Three Secondary Moderns for Sevenoaks

Is this the prospect being held out to local people by campaigners for a new grammar school in the town? They might not be saying so, but it is difficult to see what the credible alternative would be if a grammar school took the 20% of local pupils that passed the entrance exam. Sean Coughlan the BBC correspondent has written a piece along these lines that is well worth reading at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30483031

What Sean doesn’t say it that unless the number of selective school places is fixed at a ratio to the overall school population successful entry to a grammar school can depend upon whether a child is born in a bulge year or at the bottom of the demographic cycle. Add to that distance from the school and house prices and a child from a family that cannot afford a house near enough to the school that was also born in a bulge year has less chance of gaining a place than other children, especially if the entry test is susceptible to coaching by private tutors. It is no accident that when selective schools were at their peak, a period of history when the bulge years of the 1945-47 post-war baby boom period were approaching secondary school age, prep schools and private primary schools enjoyed a boom period. Their secondary colleagues were less well favoured. After all, why pay for something you can have for free?

Selecting children at eleven is a risky and inefficient business. Offering different courses at fourteen makes more sense, but if the leaving age is now eighteen a common curriculum until sixteen might be even more sensible for most young people. If the purpose of an education system is to obtain the best education for every child, then supporters of selective education for a minority have to show that areas without a break at eleven fared worse overall in terms of education outcomes than areas with selection, however outcomes are measured, at sixteen. After that comparisons aren’t as easy because there is a degree of pupil movement between schools and colleges.

In a recent poll on the subject of grammar schools it seemed that the older generations were more supportive of selective education than the younger generations that had experienced comprehensive schooling. It has also always been the norm in the primary sector for those that don’t or cannot pay for exclusivity.

As a Lib Dem councillor in Oxfordshire I would be extremely unhappy if the Coalition government sanctioned an expansion of grammar schools, even if it was by allowing an existing school to create a new site. At the very least such a proposal should be subject to a vote in parliament.

Grammar schools were a product of the nineteenth century that lingered into the twentieth and have no place in the modern world. We do not ensure the effective education of those gifted and talented in some areas by separating them from the rest of society at an early age. Even where their education is fundamentally different, whether for future ballet dancers, musicians, footballers or choristers some degree of integration with others less skilled should be the norm. Since intellectual ability isn’t fully developed at eleven, the grounds for grammar schools seem more social than educational even when cloaked in the guise of meritocracy. Scare resources are best employed developing better education for all, not in keeping a few Tory voters in Kent happy.

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