GRAMMARS-DIVIDING THE TORIES ?

The Times, in a leader this week, repeated an essential truth, rooted in  evidence  ‘At the heart of the grammar schools debate is a single, uncomfortable truth. Selection is good for the children selected, and not so good for those who aren’t.’  Grammar schools just dont select   disadvantaged pupils. At the last count 3% of their intakes on average, qualified for free school meals, the clunky measure for deprivation. So they are  demonstrably  not, as is claimed by some in government, engines of social mobility.
Somewhat bruised by the evidence put before them,  ministers are considering forcing those grammars with the fewest disadvantaged children to lower the pass mark for applicants from poorer backgrounds. (Tip for SPADS-On balance, its better to look at the evidence, and then formulate a  policy rather than formulate a policy and then look at the evidence).  Lowering the pass mark, would be combined with other measures to help disadvantaged children, such as holding entrance tests on deprived council estates to encourage children there to apply. This means that the reforms that will appear in the White Paper (the Green paper consultation process, was  a window dressing exercise ,much to the annoyance of those who submitted evidence to the consultation in good faith) will be more complex than simply allowing grammars to expand and free schools to select ,so may not please the existing grammar schools lobby. There will be caveats attached,  given their poor record with disadvantaged  pupils.  Graham Brady MP, the leading Tory backbench voice on grammars, said this week “Grammars are already keen to widen the social diversity of applicants and of the pupils attending them .There are numerous ways of doing this and it would be a mistake to force grammar schools to adopt a particular approach by requiring a quota to be reserved for a particular demographics or requiring lower pass marks for entry exams.”

Grammar schools, in order to retain their status may have to change their admissions/selection procedures fairly radically. So, The Government could fall between a rock and hard place. Irritating the Grammar schools lobby on the one hand, and on the other, the bulk of the educational and research establishment who feel that the government is heading down a cul de sac on selection.

THE ELEVEN PLUS EXAM -IS IT FIT FOR PURPOSE?

THE ELEVEN PLUS EXAM
The Eleven Plus exam determines whether or not a child gets into a grammar school. Critics claim this is an arbitrary age at which to test children on their abilities and potential and that the exam is unfair on disadvantaged pupils who tend not to have educated parents, who can help them, or access to private tutoring. There has long been a claim that the exam is cleverly designed to be tutor proof and is structured to identify ‘real’ potential and ‘intelligence’ . But, If you believe that intelligence is not fixed (Carol Dweck) and there are different types of intelligence (Howard Gardner) then you are not likely to rate this exam.
There is of course too, a cottage industry in private tutoring that exists precisely in order to get children into grammar schools . So this claim has always been open to challenge. In addition, at least 18% of successful grammar school applicants attended private primary school, most of which, offer bespoke support for grammar school applicants.
In addition, Becky Allen points out that a so-called ‘tutor-proof’ test ,offered by CEM (Durham) and ‘introduced across Buckinghamshire 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.’
Recent analysis from the IFS found that attending a grammar school is good for the attainment and later earnings of those who get in, but that pupils in areas with selective state education who do not pass the 11-plus entrance exam do worse than in areas without grammars.
Proposals in the Green paper suggest that Ministers have doubts about the 11 Plus too. It says that selective schools would have to admit children at different ages, such as at 14 as well as at 11 and 16, to cater for pupils who develop later academically.

http://educationdatalab.org.uk/2016/09/there-is-not-yet-a-proven-route-to-help-disadvantaged-pupils-into-grammar-schools/

 

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS-IS THE FUTURE LOOKING MORE ROSY?

Possibly but will they help the social mobility agenda?

The appointment of Justine Greening,  along with the appointment of   Nick Timothy as Theresa Mays chief of staff ( he has  backed new selective schools in the past) has  increased speculation that Theresa May will allow significant expansion in grammar schools. (Selective state schools).

Asked by Andrew Marr over the weekend if  she was “completely closed-minded” to the idea (of new grammar schools) , Ms Greening said : “I think that the education debate on grammar schools has been going for a very long time, but I also recognise that the landscape in which it takes place has changed fundamentally. I think we need to be able to move this debate on and look at things as they are today, and maybe step away from a more old-fashioned debate around grammar schools and work out where they fit in today’s landscape.” That doesn’t amount to a commitment to expand grammars ,but it clearly implies that expansion is not ruled out.  The new landscape she talks about is the variety of different types of schools.

