It’s been a long time since I updated this blog. I’ve thought long and hard about my point that academic selection might work. I said, ‘ I don’t think academic selection works in any form, and I don’t think it works well in Kent.’
If there was a fair and accurate way for high ability secondary school pupils to attend a school suited to their needs, and for this form of schooling not to impact on other local schools then I could accept it. I have sought evidence that this form of schooling exists, and I have not found any evidence that it has been found to work anywhere in the world. The 11+ is clearly flawed, it is neither fair nor accurate. There has been a huge amount of debate about grammar schools in recent times which has only renewed my conviction that grammar school systems have major problems. There is evidence that these systems cause an unequal supply of teachers with grammar schools recruiting highly qualified teachers leaving non-selective schools with less qualified staff. The teaching profession themselves are strongly against a divide between schools at age 11 and it is important to listen to their expert view.
I was sad to read that in Germany, where academic selection does not use a coachable 11+ test, the ‘grammar school’ equivalents are less likely to educate a highly able child from a poor family than a highly able child from a rich family. This country also shows a greater divide in overall attainment between rich and poor.
I have sought evidence that academic selection is needed, and I have found limited evidence. High ability pupils achieve results in our best comprehensive schools that are comparable to the results they would achieve in grammar schools. Many Kent grammar schools achieve awful results with lows of 92% of pupils achieving 5 GCSE. They seem to select pupils but then get lazy. If they select the top 25% of pupils at least 98% of pupils should get 5 GCSE but 18 of Kent’s 32 grammar schools select the top pupils and don’t even manage that.
Schools throughout the UK use rigorous tests that show teachers the ability of each and every pupil, and schools are incentivised to see that each pupil will achieve their potential through government measures including Progress 8 league tables and Ofsted inspections. Do I think more could be done to ensure high ability children achieve their potential? Yes I do. With so much information available to each school it would be good to hold them to account to show how many of their brightest pupils go on to top universities. This would be an obvious step to take, but it is not being explored. I am surprised the government are instead exploring a limited grammar school system that will not reach every highly able pupil in every school. I do not fully understand the reasons for the proposed new policy. This seems to be more about parental choice than a desire to deliver results for our most able pupils.
Of course many children achieve great results and go on to top universities from mixed ability schools already. And the best practise of excellent comprehensive schools can be replicated without any education divide. I would certainly welcome additional measures to stretch high ability pupils, but could be designed to reach every school. Looking at comprehensive systems worldwide it is clear that these achieve better results, not systems that use academic selection.
A large part of Peter Hitchen’s argument is that academic selection is better than ‘selection by house price or faith’. I think neither house price, an academic test, or faith should determine the best schools. None of these three methods are admirable. A major reform of school admissions is vitally important as we should not base the likelihood of attending a good school on the advantages of the parent.