A submission to the Liberal Democrats

Schools Working Group:consultation paper


May 30 2008


Comprehensive Future is pleased to comment on the Consultation Paper and is grateful to the Schools Working Group for inviting our comments. We are happy to give oral evidence if that is required.


Comprehensive Future’s aimis to bring about a comprehensive secondary school system in England with fair admissions criteria to all publicly funded schools, guaranteeing an equal chance to all children and an end to selection by ability and aptitude. Our individual supporters include school staff and governors, parents, members of both Houses of Parliament, local councillors, academics and other public figures who share a commitment to equality of opportunity within our education system. We also have support from organisations such as unions, union branches and local political parties.


We have welcomed recent changes to the role of local authorities and the adjudicator introduced as amendments to the Education and Skills Bill, however we want to see further changes.


The questions the paper poses are rightly wide ranging. Our response is confined to those questions relevant to our aims ie 5, 10,33,41,46,53,56 and 57.We have tried to avoid duplication in our answers which therefore should be read as a whole.


In summary our response is –

  • all forms of covert and overt selection have a negative effect on majority of pupils and on social segregation and should be ended, this includes selection on ability and aptitude
  • as more an more schools become admission authorities and in some cases become academies ie not legally maintained, it is important to ensure all admission processes are fair and all provisions apply equally to all schools
  • admission criteria should not be set by the school in isolation  but agreed locally by the admission forum
  • local authorities should decide which pupils meet the admission criteria of all publicly funded schools in their areas (including academies)
  • the roles of the adjudicator and school commissioner in relation to admissions should be reviewed to ensure there is no duplication



5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current English school system?


The English secondary school system is fragmented. This is reflected in the powers over admissions which vary with the governance of the schools. Work by Allen and Vignoles (2006) from LSE found an association between local authorities with higher proportions of pupils in schools that controlled their own admissions or have explicit selection by ability and the level of FSM segregation


Policy makers seem not to recognize that selection at 11 affects a significant proportion of children in England. Selection plays an important part in English education post 11. Far too little attention has been paid to the effect of this on children.


Selection divides families and children from their friends. When selection is part of the education system many more pupils are affected than just those who pass the test, as far more are rejected. Inevitably these children will label themselves failures when only half way through their education. This is bound to affect the likelihood of children considering themselves to be equally valued members of society.


In 2005 there were 154070 places in grammar schools out of 3312160 total secondary places. Assuming 3 children rejected for each selective place this means about 14% of children de-motivated by rejection in England (PQ 21 July 2005). This does not take into account children sitting entry tests for partially selective schools. Parliamentary answers indicate that data on the number of children sitting entry tests is not collected. Anecdotal evidence indicates that many children sit tests, often for several schools. Selecting 10% of places on aptitude may seem minimal, but far more than 10% will be rejected.


A report by Professor John Coldron (2008) for the DCSF looked at all admission arrangements. Coldron found that 43 local authorities in England (out of 150) have secondary schools which select by attainment as measured in a test. He found that the 14 most selective authorities there were more appeals, fewer parents gained their first preference and intakes were more socially segregated compared to all other authorities.


10. How can the school system be used to challenge educational inequality and disadvantage?


Clearly selective systems entrench educational inequality and disadvantage. Our contention is that ending selection would help challenge them.


In June 2007 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported on factors leading to low achievement. The researchers concluded that admissions are one factor influencing the outcome for disadvantaged pupils. The report said –  Anything that gives schools greater opportunities to select their pupils works to the detriment of the disadvantaged; the current ways in which school places are allocated is part of the process by which the disadvantaged end up in disproportionately worse-performing schools.


Selective schools are not escape routes from poverty.  Compared to their local communities they take far fewer children eligible for free school meals. A comparison of the social segregation in England’s secondary schools with other OECD countries by the Statistical Sciences Research Institute in Southampton showed that England is middle ranking in terms of social segregation (Jenkins et al 2006). High ranking countries such as Austria, Holland, Germany and Hungary have selective school systems. Countries such as the Nordic countries and Scotland have less segregation than England and the researchers conclude this is because of their non-selective school systems.


The significance of segregation in terms of differing social intakes between schools and their outcomes for pupils is highlighted in the reports of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  This large-scale study of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds was conducted in 2000 and again in 2003, on the latter occasion involving 41 countries.  On each occasion it was shown that countries with more divided school systems perform distinctly less well, in terms both of overall standards and the spread of attainment, than those which are based on a more integrated and comprehensive approach.  For example, the report said “In countries with a larger number of distinct programme types, socio-economic background tends to have a significantly larger impact on student performance such that equity is much harder to realise” and “The analyses reveal that countries with greater socio-economic inclusion tend to have higher overall performance” In other words integration, equity and excellence tend to go together.


This finding was repeated in the PISA study carried out in 2006 (OECD 2007). which said –


A clear cut finding from PISA is that early differentiation of students by school is associated with wider than average socio-economic disparities and not with better results overall.