Currently there is a general prohibition against academic selection in (most) state schools .And a 1998 Law prevents the establishment of any new Grammar schools. However, existing Grammar schools can expand, providing that any expansion onto a new site is a change to an existing school and not a new school. Which is why the anti-grammar school lobby were very   animated about developments in Sevenoaks, Kent, where an existing Grammar school  sought  to open a satellite,  some distance away.

Yes, they know that the law doesn’t allow for the expansion of grammar schools, and for this to happen there needs to be new legislation-which will need a majority in Parliament.  (The Tories only  have a slender majority) But they suspect that the pro-grammar lobby will  seek to use the satellite route to expand the programme elsewhere with political cover from the government .

Grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical schools formed what was known as the tripartite system, which arose from the interpretation of the Education Act 1944  .Grammar schools provided admission to children on the basis of their ability and offered an academic education. Selection was usually made at the end of primary school in the form of the ‘11 plus’ examination. Secondary moderns provided a more general education with an emphasis on more practical subjects. Technical schools provided a more general education but with a focus on technical subjects.

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England with a total number of 163,000 pupils. This comprises around  5% of the total number of pupils in England. Ten local authorities are classified by the Department for Education as having a wholly selective system and a further 26 have at least one grammar school in their area. The majority are concentrated in Kent (32), Lincolnshire (15) and Buckinghamshire (13).

Not all Tories, by any means, support selection, or the expansion of Grammar schools. But it is significant that two influential Tories,  Graham Brady ,who chairs the influential 1922 committee,  and Boris Johnson,  now Foreign Secretary  have long   made the case for more Grammars.  Theresa May was also relaxed  about the idea of a  local grammar school  expanding , creating a new  and very distant  annexe. Around 100 Tory  MPs are thought to support expansion.

Opponents of Grammar schools are against selection in the state system. They believe that they may offer social mobility to a few, but its only the few. They may be fine institutions for those  fortunate  enough to attend them. But the real problem is the provision for those who fail to gain a place. And a majority of pupils  who enter fail the selection exam. Selective schools tend to cream skim the best pupils,  making it harder for those who remain behind

What about the selection process?. Although the 11 plus exam is supposed to measure potential, there are plenty of private tutors  who boast that they can get just about anyone to pass the 11 plus  providing they put in or ‘invest’  the extra hours (and their parents pay for it). So this means, in practice, that middle class parents, with a decent income, are more likely to get their child into a grammar school than parents from a disadvantaged community. Hence the charge that Grammars are colonized by the middle classes.

If you can tutor for the exam, it rather suggests that it is not simply about measuring potential. And there appears to be no reliable evidence to suggest, in any case ,that 11 is the best age to measure a child’s potential. Children develop educationally  at different paces.

But one of the most compelling arguments against grammar schools is that successive governments have seen the holy grail of education in improving the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils and narrowing the achievement gap between them and their peers. So this should be the benchmark against which Grammars are measured. Disadvantaged pupils are broadly those defined as eligible for free school meals. But in 2014, the proportion of grammar school pupils eligible for free school meals was 2.7% but 15.7% across all types of schools.

Remember that  Education Minister Lord Nash, served a warning to grammar schools, as recently as   July 2014 ,when he stated:

“The Government is committed to closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. Grammar schools and the highest performing non-selective schools currently have some of the lowest representations of children eligible for free school meals in England. We want to encourage all high performing schools, including grammar schools to do more to attract and support disadvantaged children.”

 

When Chris Cook, a former Tory ministerial adviser (now with the BBC), was the FTs education correspondent he did some number crunching to find out how poor children fared in areas that had selective education. His verdict  was unequivocal  -poor children do dramatically worse in selective areas. He wrote on 28 January 2013 ‘If you plot how well children do on average by household deprivation for selective areas and for the rest of the country, you can see that the net effect of grammar schools is to disadvantage poor children and help the rich.’

Research seems to point to Grammar schools contributing to rather than easing social inequality and leading  to a widening of the income gap between rich and poor. A 2013 study by academics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the University of Cambridge and York University found that more than four times as many of the 22,000 Year Seven entrants into grammar schools each year were likely to come from private schools, compared with those on free school meals.

Laura McInerney,  editor of Schools Week , reminded  us this week  that  in 2013  in Kent and Medway, the largest selective area,  children living in the poorest parts of the county had a less than 10% chance of getting into a grammar. Children in the richest neighbourhoods had a 50% chance.

