Boris Johnson the selective education fan (oh great…)

7f150fe0-2745-11e5-_939572cI’ve been fussing about the selective education system here in Kent, but there is a growing movement to bring selective education back to other UK regions.

Boris Johnson wrote this week in the Times in support of grammar schools, Peter Hitchens has made a case for selective education on his blog, and right wing Conservative MPs are lobbying for it at Conservative Voice.

I wish people would look at how selection works here in Kent before they start claiming its the answer to social mobility, and a fix for all education ills! A number of studies have found worse social mobility in Kent, and our county does not produce better exam results overall so our fully selective system doesn’t seem to be producing better results.

In fact it would be nice if someone (anyone!) asked Kent parents if we liked our eleven plus education system. It’s just been here forever and we accept it, but the fact we’re not shouting about it doesn’t mean we all love it. There is simply no forum for debate.

Perhaps discussion about the return of selection will put a spotlight on Kent? Maybe it will give people a chance to talk about the strengths and weaknesses and lead indirectly to change? I can only hope.

Boris’s interview was in the Times (a subscription site) but the key passages are here:

Boris risks reopening old divisions within his party by arguing that the Conservatives should consider allowing state schools to select their pupils academically in order to give others the chances that he and David Cameron had. Although he insists there is no going back to 1950s-style grammar schools, with all children divided into “sheep and goats” at 11, he said: “Schools need to be able to use the tool of academic selection as a way of stimulating competition and excellence. It works. Its beneficiaries can be seen all over the House of Commons, all over government and in all the upper echelons of British life. I do think it perverse, to say the least, that a large group of people who benefited from a ruthlessly selective approach to education themselves are depriving by statute the vast majority of the population from that tool.”

The abolition of grammar schools was a key factor in “freezing the canals of social mobility”, he said. “If you go back to the 1960s it certainly was the case that 62 per cent of undergraduates at Oxbridge were from the maintained sector, now they struggle to get up to 50 per cent so obviously something went wrong. Competition is a great spur to achievement.”

Everyone in Kent must get a funny feeling reading this. Boris describes our education system as ‘1950s-style’ with ‘all children divided into “sheep and goats” at 11.’

So he doesn’t want a return to something that bad… Oh, hang on, we live with something that bad in Kent!

I met a friend recently who suggest it would be a good idea to start a debate about selective education. He offered to help, so the plan is to offer a series of town hall style meetings in Kent towns, inviting guests from all sides of the selective debate. Expect more details of the Great Education Debate soon…

I had the idea of giving everyone at these events an intelligence test, and getting them to sit on the pass or fail side of the room. Now that would get the debate going… But no, this will be a sensible and impartial event!

I am prepared to learn a thing or two, and may even be persuaded to change my mind and see the advantages to grammar schools.

I think it will be an interesting to see if the people of Kent are for, against, or indifferent to our selective education system. Maybe Boris and the rest will come along and  see what people think before they try to implement this everywhere else in the country?!


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