Making schools work for the minority at the expense of the many
Plans for more grammar schools
Is the purpose of education to reproduce existing inequalities and power structures or is it to be transformative in developing quality education for all? The Government’s insistence on increasing selection by aptitude, religion and tested ability at 11 (and as a concession for a very few at 14 or 16), expanding grammar schools and increasing other forms of selection, goes to the very heart of this question.
The Government’s own statistics show that there are eighteen times fewer children with SEN statements or Education, Health and Care plans, and three times fewer disabled children without statements or EHCPs, in grammar schools than in the secondary school population as a whole.
Originally grammar schools were set up to give some access to education for the poor at a time when only the rich were educated. Education was generally restricted to the rich, who could buy it, until technology made it necessary for the workforce to be trained to use it, leading to state education with the 1870 Act. Elementary education for all was expanded after the 1944 Education Act identified three types of minds: academic, technical and the rest, destined respectively for grammar, technical and secondary modern schools. Entry was based on the idea that intelligence was innate, fixed and could be determined by a single test: the 11 plus. This was heavily influenced by the psychologist Sir Cyril Burt, who believed all intelligence was inherited or innate and capable of being measured with accuracy and ease. He was an influential member of the Haddow Committee, (The Primary School, 1931) and the Spens Committee (The Secondary School, 1938), which framed Post War education based on selection.
Later, the problem was that increasingly some children who had failed the test at 11 showed the ability to pass the General Certificate in Education (GCE) which they were meant to be not capable of achieving. This led to the campaign for comprehensive education with the outlawing in 1998 of any further grammar schools. If the more academically inclined were to go to grammar schools it left the majority, some 80%, to go to schools where they did not receive a broad and balanced quality education. Under the pressure of school leaving age being raised to 16, teachers and the Schools Council began to develop appropriate curriculum and examinations leading to the Certificate of Education (CSE) which showed the potential of students in comprehensive schools. This was then merged into the GCSE to cover most learners in secondary. Government has continuously moved the goalposts on acceptable outcomes, but today’s secondary students, including many disabled students in comprehensives, are achieving well over three times the outcome of the cohort in the heyday of grammar schools.
At the heart of this Government’s schools policy is the establishment of an elitist education system under the guise of improving educational outcomes for children from low income families. Justine Greening has set out ambitious plans to increase grammar school placements with a promise of a £50 million grant year on year. Apart from grammars, partially selective schools will be allowed to increase the selective proportion of their pupil intake, whilst non-selective schools will be allowed to become selective. It’s clear the Government believe that the only good schools in town are those that have a selective intake of pupils. To ensure that selective independent schools and universities are brought into the frame, the Government has set out conditions they will need to fulfil in order to obtain charitable status or to charge tuition fees of more than £6,000. The independent selective sector will be expected to expand selective education either by establishing new free schools or by sponsoring or working with state-funded schools. Non-selective schools will be expected to partner with selective schools. Whilst the policy does not advocate the end of non-selective schools, more schools will have to become selective as they compete for pupils. Those remaining in non-selective schools will particularly be the children of poor, white families on free school meals, and those with SEN/disabilities will be deprived of the benefit of mixing with peers of different social backgrounds and abilities.
Eugenics was a dangerous false science, based on taking Darwin’s ideas of natural selection and applying them to human beings, with the aim of improving the innate quality of the human race by selective breeding. If the test showed certain groups scored lower than others, they were inferior. This is the principle on which testing at 11 is based. It was not considered that results might be to do with environment or unfamiliarity with the test. Eugenics started by segregating/sterilising the ‘feeble minded’, extended to prohibiting certain ethnic groups from entering the USA, justifying black/white segregation in the Southern USA and apartheid South Africa, and ultimately led to creating the ‘Master Race’ in Third Reich Germany, eliminating Jews, Gypsies, disabled people and homosexuals. Today it leads to the idea that there are some who are more equal than others –the meritocracy, which conveniently for Mrs May and her right- wing government, fits a two tier education system, with less funding for the lower tier, and feeds prejudice and social fragmentation.
The Government certainly did not have equality and inclusion in mind when developing “Schools that work for everyone” as there has been no equality impact assessment on how the policy will affect disabled children’s and their parents’ ability to choose mainstream education. As the number of selective schools rise, parents and young people will be less able to choose great inclusive mainstream schools. Yet these are the schools that add most to the educational achievement of all their students as value added and now Progress 8 measures demonstrate. This inclusive pedagogy includes mixed ability teaching, peer support, collaborative learning, learning without limits, making effective reasonable adjustments, a stimulating curriculum, putting in place individual support and an ethos of respect for all – all equal, all different. These proposals need to be fought hard because they will lead to less inclusion and a more segregated education system and society. Otherwise the only choice in town for disabled children could be special schools – so the Government’s Every School that Works That Work For Everyone will work for everyone other than poor children and disabled students.
[The consultation is now closed.]
Simone Aspis and Richard Rieser