Ryan Shorthouse, Director of Bright Blue (a Conservative oriented think tank)  says  ‘The evidence shows that grammar schools are not engines of social mobility. Fewer than 3 per cent of entrants into grammar schools in selective regions in England are eligible for free school meals – a proxy for poverty – despite these children making up 18 per cent of all the population in those regions’ 

In 2014 Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol, said:“Selective schooling systems sort pupils based on their ability, and schools with high-ability pupils are more likely to attract and retain high-quality teaching staff. This puts pupils who miss out on a grammar school place at an immediate disadvantage. In addition they will be part of lower-ability peer groups, which also affects their chances of succeeding at school,”  His research  also revealed that  grammar schools pupils have greater earning power when they left school compared to those in non-selective schools.

So, if this is the case, are Ministers really going to agree that the expansion of Grammar schools is the best way to further social mobility and  narrow the achievement gap?

That doesn’t mean that some satellites won’t be approved. Nor does it mean that Grammar schools that exist are not safe.  They clearly are under this administration. But one has to wonder whether its good politics to open a new front in education reform while a raft of new reforms are still bedding in, with increased academisation, curriculum reforms, and a new accountability framework .  Is it wise to yet again focus on structural changes,  which will be heavily contested by most in the education establishment, including all the teaching unions? Surely its better and more productive to make sure  the current  on-going reforms work, and there is more of a focus on system- wide leadership and raising the quality of teachers and teaching, as these are the variables that have most impact on student outcomes. ? If Grammars are the answer one has to wonder –what is the question?  If the question is how best do we improve equity and social mobility in the system  and narrow the achievement gap between  the most disadvantaged and mainstream pupils then there is no evidence that grammars can do this. And , remember, Greening was  educated in a comprehensive school and sees social mobility as a priority.

 

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS EXPANSION-BACK ON THE AGENDA?

The general prohibition against academic selection in state schools prevents the establishment of any new Grammar schools. However, existing Grammar schools can expand, providing that any expansion onto a new site is a change to an existing school and not a new school. Which is why the anti-grammar school lobby is getting  animated about developments in Sevenoaks, Kent, where an existing Grammar school is seeking to open a satellite,  some distance away.

The Antis  are watching this closely.  It could be the tip of  an iceberg.  A decision is awaited from the Education Secretary.  Yes, they know that the law doesn’t allow for the expansion of grammar schools, and for this to happen there needs to be new legislation-which will need a majority in Parliament. That, of course,  will not happen. But they suspect that the pro-grammar lobby will  seek to use the satellite route to expand the programme elsewhere.

Grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical schools formed what was known as the tripartite system, which arose from the interpretation of the Education Act 1944  .Grammar schools provided admission to children on the basis of their ability and offered an academic education. Selection was usually made at the end of primary school in the form of the ‘11 plus’ examination. Secondary moderns provided a more general education with an emphasis on more practical subjects. Technical schools provided a more general education but with a focus on technical subjects.

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England with a total number of 163,000 pupils. This comprises around  5% of the total number of pupils in England. Ten local authorities are classified by the Department for Education as having a wholly selective system and a further 26 have at least one grammar school in their area.

Not all Tories, by any means, support selection ,or the expansion of Grammar schools. But it is significant that two influential Tories,  Graham Brady and Boris Johnson, simultaneously, are making the case for more Grammars.  It looks to be orchestrated.

Opponents of Grammar schools are against selection in the state system. They believe that they may offer social mobility to a few, but its only the few. They may be fine institutions for those  fortunate  enough to attend them. But the real problem is the provision for those who fail to gain a place. And a majority of pupils  who enter fail the selection exam.

What about the selection process?. Although the 11 plus exam is supposed to measure potential, there are plenty of private tutors  who boast that they can get just about anyone to pass the 11 plus  providing they put in or ‘invest’  the extra hours. So this means, in practice, that middle class parents, with a decent income, are more likely to get their child into a grammar school than parents from a disadvantaged community. Hence the charge that Grammars are colonized by the middle classes.

If you can tutor for the exam, it rather suggests that it is not simply about measuring potential. And there appears to be no reliable evidence to suggest, in any case ,that 11 is the best age to measure a child’s potential.

But one of the most compelling arguments against grammar schools is that successive governments have seen the holy grail of education in improving the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils and narrowing the achievement gap between them and their peers. So this should be the benchmark against which Grammars are measured. Disadvantaged pupils are broadly those defined as eligible for free school meals. But in 2014, the proportion of grammar school pupils eligible for free school meals was 2.7% but 15.7% across all types of schools.

Minister Lord Nash, in the last government, (he is still in post) served a warning to grammar schools, on 1 July 2014 ,when he stated:

“The Government is committed to closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. Grammar schools and the highest performing non-selective schools currently have some of the lowest representations of children eligible for free school meals in England. We want to encourage all high performing schools, including grammar schools to do more to attract and support disadvantaged children.”

