The selective education debate usually offers polarised opinions and harsh words. It’s all left, right, fair, unfair, wrong, right, close, ban, abolish, win, lose, ‘you suck’!
I put the word optimist in my blog title because I like to think it doesn’t have to be this way. Both sides of the argument have a case, and both sides want good education in Kent. There’s even a few things everyone agrees on.
The eleven plus
I don’t know anyone who likes putting their ten year old through this process. If you asked kids about it they would say they find it a drag, worry about it, and suffer varying degrees of stress about results day. Only twenty percent or so will get the satisfaction of a pass, and perhaps the ‘winners’ will feel some joy, but it is more pain than gain. This exam is just a thing to get through. Both sides will agree this exam is not a positive experience.
I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone who supports grammar schools prefers them to be for a certain ‘type.’ I suspect most grammar school parents don’t even think about this at all, but like any good people they dislike a class divide in schools. They certainly wouldn’t want any child in secondary modern to feel inferior. Some grammar parents might even prefer their children to mix with kids from diverse backgrounds. So both sides agree that schools offering social equality is ideal.
It is clear that grammar schools get better Ofsted reviews in general, but no grammar school parent wants the secondary moderns to be failing. They would hope the success of their own school would have no impact at all on the success or failure of another.
Grammar school’s supporters want failing schools to catch up, they hope to see secondary modern and grammar pupils both receiving excellent education. So both sides in the education war want fairness and good schools for all.
Education that suits a child’s ability
Grammar school parents want their children to get teaching that fits their ability. Parents of lower ability children also want teaching that suits their child. This may or may not be teaching in separate schools… Let’s take the ‘place’ bit out of the equation for a moment, if an academic child’s needs are met perfectly in a comprehensive school a selective fan should like a non-selective education. Both sides kind of agree here, they just might not see it..!
So is the reverse also true? If secondary moderns were all excellent would secondary modern parents be happy with a selective system?
No, they would not.
If all was equal, and both grammars and moderns were giving excellent education the eleven plus failers still lose. The side-effects of the selective system don’t go away just because secondary moderns play catch up. The secondary modern parents are still getting a worse deal because :
- There’s still the eleven plus (no one likes that exam.)
- There’s still a ‘fail’ label for children (ask the kids if they like that!)
- Children suffer from the strange social class mix (more middle class children are sent to grammar schools.)
- Many local schools are unavailable to parents (eleven plus passers can apply to any school, failures can only choose secondary moderns.)
Grammar school fans and comprehensive fans do agree, or are close to agreeing, on quite a lot of things. We just need some peace keeping solution to fix this. The kitten in the picture has one way.
Let’s assume we need to change things to give grammar school parents pretty much what they have now, but in mixed ability schools, and without the exam and unfairness bits that no one likes.
We need to give grammar school parents an absolutely great comprehensive system, and a careful change that won’t bother them much at all. Then surely everyone will be happy?! (I said I was an optimist.)
So, what if Kent found a long term and non-confrontational solution? Perhaps in a few years we might plan to phase in a few secondary moderns with grammar streams, and in a few years we might change a few grammar schools to allow kids with lower pass marks. Then we might implement a little more of this careful mixing, in a planned way year on year, until, in the kindest, gentlest possible way, the selective system in Kent is something else entirely. The aim is to change it with absolutely no shouting, and no meanness allowed!
I do think grammar school parents need to be considered and listened to. I understand why they’re worried, they are the ones with something to lose here. By asking ‘how can we do this so you are fine with it?’ we are more likely to get a solution.
Perhaps when my kids grow up their children won’t need to take an eleven plus, and there won’t be different demographics in different school types, and anyone can apply for any local school without an exam pass.
A foolish optimist.