Grammar Schools for some or Better Schools for all?

Trish Marchant says: A recent article by Prof Luckhurst (Medway Messenger 10th June 2011) on the perceived pros of the selection system missed out on the reasons why so many councils no longer have the “outdated system which penalizes the majority of children at an early stage in their schooling” otherwise known as the 11+.

I agree with this statement and I don’t believe Prof Luckhurst said anything in the article to show otherwise, other than outdated research from 1981 and 1979, and conjecture. The thrust of the article was about social mobility for those from deprived neighbourhoods and how grammar schools give chances for them which would otherwise not exist.

I was also at the election debate as a Green Party Candidate and recall that Prof Luckhurst failed to respond when challenged about the statistics detailed in the Department for Education’s publication “The Composition of Schools in England.” In the report free school meals are used as an indicator of relative poverty and it is clear that far fewer children on free school meals are in grammar schools than in other secondary schools in the same local authority. On average in grammar schools in 2007 the proportion of pupils from the least deprived group was just over 40%, compared to 25% overall. The proportion of grammar school intake from the most deprived group was around 8%, compared to just over 20% overall. The authors concluded that grammar schools were enrolling ‘…half as many academically able children from disadvantaged backgrounds as they could do’.

Prof Luckhurst proclaims that ‘No academically able child should be made to feel a nuisance. In Kent and the Medway Towns, none is.’ Referring to students in Comprehensives Sir Ken Robinson in his RSA Lecture commented that the selective process has built into it a whole series of assumptions about social structure and capacity. And is rooted in the belief that ‘there are really two types of people, academic and non- academic. Smart people and non-smart people and the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they are not because they have been judged against this particular view of the mind.’

When I sat the 11+ in the seventies, passing it was a milestone and failing was a ridiculous stigma that marked a child at an early age. Even now the Medway Messenger reports that head teachers are worried the grammar school system in Medway is distorting the performance figures for other schools and with the terrible spectre of Academy takeovers of under-performing state schools by unaccountable independent groups they are right to be concerned.

In my humble opinion Prof Luckhurst views are outdated and current thinking and evidence shows that the overall standard of achievement is higher where people are educated in mixed ability environments. Personally I am in favour of small state schools, within easy walking distance of home, with the added attraction for teachers of smaller classes, where the school is a valued and integral part of the community and the stress of the selection process is removed for both parent and child.

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