When Chris Cook, a former Tory ministerial adviser (now with the BBC), was the FTs education correspondent he did some number crunching to find out how poor children fared in areas that had selective education. His verdict  was clear -poor children do dramatically worse in selective areas. He wrote on 28 January 2013 ‘If you plot how well children do on average by household deprivation for selective areas and for the rest of the country, you can see that the net effect of grammar schools is to disadvantage poor children and help the rich.’

So, if this is the case, are Ministers really going to agree that the expansion of  Grammar schools  is the best way to further social mobility and  narrow the achievement gap? I think not.

That doesn’t mean that  some satellites won’t be approved. Nor does it mean that Grammar schools that exist are not safe. They are. It just means that it is highly unlikely that we will see a significant expansion of Grammar schools, any time soon.

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS ON THE CUSP OF EXPANSION?MAYBE NOT

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

The debate continues but expansion put on the backburner

Comment

Many grassroots Tories still see grammar schools as an article of meritocratic faith, offering talented children from modest backgrounds the chance, perhaps the only real chance, of a first-class education and a ladder out if deprivation. There are 164 remaining state grammar schools (out of just over 4,000  state  secondary schools) dotted around about 20 local authorities. Only a few, including Kent, retain a completely selective system. Selection is based on an 11+ plus exam. Mary Ann Sieghart writing in the Independent a while back said …’if you are bright but poor and you live in Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire or Northern Ireland, your parentage doesn’t have to dictate your progress. You have nearly the same chance of becoming a cabinet minister, a judge, a newspaper editor or a top rower as your privately educated neighbour. Why is that? Because these areas still have grammar schools, those turbo-chargers of social mobility.’

The head of Ofsted has just accused grammar schools of being “stuffed full” of middle-class children and of failing to increase social mobility.

“Grammar schools are stuffed full of middle-class kids. A tiny percentage are on free school meals: 3 per cent. That is a nonsense,” the Ofsted head told The Observer.

“Anyone who thinks grammar schools are going to increase social mobility needs to look at those figures. I don’t think they work.

“The fact of the matter is that there will be calls for a return to the grammar school system. Well, look what is happening at the moment.

“Northern Ireland has a selective system and they did worse than us in the [international comparison] table.

“The grammar schools might do well with 10% of the school population, but everyone else does really badly. What we have to do is make sure all schools do well in the areas in which they are located.”

Opponents of grammar schools have long claimed that disadvantaged pupils and those on FSM , and with SEN, are badly underrepresented, that rich parents ensure that they buy places through investing in private  tuition to give their children an unfair advantage at the test, and that, if you drill down into the academic results of grammar schools,  they are not quite as good   as they might at first seem, particularly if you use added value  measurements . Fiona Millar, from the group Comprehensive Future, told BBC 4s World this weekend  “The problem is that doing the [11+] tests is accompanied by a very expensive private tuition industry,”

The debate on Grammars has been rekindled  because last week the  plan for a “satellite” grammar school in Kent, which  was hatched because Sevenoaks was the only area of the county not to have a grammar school, was  rejected by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State. Campaigners had high hopes that he would approve the proposal and it would be the first of many.

The two applications by existing grammar schools – Weald of Kent and Invicta in Maidstone –were turned down by the Department for Education on the grounds that they did not constitute an expansion but would create a new school. One of the main arguments used was that the selective “satellite” was to be co-educational while both the proposers were single-sex schools. Under existing legislation, it is illegal to set up a new selective state school, but any good school – including a grammar school – can expand.(providing it satisfies local planning laws etc)

DfE officials though say the door is still open for an alternative proposal which can convince them it would expand an existing school. One option would be to persuade a co-educational grammar school to put in a bid. Sir Michael’s comments were criticised by David Davies, a Conservative MP and former grammar school pupil, who said many working-class children “got on through having access to grammar schools”.

Graham Brady, who resigned as a party spokesman in protest at Prime Minister David Cameron’s opposition to new grammar schools, said Sir Michael would do better to focus on the still large number of “very bad schools”.

Chris Cook, when he was education correspondent at the FT, examined recent data   and found that on average, poor children do markedly (GCSE results) worse in Kent than in the rest of the country. Kent is also less socially mobile than the rest of England – and much less mobile than London. He also found that ‘ A poor child in Kent, using the usual definition of a child eligible for free school meals, has a 55 per cent chance of getting results that put it in the bottom fifth of results- that means results weaker than around 3 Cs at GCSE. To look at the other end of the spectrum, only 4 per cent of FSM-eligible children in Kent get results in the top fifth nationally – that means the equivalent of eight As. If Kent were overcoming disadvantage totally, this would approach 20 per cent.’  To cut to the quick, Cooks main point t was that Anne Marie Sieghart was plain wrong in suggesting that Grammars were engines of social mobility.’

