Mrs May clearly identified some of the key issues facing the school system of this country in her speech to the Tory faithful in Birmingham. Ethnic minorities, white working class boys, house prices near popular schools, the issues are well known. Her solution; more selective schools. Nothing I have read yet about solving the teacher supply crisis and whether more selective schools would make that worse. Nothing either about the curriculum or ensuring enough schools in the right places.
Readers of this blog will know I don’t want a return to a selective school system. Interestingly, the TES has been looking at indicators from schools across Kent and Medway where there are grammar schools, secondary moderns and some comprehensives, including some faith schools. Do secondary moderns as a group have more vacancies per school than grammar schools and, because the census is in November when vacancies are low anyway, do they also have more temporary filled posts than selective schools, indicating a possible greater challenge in recruiting staff with the qualifications the school is seeking?
If the aim is to ensure achievement for all, the government will have to ask whether a National Funding Formula will be crafted in such a way as to assist in helping all those that currently don’t achieve as well as could be expected of them. The risk is that the Tories don’t really want to help everyone, but only to help those with aspirations they cannot currently fulfil. Listening to the Secretary of State on the radio talking about how well the three per cent of pupils in selective schools on free school meals do, when the average school has 14% of such pupils, didn’t fill me with hope. I have yet to hear anything from the Tories about those that don’t go to grammar school and how their aspirations will be met: enough teachers to go around would be a good start.
As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the organisation of our schools is a probably a key issue for many parents in the Witney Constituency where the Woodstock and Chipping Norton localities have the highest Key Stage 2 performance in Oxfordshire. This means that if some places in a new selective system are reserved for pupils on free school meals and the competition for the other places is heightened by the addition of many pupils currently destined for the independent sector some children would end up not in selective schools, whereas if they lived in another part of the country they might have passed the selection test. Such a system probably won’t be good for the local economy, as it might make Oxfordshire a less attractive place to live and educate your children if the lottery of location was replaced by the gamble around the selection cut-off level each year. It seems likely that even if primary schools improve their results, the same number of children will fail to gain a place at a selective school each year, but just at a higher level of education.
We must improve the school system for those it currently fails, but not at the risk of failing some that currently succeed.