We asked academics, authors, celebrities and education experts for their views on selection. Here are their varied and interesting reasons for supporting comprehensive education.
Michael Rosen, author, poet and performer
Grammar schools are a way of preventing a majority of children from going to a certain kind of school. These schools don’t help society to be fairer or better. Just the opposite: a grammar school system forces us all into being one-mark passes or failures at the age of 11 when in reality we’re all complex mixtures of abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Bringing back Grammar Schools (and the Secondary Modern type schools which go with them) is a big step back to the 1950s, when I was at school.
Lewis Iwu, Director of the Fair Education Alliance
The evidence shows that grammar schools have a pernicious effect on poor pupils who don’t make it past the entrance exam. As a matter of principle, the state should not expand a system that brands pupils as winners and losers at such a young age. Social mobility is the right focus, but grammar schools are the wrong policy.
Maxine Peake, actress
Putting pressure on children at such a young age, and causing a divide between them and their peers would have an immensely negative effect on children.
No to the 11 plus. A good, fair and free education for all.
Stella Duffy – writer, theatremaker, Fun Palaces co-director
We founded Fun Palaces in 2013 to support not only greater access to all culture (arts and sciences) across the UK, but to support greater access to the CREATING of culture, supporting everyone to become the artists, the scientists, the craftspeople, the techies, the digital experts we need.
At a time of great division, of national uncertainties, we need – more than ever – to support our young people to not only dream big, but to achieve those big dreams, and that means creating the same opportunities for all.
Selective schooling not only denies the fact that children learn at different rates, it deliberately sets out to deny the best education to some children, privileging others.
If we want an equal society we MUST have an equal education system – everything starts with education.
Selina Todd – Professor of Modern British History at the University of Oxford
We need the next generation to be innovative and imaginative, nonconformists who can come up with creative ways to solve the world’s problems. Comprehensive schools give young people an all-round education, not simply the ability to pass tests. There’s no proof that children do better if they’re streamed or setted, and plenty of students at Oxford performed better at 18 than at 14. Let’s not bring back secondary moderns and the stigma of failure at 11. Instead we should be working out how to expand comprehensive schools and ensure they are excellently resourced for all our children.
Danny Dorling – Writer and Halford Mackinder professor of human geography at Oxford University
Like polio and corporal punishment, grammar schools should be left in the 1950s. I support a campaign for a comprehensive future.
Educational Psychologists are skeptical about selective education and grammar schools. They are particularly skeptical about the value of the 11+ selection examination which is comprised of a maths test, an English test, and a non-verbal reasoning test that is meant to be ‘culture-fair’. That any of the three 11+ tests are, or could be, culture-fair is arrant nonsense. A child’s performance when completing each of the 3 tests is highly sensitive to cultural influence, teaching and learning.
Parents pay for specialist tuition for their children to become familiar and adept at answering the pen and paper puzzles that are presented in each of the 3 tests. However the parental pressure – overt or implied, but never negligible – that the child must succeed sucks the joy out of learning and puts the stress into the test. The child’s performance on the non-verbal reasoning is the most easy to influence and the effect size of special tuition most evident.
It is not a surprise that children usually benefit from the expenditure of wealthy or debt-accruing parents and pass this test. Such special tuition, hot-housing or cramming is more ordinarily called ‘teaching’ and the improved performance of children is called ‘learning’ – not intelligence.
Educational Psychologists are experts in the two processes of teaching and learning. In regards, to grammar schools per se, it would be difficult to identify a general shared psychological position within the profession, except to say that most Educational Psychologists would agree that not achieving, unnecessary test-stress, and deep feelings of failure are damaging to children’s mental health. Without doubt, educational failure depresses the future life-achievements of children.
Grammar schools put a massive premium on the failure of many children by dint of the specialist tuition of the few. Mostly successful pupils from a grammar school would have been just as successful as pupils in a good comprehensive school. It is unlikely that you would find many Educational Psychologists who would support the continued existence of grammar schools and the 11+ selection exam.
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers
The NUT is proud to be working with Comprehensive Future. At a time of huge cuts to school funding, wasting money on the creation of new grammar schools is nonsensical and a huge backward step. It is vital that comprehensive education is defended but also celebrated for the incredible advantages and benefits it brings to children’s lives and to society as a whole. The introduction of more selective education would undermine this. The NUT urges people to get behind Comprehensive Future’s campaign.
Professor Becky Francis, Director of the UCL Institute of Education
Comprehensive schools have one huge advantage. Their philosophy is that a fine education, a first class education should be provided for all the children, because all children regardless of academic ability are equally important. Behind the comprehensive movement lies the core belief that all children should be given a fair chance in our society, that to grow up together creates greater cohesion and mutual understanding.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education
ALLFIE is fundamentally against the expansion of selective schools because these schools undermine the rights of disabled pupils and students with SEN to be included in mainstream education in their local communities. The numbers of disabled pupils being excluded and segregated from the mainstream is on the rise, and more grammar schools will lead to greater levels of students with SEN or disabilities disappearing from mainstream schools. This can only harm our communities and society.
Michael Morpurgo, author, poet and playwright
The 11 plus exam creates many more failures than successes. I was one of them. The test has set back the self-esteem and prospects of millions of us and many have not recovered from it. And just as important, it has created the us and them, the have and have-not society that still persists today.
Michael wrote a longer article for Comprehensive Future, which can be read in full here.
If you too believe that we should phase out selection please support our campaign. You can donate to our crowdfunder at JustGiving.com here.