers to enter the sector, and more two year degrees are in the pipeline, offering more choice to all students, and less debt. This could be attractive to the private sector but don’t expect a mad rush. It will be incremental.

The University of Buckingham, which was the first fully fledged private, non-profit university to be established 40 years ago, is expanding, and has seen an increased number of applications this year, so the private sector is not all gloom and doom. More competition, choice, new market entrants, better accountability and information for students is all good. Vice chancellors are even now scouring the horizon for new opportunities outside Europe and the UK education brand remains a strong card to play, in spite of sharper global competition.

But with all this, there is a huge caveat attached. Minority governments rarely last long. And don’t have a great back story. May, as leader, is much diminished, with limited freedom to act. There is likely to be a leadership contest within months. If the DUP arrangement doesn’t hold, and there is no guarantee that it will, we will have another general election and possibly by the end of the year. But the world still turns and there are still new opportunities out there

CMRE THINK TANK – INCREASED SELECTION IS NOT A VIABLE STRATEGY FOR THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

 

Centre Right think tank, CMRE, says increased selection is not a viable strategy for the education system as a whole

This is what Gabriel Sahlgren the Director of Research at the CMRE think tank said  about selection   in  an opinion  piece  in the Daily Telegraph on 8 May.

‘Conservatives have proposed academic selection. In this model, children would compete for places based on their performance. Parents wouldn’t just choose schools – but schools would choose pupils, too. This is not a viable strategy for the education system as a whole. Indeed, research suggests that between-school selection doesn’t raise performance overall, but often decreases equality. Rather than promoting a more cohesive country, selection may therefore merely divide us further.

Most importantly, academic selection decreases parental choice and risks the competitive incentives in the system; it induces schools to focus more on picking pupils than on improving their performance.’

I  suggest  it  would be helpful, and appropriate ,  before any future government decides  to increase selection in the schools system, for it to set out clearly the evidence base that informs this policy decision.  At present, as far as I am aware ,there is no think tank,   no reputable academic or research organisation or institution , nor  any organisation promoting social mobility which  either backs the policy of increased selection or has provided evidence that such a policy  will  do any of the following: improve performance across the system, raise the performance overall of disadvantaged pupils, narrow the performance gap between disadvantaged and mainstream pupils ,increase social mobility, improve equity,  or significantly help ‘ordinary families’ educationally, all of which appear to be  priorities on the current  education  agenda.  If evidence informed policy and practice  has any meaning, then this should be a minimum requirement, before any government wastes scarce resources, political energy and capital on introducing and driving through any such policy in the face of   available evidence and expert opinion

FSM PUPILS STILL BEING FAILED

One reason why Theresa May seems now to be focusing more on those’ hard working families just about managing’ rather than on the most disadvantaged cohort, as refllected in her speech to Conference and the recent Education Green Paper,  is for sound political reasons, in that they are the voters disillusioned with establishment politicians, who feel they are not being listened to, are on stagnant incomes  and who voted in huge numbers for Brexit . She  wants to attract them back into the fold, with what she sees as more ‘inclusive’ policies.  Another reason could be that despite successive governments best efforts and attempts to intervene to help the most disadvantaged and to close the attainment gap between them and their mainstream peers , only  glacial progress is being made in this area. Could it be that the government has all but given up on narrowing the achievement gap between pupils on Free school meals and mainstream pupils ? As Sir Michael Wilshaw pointed out recently the attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM secondary students hasn’t budged in a decade. It was 28 percentage points 10 years ago and it is still 28 percentage points today. Thousands of poor children who are in the top 10% nationally at age 11 do not make it into the top 25% five years later. He added that the fact that a quarter of a million youngsters leave school after 13 years of formal education without a GCSE in English and Maths is a national disgrace.
One interesting issue raised ,and question put, in the recent Green paper, was how to identify and target these hard working families who don’t quite qualify for FSM. The short answer is that ,at the moment it  is difficult and it seems pretty widely accepted that the FSM measure is too clunky and indiscriminate to be an accurate indicator  for the most disdavantaged, and isnt much use for the group that  May seeks to target, . Neither The Pupil data base nor the standard returns made by schools give the granular details necessary. However work is being done behind the scenes with HMRC and other agencies to improve the metrics and data to enable more forensic targeting. So watch this space.

TUTOR PROOF TESTS FOR GRAMMARS- WE ARE STILL WAITING?

The Green paper suggesting ideas  for  more selection in the state system has been heavily criticized. Mainly because it fails to highlight any evidence that increased selection will improve choice ,or, crucially improve the lot of the most disadvantaged either in terms of attainment or social mobility.  In fact, unless handled properly it could make their position infinitely worse.  The authors of the paper themselves seem to accept that the current selective system is unfair on the most disadvantaged pupils, because it suggests a raft of measures, incentives, conditions and sanctions   to  try  to make sure that these newly  selective  schools  will take their  fair share of the most disadvantaged pupils. (as clearly there is a perceived   risk  that  unless they are  heavily regulated and scrutinized that they wont)   So much for school autonomy, and the removal of red tape.  It  was good while it lasted. This envisages something of a bureaucratic  and regulatory nightmare .  The Green paper does seem to concede  though that the current  11 Plus test  can be coached,  (and therefore rich families have an advantage) and  that poor  children in areas that have grammar (selective ) schools tend to do  worse than poor pupils elsewhere.

This is what the  the  Green Paper says (Pg 21, Para 4):
‘Many selective schools are employing much smarter tests that seek to see past coaching and assess the true potential of every child. However, under the current model of grammar schools – while those children that attend selective schools enjoy a far greater chance of academic success – there is some evidence that children who attend non-selective schools in selective areas may not fare as well academically – both compared to local selective schools and comprehensives in non-selective areas.’

