Our new chair
Melissa’s expert knowledge and influence have been especially appreciated during what turned into a particularly tumultuous period politically. Her legacy includes greater financial security for Comprehensive Future, allowing us to employ a much-needed part-time member of staff.
We welcome Dr. Nuala Burgess as our new Chair. Nuala is an academic researcher with a particular interest in formal and covert forms of educational selection. Her report, ‘A Tale of Two Counties’, was commissioned by Comprehensive Future and compared the experiences and educational outcomes for secondary school children in Buckinghamshire, which retained its grammars, with non-selective county of Hampshire. Nuala is a former secondary school teacher and still works in schools on a voluntary basis. As Chair, Nuala hopes to strengthen Comprehensive Future’s relationships with educationalists, academics and other campaigning organisations, as well as building on Melissa’s work in raising Comprehensive Future’s profile.
Click here to read Melissa’s reflections on her time as Chair of Comprehensive Future, and read Nuala’s words on being elected as Chair here.
The current turmoil over Brexit meant the recent announcement that 16 grammar schools will each receive a share of the £50 million Selective School Expansion Fund received a disappointing amount of attention in the news. The funding is intended to create an extra 4,000 grammar school places.
In a radio interview, and speaking in her capacity as the newly elected Chair of Comprehensive Future, Nuala told listeners that the expansion of selective schools was an evidence-free policy. She explained that current research is unequivocal in its findings which show that there is absolutely no benefit to expanding grammar schools, and especially since they have not been found to raise attainment for pupil premium children. Nuala cited research carried out by Professor Stephen Gorard of Durham university whose analysis makes clear that grammar schools do no better than comprehensives in raising attainment among disadvantaged groups. She added that elsewhere research has also shown that grammar schools do not guarantee social mobility for working class students. She stated that at a time when all schools are desperately short of funds, finding £50 million for grammar schools was unfair and unjust.
Comprehensive Future’s own research has shown that previous policies designed to boost the number of pupil premium places at grammar schools have been ineffective, with a negligible increase in numbers. Nuala pointed out that the injustice of the Selective School Expansion Fund is that it will be many years before there is any evidence of the success or failure of the outreach schemes promised by the schools awarded a share of the £50 million. She asked to whom these schools will be made accountable for their funding and demanded to know if they if will be asked to refund the money if their plans failed to attract the promised numbers of pupil premium children.
AGM event – ‘The Human Cost of Selection’
This year’s AGM was very well-attended by old and new Comprehensive Future members and supporters. Excitingly, we had a noticeably more diverse audience. In addition, a sizeable proportion of our audience comprised young Master’s and PhD students. Our panel of excellent speakers included Professor John Jerrim of the IoE, Educational Psychologist Dr. Brian Apter, Dr. Ayo Mansaray of King’s College, London, and Jonny Roberts a stalwart anti-11-plus campaigner. Comprehensive Future steering committee member. Dr. Marlene Ellis chaired. Our panel offered a combination of expert opinion and personal insights into the social and emotional aspects of the 11-plus and educational selection more generally. The debate which followed was lively, with many voicing strong opinions about the harmful impact of the 11-plus on children.
Comprehensive Future at this year’s party conferences
We held three very well-attended fringe meetings at all three of the major party conferences this year – a first for Comprehensive Future.
At each of our meetings, we hosted a panel debate on a topic important to Comprehensive Future’s campaign work against the 11-plus and admissions-based selection. The Liberal Democrat conference, held in Brighton, came first. Layla Moran’s well publicised comment that grammar schools amounted to ‘state sponsored segregation’ was well timed, coming just before the conference. The publicity ensured that our panel event ‘Fair admissions and an end to selection’ was particularly well-attended. The panel included Professor Rebecca Allen, of the IoE, Fiona Millar, Guardian journalist and education campaigner, and Maidenhead anti-grammar school campaigner, Tony Hill.
Our Fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, ‘Phasing out selection – what’s Labour’s problem?’ included a panel which featured our own Melissa Benn, Professor Stephen Gorard and Dr. Nadia Siddiqui of Durham University, and Momentum activist and teacher Holly Rigby. There was an excellent discussion in response to Gorard and Siddiqui’s statistical research proving grammar schools make little impact on the attainment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, there was much interest in the shape of Labour’s National Education service, with discussion triggered by ideas outlined in Melissa Benn’s new book ‘Life Lessons’.
At the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, Comprehensive Future hosted a panel event entitled, ‘Selection: A Conservative obsession that has to end.’ The panellists included General Secretary of the ASCL Geoff Barton, Conservative MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp, and Save Our Schools Campaigner, Duncan Ali. The panel’s diversity of opinion generated an enthusiastic response from our audience. We were especially pleased by the number of people who came out against the 11-plus and grammar schools at this particular fringe event.
Most importantly of all, our fringe meetings at all three party conference proved to us that the strength of feeling against the 11-plus and all types of educational selection are shared across the political divide – when it comes to education we are united by far more than that which divides us.
Another first for Comprehensive Future, was using a Facebook livestream at each of our fringe events. This allowed us to reach a much wider audience. A lack of funds meant we could not stretch to hiring the most accessible of rooms for all our fringe events, for which we apologise. However, we were heartened by the numbers who accessed our livestreams. While livestreaming went some way to mitigating the inconvenience of a lack of wheelchair access, we promise to do all we can to ensure that all future meetings are accessible.
To coincide with our new visibility during the party conference season, we published two policy proposal reports which were distributed at each of our fringe events. ‘Decision Time: A Plan for Phasing Out Selection’ includes an outline of plans for how grammar schools could be feasibly converted to comprehensive schools. The report also includes a clearly set out explanation of the legislative changes that would be needed to end selection.
Our second report, ‘Decision Time: A Plan for Fair School Admissions’, proposes the creation of a new local body to oversee school admissions. It includes a convincing argument for ending the current practice with many schools in a position to fix or manage their own admissions.
You can download these reports here.
Two new patrons
We are delighted that author, poet and popular BBC radio presenter Michael Rosen has joined Comprehensive Future as one of our two new patrons. Michael is a passionate advocate for comprehensive education and well known for his fearless approach to campaigning for social justice in education.
We are also delighted to welcome as a new patron Roger Brown, former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University and author of ‘The Inequality Crisis’. Roger brings to Comprehensive Future an outstanding knowledge of the economics of education.
Comprehensive Future needs your financial support, please consider donating to help us continue our campaign. DONATE NOW.