Improving social mobility is very much on the governments agenda, but they are largely at a loss to work out how to improve social mobility. With few disadvantaged  pupils getting good,  timely  careers advice from independent professionals,  and little integrated  employer engagement with schools it seems that not much   will change in the near future.

Doubtless the arguments over grammars  will continue. But grammar schools are unlikely to develop a larger footprint on the English schools landscape any time soon.

IS THERE A DRIVE TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

Are they on the way back?

Legislation doesnt allow for establishment of  new Grammar schools, but existing ones can expand

Comment

For some grammar schools ( wholly selective state schools) are elitist institutions (they select pupils at 11) which restrict educational opportunity to a small, already-privileged minority and damage other local schools by cream skimming the top pupils, while damaging the self-esteem of  a majority of pupils who fail to make the grade. For others, they are a method for achieving high educational standards which benefit the whole of society and provide a ladder of opportunity for children from poor backgrounds to clamber out of the cycle of disadvantage.

Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, now a commentator  in the broadcast media,   made a documentary about a year ago on grammar schools .In it  he argued  that the grammar schools provided bright working-class and lower-middle class  children with a route to educational and career success. Far from being elitist and unfair institutions, they were actually effective engines of social mobility, he argued. One of the most striking pieces of evidence for Neil’s thesis is the social background of UK Prime Ministers. Between the Eton-educated Alec Douglas-Home and the Fettes-educated Tony Blair, five successive UK Prime Ministers were from modest backgrounds and four were educated at grammar schools.

Grammar schools undoubtedly polarise opinion and  the arguments over selection are rearing their heads again, following the allegation that a new grammar school is being set up in Sevenoaks. A campaign in Sevenoaks, which has no grammar school of its own, to provide for its brightest children raised a petition of 2,600 names. At present 1,120 of the town’s children have to travel to selective schools in nearby towns. The council’s recent decision means an annexe associated with these schools can now be built in Sevenoaks.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Academies Act 2010 effectively mean that there can be no ‘new’ grammar schools (ie in addition to the 164 grammar school already operating).  However, it is also the case that  any school can seek to expand by opening another site,  which has been allowed since 1944. But  to do so it must be a continuance of the original school. Hence, the compromise endorsed by councillors in Sevenoaks. The promised extra provision in Sevenoaks will not be in a ‘new’ grammar school, but in two “satellites”, each with 60 places, run by existing grammars in other towns.

What does the government think about this?  Does this amount to a drive to set up new grammar schools and broaden selection in the maintained sector? This government isn’t in fact advocating the establishment of ‘new’ grammar schools. But it doesn’t see a problem with expanding existing grammar schools. Indeed, Nick Gibb, the schools Minister, addressing the Grammar School Heads Association  recently said existing selective schools “would be able to take advantage of crucial freedoms” on admissions. This includes making it easier for popular schools to expand and scrapping rules requiring schools to consult the local community on admissions rules every five years. More grammars should also convert into independent academies, he added, giving them additional powers over the curriculum, staff pay and the academic year.  Junior Minister Lord Hill said recently in the Lords “if people want to come forward with a proposal to open or expand a satellite school, they can apply to the local authority, and to the Secretary of State in the case of an academy. Those proposals would be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”  Lord Hill was keen to add  though that in respect of free schools or the academy conversion programme ” we have been absolutely clear in the Academies Act that we have taken the opposite view and have not permitted or encouraged the expansion of selection within the maintained system. We have said-this is the point about the admissions code-that all schools, whether maintained, non-selective or selective, should have the ability, in response to parental demand, to increase their published admissions number. That is the only change that has been made.”  The conservatives see the grammar school issue as divisive and they will not open up  another front now,  in championing new grammar schools, which would also threaten real divisions within  the coalition. That said, there is a grey area surrounding the expansion of existing grammar schools, and there is every likelihood that there will be more expansion of  these schools.

 

To recap- A single school can operate  from more than one site, but to do so ‘ any other site must be a continuance of the original school.’ But  new wholly selective state schools are not permitted under existing legislation.

It would be rash, though, to assume that all grammar schools wish to expand. And indeed of those who rather like the idea of scaling up   not all will have the space or capital to do so.