I assume  when the Green Paper refers to  the much smarter tests  that ‘ see past coaching ‘  its referring to those designed by CEM (Durham). There are few academics who have done more than Robert Coe of Durham  has to champion evidence based /informed practice in the teaching profession . But CEM  may be struggling to deliver  on these smart tests.   Becky Allen points out that a so-called ‘tutor-proof’ test ,offered by CEM and ‘introduced across Buckinghamshire (selective area) for 2014 admissions (they apparently have around 40% of the 11+ market) hasn’t really proved itself. ‘It claims to make selection fairer by testing a wider range of abilities that are already being taught in primary schools, rather than skills that can be mastered through home tutoring. Following the introduction of the test, Buckinghamshire – a local authority with very low FSM rates across its schools – saw the number of FSM pupils attending grammar schools fall in 2014 and 2015.’  So, not so smart then.

In short,  it would seem that  a test that ‘ sees past coaching’ has not yet  been developed. It may be a long wait .

POLITICS BEFORE EVIDENCE ON GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?

 

What about evidence informed policy?

Ryan Shorthouse, who heads the  Tory think tank   ‘Bright Blue’ thinks that expanding grammar schools would be a big mistake putting politics(or ideology) before evidence.  Sam Freedman, formerly an adviser to Michael Gove,  with a research pedigree, now working for Teach First, says  that there is not a jot of evidence that Grammar schools CAN   improve social mobility, which seems to be the main justification for the possible   move, in Tory ranks at least.

Freedmans concerns are broader though.  Having worked in DFE he understands the amount of political capital, time and resource,  that will  have to be  used up  to seek to push expansion through, and  with no guarantee of success. Meanwhile other reforms that have more potential impact on pupil outcomes may be put on the back burner and not be given  crucial attention and traction..

Tory Neil Carmichael,  Chair of the influential Education Select Committee, has also  just pitched in to the debate,  warning that efforts to re-establish grammar schools would be a “distraction” from improving the quality of education for all.  He said “What we need to be doing is ensuring that schools that are not doing terribly well improve, and grammar schools are a distraction to that central purpose. One of the messages from the Brexit vote was that we are leaving too many people behind. Grammar schools may help some people but they also leave more people behind.”

Research  by Anna  Vignoles and others  for the Sutton Trust  in 2013  found that less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals –  an important indicator of social deprivation .The average proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals in selective areas is 18%, and its higher on average in other areas where grammar schools are located.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies  research found:

‘Our key conclusion is that there is a substantial difference in the likelihood of a child who is eligible for free school meals enrolling in a grammar school as compared with a similar child who is not eligible for FSM. This remains true even if we allow for the fact that FSM children have lower levels of prior attainment. In other words, amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for FSM or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school. For example, in selective local authorities, two-thirds of children who achieve level 5 in both English and maths at Key Stage 2 who are not eligible for free school meals go to a grammar school, compared with 40% of similarly high-achieving children who are eligible for free school meals. This is a substantial gap.’

Research from CMPO at  Bristol University (April 2006) found ‘the substantive under representation of poorer and special needs children in grammar schools. ‘  It also found  that  ‘only 32% of high ability children eligible for free school meals (FSM) attend grammar schools compared with 60% of non-FSM pupils’.

If social mobility and improving the outcomes of the most disadvantaged pupils are the reason for refocusing on grammar schools (and therefore further structural reforms) the evidence really  isn’t there to back it.

Some Grammar schools have also been challenged on the amount of value added they offer, given  the quality of their intakes. In other words some of their pupils should be making more progress and achieve  better end qualifications than they do, given their performance when they enter the school. In the vernacular of Ministers  some Grammars, rather too many,  are “coasting”

Under a 1998 law, the number of selective state schools is fixed and any other new or existing state schools cannot use academic criteria for admission. But existing grammar schools are allowed to expand.

To allow brand new Grammars to start up would require Primary legislation. Given that some Tories, the Labour party and Lib Dems oppose Grammar expansion, the arithmetic is against getting such legislation through the Commons . And that’s without  factoring in the Lords where there will be a majority against new grammar schools (Labour,Lib Dem Peers many cross benchers and some Tories  would oppose) guaranteeing  significant delays   .Which leaves the  expansion option. Existing grammars expanding on their existing site, or into an annexe possibly  in a different  location  (but still part of the same school). This might work, but would carry big  risks and take time . And couldnt be done quickly at scale. And this is a government with a slender majority, aiming to be more inclusive and with much on its plate.  Its probably better to stick with evidence informed policy.

One  other  legislative option though, which is possible, given that a stand alone  Bill focused on enabling new Grammars wont get through Parliament, is to  insert a permissive  clause into the up coming Education for All Bill,  and then  whip Tory backbenchers into line.  Certainly possible, but also risky .

It is hard to see how Ministers would be prepared to launch such a high risk strategy with few ,if any ,  political  or educational returns.   But we live in strange political times in which its unsafe to make many or indeed   any predictions.  But, then again, maybe there is some kite flying going on here , to test reactions? If so, the message is  surely pretty  clear.  Its High risk , with very  limited returns.  Its probably better to make sure current reforms can bed in,  and to   address  the system wide  shortage of high quality leaders, and to focus more on raising the quality of teachers and teaching, key performance  drivers.

Entry into Grammar Schools in England- Jonathan Cribb, Institute for Fiscal Studies; Luke Sibieta, Institute for Fiscal Studies,

Anna Vignoles, University of Cambridge

http://www.ifs.org.uk/docs/Grammar_Schools2013.pdf