A comprehensive future is possible without abolishing schools
1. Comprehensive Future does not want to see any grammar school closed but wants an end to selection on ability and aptitude. There is plenty of evidence that schools can be excellent without selecting their intake. Children can be offered choice and diversity within schools and by schools working together.
2. We want to see all selective schools change their admission policies so that starting with an intake for year 7 no child faces entry tests on ability or aptitude to go to the schools. This was how selection was ended in many parts of the country in the past.
3. Comprehensive Future believes that there are sound reasons for Government to end selection at 11. None of the three main political parties want more grammar schools but selection at 11 on ability and aptitude remains and is increasing. It can be done. Legislation should be introduced to end selection on ability and aptitude. Schools which currently select should begin to admit children of all abilities, without an entry test, starting with the year 7. In a few years without any school closing or current pupils or staff being disturbed, the schools will become comprehensive. This could start now. No teacher, child or parent already in the grammar schools need be disturbed. We advocate a sensible plan to ensure that gradually over a period of years these schools will become comprehensive.
4. If change is to win the support of national and local politicians, and if it is to reassure local communities, a plan for the transition to a comprehensive system in the 36 local authorities which have selective schools should achieve four particular outcomes. It should –
• be part of a process that will lead to a general improvement in educational opportunities and standards;
• improve the educational opportunities of children in all the schools;
• reassure the parents of children already in grammar schools that their children will not suffer disadvantage;
• reassure the parents of younger children that their educational opportunities will not reduce as selection is phased out.
5. Because politicians will be apprehensive about the reaction of parents in local communities and because some parents with children in grammar schools are likely to be strongly opposed, a successful plan for the transition will need to contain specific measures to reassure parents. Because comprehensive schools are routinely disparaged, guarantees will need to be given to win the support of local parents, who in some areas will have no experience of the comprehensive system. Their most obvious concerns will probably be about the timing of the change and the possibility that the grammar schools will be downgraded in some way. Anxieties about the local community “losing” grammar schools or by the loss of the grammar schools’ best teachers are likely to surface. Politicians will need to be persuaded that the argument for a fully comprehensive system is worth winning and can be won.
6. On this basis a successful plan for the transition in areas where there are selective schools should contain these elements:
• During the period of transition, starting with the year 7 intake, grammar schools should admit a non-selective intake of pupils year by year. So the transition should take place over a number of years so that every pupil who has been accepted into a grammar school before the transition begins will be able to complete their education in the school.
• No school would close.
• There would be no enforced changes in the staffing of grammar schools during the period of transition.
• During the transitional period the Government should guarantee investment in teaching and curriculum development to ensure that the schools have the capacity and expertise to educate the intake of pupils of all abilities to a high standard.
• A procedure will be needed to ensure, through liaison with the best performing comprehensive schools in the UK, that best practice is applied and any concerns about the needs of more able to succeed in the new comprehensive schools are met.
• Training should be made available to ensure that teachers in existing secondary moderns and grammar schools have the necessary skills to teach pupils with a wide range of abilities and aptitudes.
• This procedure should be supervised by a named official or official body.
7. Politicians, particularly Labour ones, say that ending selection should be a local decision. In 1998 a process of petitioning and balloting was introduced to allow change if local parents voted for change. These rules were fraught with difficulties and unfairness. Furthermore Government stood aside, avoiding making the decision centrally despite the sound educational reasons for ending selection.
8. We want to see Government take the lead and make the decision to end selection at 11. The case is strong. If Government makes the case for ending selection local parents will support it. However if a local input is demanded, all parents affected must have right to petition and vote. So when the decision is made at national level to end selection we propose that all primary parents, those most affected, should be able to petition and ballot to keep selection if that is what the majority want.