Justine Greening resigned as Secretary of State for Education yesterday, when Theresa May asked her to move departments in her cabinet reshuffle. Greening’s failure to show enthusiasm for May’s grammar school expansion plans is rumoured to have contributed to her dismissal. Damian Hinds has replaced her as Education Secretary. Hinds was educated at St Ambrose Grammar School in Altrincham, but he appears not to have spoken publically in favour of expanding selection recently. In 2014 he did state views that there should be a grammar school in “every major conurbation” which is worrying. We hope that he will resist calls to support ‘annexe’ grammar schools and other forms of illicit selection. The ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation reviewed plans for new and existing grammar schools in December 2016, but there is still no government response. We believe that Hinds should prioritise the publication of this response, and reveal how existing selective schools fit with the government’s stated aim of social mobility through education.
The equivalent of 11 new grammar schools
Research by the BBC shows there’s been a 7% increase in grammar school places since 2010, with 7,600 more pupils now attending selective schools, equivalent to 11 new schools. This grammar school expansion is due to the schools increasing their admission numbers, and if the schools continue to admit their extra year 7 classes there will be 6,900 more grammar pupils by 2020. The Education Policy Institute warned that this will have a damaging effect on selective areas. We spoke to Phil Karnavas, a Kent secondary modern head, about the impact of grammar school expansion on his school.
Bucks campaigners Local Equal Excellent (LEE) have criticised the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools Company (TBGS) for failing to carry out any consultation on changes to their 11-plus test. Schools are supposed to consult on any admission changes before January 31st each year, but Bucks grammar schools are only consulting on revised admission policies and not mentioning that the 11-plus test will be a different format in 2018. This highlights the fact that the 11-plus test is effectively unregulated. Bucks grammar schools could be changing to a new test created by an unqualified person, but no one would be informed of this, or have any chance to complain. Schools regulatory bodies include the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, Ofqual, and Ofsted, but none of these bodies has a proactive role in checking that school admission testing is fair. The Department for Education appear to look away and give grammar schools no proper scrutiny.
The Grammar School Heads Association has called for action to be taken on cheating in the 11-plus. It appears that some 11-plus tutors have entered children for the test just to research information about the questions. The same tests are often run twice so this means tutors can pass on information to their clients. This highlights the problems of operating a high-stakes tests for school entry. Some children are extensively coached by tutors who make a living from 11-plus preparation, while some children follow their council’s advice that ‘no preparation is necessary.’ This is not a level playing field. The 11-plus test is fundamentally unfair due to the fact that coaching works.
Kent County Council (KCC) have said they’d like to create a boys grammar school ‘annexe’ on the site in Sevenoaks where a girl’s grammar ‘annexe’ opened this year. There are reports that work is already underway on the building. However KCC has (so far) refused to answer a Freedom of Information request about the money spent on the project. It seems quite unreasonable for KCC to avoid a simple question about their budget spend. The predicted increase in selective school pupil numbers may well lead to more grammar schools expanding onto annexe sites.
Comprehensive Future chair, Melissa Benn will be speaking at the Fabian conference on January 13th. She will be discussing the possible future shape of a National Education Service, and the issues of selection and school admissions are sure to feature in her talk. Details of the event can be found here.