Grammar Schools: a cunning plot?

We all know the DfE has been told to save money. After the bountiful years under Labour and the coalition governments has come the harsh Tory winter of austerity. However, surely nobody thought of grammar schools as a government economy drive? But, if the Conservatives do succeed in helping the disadvantaged and the just missing groups in society (hang on a minute isn’t there no such thing as society in a Tory world?) find a place a grammar school, then either grammar schools take a bigger share of the pupil population or some pupils has to be displaced.

That’s where the Tories cunning plot comes in. Who better to displace from grammar schools than those that can afford to pay for private education. Each one of these children driven from the state system saves £35-50,000 from the education budget over their lifetime of secondary schooling. Assume 500 grammar schools with 10 children displaced from each: that’s over £25 million saved in the first year alone. Be brave and displace half of grammar school present intakes into the private sector and the saving over the school life of a cohort runs to about a billion pounds after allowing for inflation in a fully selective system. That would certainly help the Treasury fund the growth in pupil numbers that is about to hit the secondary sector. There might also be a fall in primary pupils in state schools as well, as parents sought grammar crammers to help fight for the remaining open access places in selective schools

A fanciful notion? Well we will see what the Secretary of State has to offer displaced parents under her new proposals or whether she will increase the percentage of the year group going to selective schools. Either way, what the Secretary of State says about the rest of the pupils in our schools and their education will be just as important as what she says about grammar schools.

Even at the height of the drive for the three tier system in the 1950s the Conservatives had to issue a little recalled White Paper; Education for all; a new drive, ahead of the 1958 general election, to reassure parents of children attending secondary modern schools or still being educated in the remaining all-through elementary schools. Well, thanks to Labour, all-through schools are flavour of the month again: although not with me.  But, those parents that don’t win places at grammar schools for their children, many of whom vote Conservative, will need reassurance just as much as those the Secretary of State is trying to offer a grammar school place to in her speech.

In Oxfordshire, a well-educated primary population could more than fill traditional grammar school places and still leave many parents disappointed. In such areas it is difficult to see what the benefits of grammar schools are for the majority of the population.

In the 21st century, the Secretary of State has a responsibility to achieve a good school for every child. Putting the clock back is no way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Forster’s Education Act in 2020.

Schools and their pupils in 2016

Now that purdah is over the DfE can once again start its full range of duties. Earlier today the DfE published the results of the latest school and pupil numbers based upon the January 2016 census. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/532121/SFR20_2016_Main_Text.pdf

Overall, there were 121,000 more pupils in the system than in January 2015; no surprise to anyone there. However, even in the secondary sector there were 8,700 more pupils, reversing the long decline and marking the start of an increase likely to stretch well into the next decade.

There are some interesting statistics buried in the Statistical Bulletin, some of which may point to why the nation voted as it did last Thursday. The proportion of pupils with minority ethnic origins increased in the primary sector from little over 20% in 2006 to more than 31% in 2016; an increase of around a half in just a decade. For the third year in a row, the largest ethnic minority group were White Non-British at 7.1% of primary and 5.4% of the secondary school population and 6.3% of the total school population.

There are a lot more interesting nuggets buried in the tables. For instance, four shire counties each had more independent schools in them than in the whole of the North East region. The four: Surrey, Kent, Hampshire and Oxfordshire together accounted for 309 independent schools. Taken together two regions, London with 551 and the South East with 529, accounted for almost half of the independent schools in England.

Similarly, the three regions of London, The South East and East of England together account for 98 out of the 211 free schools, UTCs and Studio Schools in existence this January. Despite their potential for vocational education there were only six schools classified as free schools, UTCs or studio schools in the whole of the North East region: a truly divided country on these measures.

There is also a sharp divide in terms of free school meals, with regions in the north of England having above average percentages of pupils eligible and claiming and most of London, the Home Counties, East Midlands and South West having below average percentages. Inner London boroughs don’t share in this pattern, with some having amongst the highest levels of free school meals claimed in the country as a percentage of the school population. Tower Hamlets even exceeds the level seen in North East authorities such as Middlesbrough on one of the measures.

There was a slight fall in the number of infant classes with more than 30 pupils in January 2016 compared with last year, but the DfE admit the percentage of such classes still remains above the 2013 level, no doubt reflecting the pressure on school budgets.

Redbridge and Harrow had the largest average key Stage 1 class sizes at 29.5 each, closely followed by Slough, Richmond upon Thames, Birmingham and Sandwell. Rural areas in the north of England had some of the smallest average class sizes at Key Stage 1. As many of these have some of the smallest average class sizes at key Stage 2 as well it may pose interesting questions for the National Funding Formula, should the consultation still go ahead.