33. Does the current school structure offer the best opportunities to the child?


No, a system which divides children at 11 between institutions on the basis of an entry test not only does not support children but must de-motivate a large majority early on in their school lives.


41. What is the appropriate role for local authorities? Which powers should be held by the local authority and which by schools?


A large proportion of schools are able to set their own criteria ie to decide which pupils should be admitted should the school be over subscribed. This number will increase as more schools become trust schools or academies or if current Liberal Democrat plans for free schools are implemented.


IPPR has suggested that no school should set its own admission criteria and that the criteria should be set by the local authority. We want to see the criteria on all admissions agreed locally outside the school, the admission forum may be the focus for this.


Comprehensive Future, at the very least, wishes to see the decision about which applicant meets the criteria taken away from schools and carried out by the local authority. Current regulations allow this but few schools seem to have taken this up. A local authority has more democratic legitimacy than for example the governing body of an academy or trust school where the majority of governors are appointed by the sponsor.


Despite recent changes responsibilities over ensuring a fair admission system remain confused.  Legislation now requires local authorities to report to the adjudicator about local admission arrangements. Comprehensive Future has maintained for some time that relying on complaints to the adjudicator to ensure fairness is insufficient so this change we hope will meet our objection.


Admission Forums, rather than local authorities, have the power to produce a report on all aspects of current arrangements for admissions locally. It remains to be seen how this will work in practice. The first report of the Schools Commissioner based on these reports is due in January 2009.


46. What powers should schools have to select?


For the reasons outlined above and below we maintain that no school should have the power to select on ability or aptitude. We want to see the criteria on all admissions agreed locally outside the school, the admission forum may be the focus for this.


53. What effect have School Federations and Specialist, Academy and Trust and Foundation schools had? What should be their future?


Academies, Trust and Foundation schools have powers to set their own admission criteria. All schools with a specialism can select on ‘aptitude’ in specified subjects. Only those which are admission authorities are likely to do that.


Researchers have found that where schools are admission authorities this results in greater social segregation.  Clearly as more and more schools become admission authorities there will be more segregation. This will apply to the policy of the Liberal Democrat policy of ‘free schools’.


Academies are not legally maintained schools so provisions on admissions which relate to maintained schools do not apply to them. The Secretary of State is more directly involved. This is likely to lead to confusion and unfairness.


56. Does school choice raise standards or widen inequalities? What role should choice play?

It is necessary to define exactly what is meant by choice. A range of schools with a different ethos has been available to parents in urban areas for many years before the introduction of specialist schools for example. The pressure on schools to assume a specialism has been accompanied by extra funding and greater accountability.


However what is clear is that if schools select parental choice of schools is reduced. A Which report in 2005 showed that parents want a high quality local school. This should be the aim.


57. What is the effect of Grammar Schools? What should be our policy on grammar schools?


The focus of policy should be the effect of selection on children and their attainment and segregation not on the schools and their future.  Cleary selection should be ended. It will not end under current arrangements, even though there is all party agreement that it is not to be extended.


Successful transitions to comprehensive systems have been achieved in the past and with political will could be achieved now. A process of ending selection at 11 is currently underway in Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales do not have the 11 plus.


In England there are150 local authorities out of which 36 have one or more grammar schools. Of these 15 LEAs  (Bexley, Bournemouth, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Kingston,Lincolnshire, Medway, Poole, Reading, Slough, Southend, Sutton, Torbay, Trafford and Wirral) can be considered fully selective. They have about 1 in 5 of their secondary pupils  in grammar schools. Another 21 LEAs have one or more grammar schools (Barnet, Birmingham,Bromley,Calderdale, Cumbria, Devon, Enfield, Essex, Gloucestershire, Kirklees, Lancashire, Liverpool, North Yorkshire, Plymouth, Redbridge, Stoke on Trent, Telford and Wrekin, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Wolverhampton).  Other authorities have schools which partially select on ability and there is also selection on aptitude so many children face entry tests.




Allen,R and Vignoles.A, (2006)What should an Index of School Segregation measure?.Centre for the Economics of Education. LSE


Coldron, J et al (2008) ‘Secondary School Admissions’ Research Report DCSF –RR020.DCSF.


Casson, R and Kingdon,G (2007) ‘Tackling low achievement’. Joseph Rowntree foundation. www.jrf.org.uk)


Tough,S and Brooks, R, (2007) . School admissions:Fair choice for parents and pupils’ IPPR


Jenkins, Micklewright and Schnepf  (2006) ‘Social segregation in secondary schools: how does England compare with other countries?’. Southhampton S3RII


Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, (2004) ‘First Results from PISA 2003, Executive Summary’, OECD Paris


Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, (2007) ‘PISA 2006 Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World Executive Summary’ OECD Paris


Which (2005) Education policy report. Choice Which