Difficult to disagree with the education select committee that calls new grammar schools an ‘unnecessary distraction’!
“The focus on opening new grammar schools is, in my view, an unnecessary distraction from the need to ensure all our young people are equipped with the skills to compete in the modern workplace,” said Neil Carmichael, the committee’s chair.
It can only be good that the committee has taken onboard serious concerns expressed by teachers, parents and teaching professionals about the grammar proposals.
For example, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the previous Ofsted chief, said that a return to grammar school selection would be an economic disaster, leaving young people without the skills the country needs, and that the grammar schools will fail the poorest children.
Public protests have expressed strong feelings against the proposed wave of grammar schools.
It is very worrying that the public attention is distracted through the new grammar schools agenda at a time where there is a crisis in teacher recruitment, many pupils are in super-sized classes and schools budgets are being cut – the £3bn funding gap facing schools over the next five years.
Despite its high spin to justify more grammar schools, the government has failed to establish how grammars, based on selective entry, would improve social mobility and close the gap between rich and poor pupils as Prime Minister Theresa May argued for an ‘element of selection’ to give parents and children wider choice.
It was also suggested that although the new grammars would be much more selective than traditional grammars, there would be a single national entry test for grammars, rather than a range of local tests, with the aim of designing an exam that would be more resistant to coaching by private tutors.
The MPs found no convincing evidence that a test could be devised which would not favour those who could afford private coaching.
In any case, the rising free school meal situation due to the government’s adverse benefits policies and austerity measures don’t allow private tutoring for 11-plus entry preparation in most cases.
Selecting pupils by academic ability and giving a grammar school education to some is highly unhelpful in narrowing the gap of learning by groups of pupils. Narrowing gap has remained a long-standing national challenge.
The committee has also rightly called on the government to carry out an assessment of the potential impact on the wider school system.
The state school sector already suffers because of the dynamics of allocating finances to schools and could suffer further because of the drain of high performing pupils and teachers to grammar schools.
Schools have always and will always belong in society. Therefore, a national system of education must aim at producing citizens who can take their place in society properly equipped to exercise rights and perform duties the same as those of other citizens.
Teaching of the skills and acquiring knowledge to match socio-commercial requirements are far more important than the teaching of a politically constructed and packaged knowledge, required to achieve grammar school and selective societal goals, including class divisions.
Many grammars fail to operate within their local context where a mismatch between a child’s everyday life experiences and the grammar school culture results in a social and learning conflict, leading to underachievement.
I remember inspecting a grammar school surrounded by small ‘corner’ shops in a most diverse and run down inner city area that could contribute little to the school life/ population.
Education needs not to have political experimentation through the initiatives like free schools, academies and grammar schools because of a perceived need to protect the social, political and class fabric of our society.
Prime Minister Theresa May, a politician and not an education practitioner, should address why increasing ‘free school meals’ n schools and ‘underachievement’ in education and beyond rather than using grammar schools strategy to deflect from other burning national issues.