What does a Conservative majority government mean for selection?

The Conservative manifesto thankfully made no mention of new grammar schools, but there was a vague promise that parents should be able to choose, ‘the schools that best suit children.’ Might this suggest support for differentiated secondary education? We will need to see what happens to the £50 million a year Selective School Expansion Fund, some commentators suggest that this might continue while there will be no push to overturn the ban on new grammar schools. 

Our Chair, Dr Nuala Burgess, said, “We worry that a Conservative majority will lead to the further expansion of selective education and can only hope that the Conservatives will consider carefully the mounting concern over the damage done by selective education to the attainment of all children who live in and around selective areas. We implore this new Government to rise above nostalgia for a golden age of grammar school education and turn instead to the mountain of evidence which shows that all children achieve better results in socially and academically mixed schools. Before Boris Johnson does anything else, we ask him to put an end to the Selective School Expansion Fund and the creation of new grammar schools through the back door. What we desperately need at this moment in time is a properly funded state education system which provides a good local school for every child.”

Satellite grammar schools planned

Fiona Millar wrote in the Guardian about the sneaky expansion of selection through ‘satellite’ grammar schools, effectively new selective schools using a loophole to avoid the ban on new grammars. The election and political uncertainty of the last few months means this problem has been overlooked. Kent County Council now have three such schools planned, while Croydon MP Chris Philp, made an election campaign pledge that he would bring a satellite school to his comprehensive patch. Fiona Millar said, “The implications of this drift are clear for other parts of the country. There are 15 fully selective authorities where the 11-plus is a fact of life, and individual grammar schools in a further 10 council areas. Existing fully comprehensive schools could find themselves seriously threatened if the overall selective school population rises in satellite schools miles away from their base, unless someone has the guts to stop this.”

Melissa Benn at the Westminster Education Forum policy conference

Comprehensive Future’s vice chair, Melissa Benn, spoke at an education policy conference on a panel debating, ‘Growing the number of good and outstanding schools – the impact of partnerships, free schools and the Selective Schools Expansion Fund.’ The panel included Clare Wagner, Headteacher of the West London Free School, and Dr Mark Fenton, Chief Executive Officer, Grammar School Head Association. Melissa made a compelling case for abandoning the Selective School Expansion Fund, read her speech here. 

A successful AGM event

The Annual General Meeting of Comprehensive Future was held in Hamilton House, London, on 27th November 2019. The theme of our panel debate was ‘Comprehensive Education : Winning the Support of Parents.’ The panellists were Professor Simon Burgess, Alexa Collins, Harry Cutty, and Madeleine Holt and the event was chaired by John Dickens, Editor of Schools Week. There was an interesting discussion about school choice and attitudes to comprehensive education. If you’d like to see the discussion there’s a video of the event available on YouTube here. 

Kent 11-plus problems

A Catholic academy trust in Kent has decided that it’s 19 primary schools will no longer offer the Kent Test within their schools. The rationale is that the 11-plus is used to access non-faith grammar schools, and school premises should not be used to “promote non-Catholic schools.”  the way selective school systems are run means we have no idea what the withdrawal of so many schools from Kent’s 11-plus process will mean for parents and children. That is far from ideal. The whole situation is messy and complex and simply would not occur if every authority offered comprehensive education.” 

“There should be no need for any school to run an 11-plus test on their premises, and we know that many Kent primary teachers dislike the whole selection process. The fact we still have fully selective counties puts schools in a difficult position, but there is simply no need for any county to have selection. The vast majority of our counties are non-selective and produce excellent results. It seems perfectly understandable that some schools feel they do not want to be part of a selective education system. Schools which refuse to play any part in the 11 plus test system are voting with their feet. They are saying ‘no’ to an outdated, socially unjust and socially divisive test. Comprehensive Future applauds the decision and hope others will follow.

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