Kit Malthouse MP – Secretary of State for Education

A supporter recently emailed Kit Malthouse in his personal and professional position as a father, ex-headteacher and Ofsted inspector. This is an excellent letter, and we are grateful to him for allowing us to share it, along with its rather bland response from the DfE!

Dear Kit,

Conservative Policy to Promote/Revisit Grammar Schools

I trust you are well in these strange times. I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Secretary of State for Education.

I include my thoughts on an issue close to my heart and I hope they are of use to you when considering the newly resurrected issue of grammar schools. Please accept them in the spirit they are intended – which is to add my shade of colour to the debate.

I am a newly retired headteacher of over seventeen years of headship in Hampshire. I have also served as a primary school educational consultant and an Ofsted Inspector. My wife is an ex-grammar school pupil whilst I, on the other hand, spectacularly failed the 11 plus. We have two daughters one would have passed the 11 plus and the other, like her father, would probably have not. Fortunately, Hampshire Education Authority does not run a selective secondary system so both daughters attended the same excellent comprehensive school and both did very well and now have successful careers.

My position as an educationalist is that I believe in the fairness and integrity of well-funded comprehensive school system and a non-selective by ability secondary education. I therefore feel I must write to you to share the concerns I have about the potential proposed Conservative policy of expanding/revisiting/creating new grammar schools.

The concept that, at eleven years of age, a test can fairly decide what education a child can, and should have, has been questioned many, many times, for example, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the previous HMCI stated if you have and promote grammar schools you do, by default, create and promote a two-tier education system.

And if a two-tier system is created, articulate and more affluent parents will strive to ensure they do their best to see that their child is privately tutored and has the best chance of gaining a place in a grammar school. I struggle to see how this aids social mobility and ensures that all children are treated equally.

My concerns include:

· 70% of children will not go to a grammar school.

· The cost of tutoring for the eleven plus is not very accessible for disadvantaged parents.

· There is no sanction for grammar schools if they fail to include disadvantaged pupils. And does this actually happen anyway?

· I have no doubt there will be extra funding for grammar schools to ensure success whilst other non-selective schools will struggle with ever tighter budgets and the loss of the students who will now go to the grammar school.

I recall the incident where parents in King Edwards grammar school in Birmingham rejected the notion of disadvantaged pupils getting into their school, “The grammar schools are a jewel in the crown of Birmingham and we believe the changes (this change was more disadvantaged pupils at the school) mean it is no longer aiming for the highest possible academic standards”. (Daily Mail, December 2018). This exposes a crude social belief about disadvantaged children; that they do not have the same potential or capacity for maintaining academic excellence as the tutored grammar school children.

Ofsted has rightly now removed the exemption from inspection for outstanding schools. Some grammar schools graded as outstanding have not been inspected for around nine years? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see if grammar schools were measured by the progress students make rather than the attainment they achieve? Student outcomes will always be higher in selective schools because by selecting the children by ability their starting points are obviously higher. A more sophisticated analysis of progress measures from starting points may suggest that grammar schools actually do not perform as well as many non-selective schools.

Above and beyond all of the politics, isn’t it a depressing situation where, as a country, we say to those 70% who didn’t go to a grammar school they were not worth as much as those who did? That in itself is unacceptable, a waste of talent and, at the age of eleven it places a cap on the high expectations we should have for all of our children not just those who passed a test at 11 years old.

On a personal level I am 64 years old now, yet I can still remember as a child, sitting alone on the stairs in the hall listening to my parents’ kitchen conversation and their heart-felt concerns after finding out that I had blotted my copy-book and failed the 11 plus. Why do we now want to turn back the clock and inflict this feeling of failure on 70% of our children today? Why do we need to re-introduce a dated and failed two-tiered educational system? Surely we can do better. Surely an inclusive and effective secondary education in a well-resourced comprehensive school is a better option?

If you have time your views would be greatly appreciated, but no worries if not as I guess you are very busy. I trust my views will have been read and will have been helpful and that they have been accepted as such.

Yours sincerely

(Name removed)

Ex- Primary Headteacher, Education Consultant and Ofsted Inspector

The response from the DfE was as follows.

Dear (name removed)

I am writing on behalf of the Secretary of State to thank you for your email of 3 October expressing your thoughts on grammar schools.

It was interesting to read your professional and personal reflections on grammar schools.

I would like to assure you that the government’s priority is to ensure that all children have access to a high standard of education. We are committed to offering parents and children a diverse education system with a wide variety of high-quality providers.

Where they exist already, grammar schools are popular with parents and are consistently oversubscribed. They provide an excellent education and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who attend them can particularly benefit. However, grammar schools should continually challenge themselves to do more. That is why, through our Memorandum of Understanding with the Grammar School Heads Association, we are seeking to further increase the number of disadvantaged children admitted to grammar schools.

Many grammar schools give children eligible for pupil premium higher priority in their admission arrangements. Some grammar schools are going further in their admission arrangements – for example by lowering the test pass mark for disadvantaged pupils – and by removing other barriers. This might include taking action to reduce the impact of tutoring for tests, by making familiarisation programmes available free of charge to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds or by making uniforms more affordable.

It may also be helpful to know that grammar schools are funded on the same basis as other state schools.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to us with your views.

Yours sincerely

James Doherty
Ministerial and Public Communications Division