It’s selection – stupid!

A few days ago Conservative Voice launched their campaign for more grammar schools. Now Conservative Home has joined the debate. While one contributor Paul Goodman sets out why more selection is not a good idea, two other contributors Damien Green MP and John Bald support the campaign for more grammars.

Damien Green argues for ‘a variety of schools’ so ‘parents can choose what they want for their children’. He seems to ignore the fact that when schools select parental choice is reduced, except for the minority whose children pass the test or perhaps more accurately whose parents have paid for the tutoring to enable them to pass the test.

He claims that ‘when we had grammar schools’ Oxbridge was much less of the domain of the privately educated than it later became.  But a Standard Note from the House of Commons Library in June reported that ‘A survey carried out in 1961 as part of the work for the Robbins Report found that 34% of all students at Oxford and 27% at Cambridge had attended a state secondary school’.  The Standard Note included the latest (2013) percentages for Oxbridge state school entries which are 55% for Cambridge and 57.8% for Oxford.

But John Bald must claim the prize for the most unsubstantiated claims in his post.

He reports that education in England and Wales has been ‘dominated’ for the past 50 years by a single Ministerial circular in 1965 calling for a national policy for comprehensive education. Lord Baker might claim otherwise. His introduction of Local Management of Schools, the National Curriculum and SATs in 1988 was pretty dominant, not to mention Labour’s introduction of academies in 2000.

Quoting as usual specific examples of ex grammar school pupils who have done well he claims that grammar schools have continued the tradition of getting the more disadvantaged into higher education and ‘updated it to include a modern understanding of personal responsibility’. He says ‘most comprehensives do not operate to this standard’. He does not quote the evidence for this sweeping generalisation. He seems to muddle up mixed ability teaching, Ken Livingstone and ILEA, the teaching of reading and the advent of academies, none of which relate to any evidence for the need for more grammar schools.

To be fair he does make one concession to the reality of secondary education in selective areas – ‘You can’t take a town like Southend with four grammar schools and just eight other secondaries and pretend that the others are genuine comprehensives’.

But neither Damien Green nor John Bald make a case for selection – any evidence that selecting pupils at 11 raises standards for all or is a fair and reliable test of ability or that, even if it was, that there then is a need to put pupils in different establishments when they leave their comprehensive primary schools.  You can’t have grammar schools without the 11 plus but nowhere does either supporter answer the evidence against selection put so clearly by Professor Chris Husbands.

There are excellent schools which do not select the pupils first – so – with apologies to Bill Clinton – it’s selection – stupid!