One of the many frustrations I have with this current Government is their constant tinkering, or should I say wholesale change to the education system. It goes without saying we all want the very best education system. Which for me is an inclusive comprehensive system.
Since the mid-1970’s Cornwall has had no form of selection in its schools. Cornwall has a proud tradition of a ‘family of schools.’ For example when the then Labour Government introduced a form of selection in 2000 which enabled schools to select 10% of their population, Cornwall’s schools rejected that notion of selection.
Yet the Governments Green paper titled Schools that work for everyone again changes the education system to a more selective system. It is rather ironic the very title of the Green hardly endorses the theme of schools working for everyone. As a selection system is not working for everyone.
The main points in the Green paper are:
- Expecting independent schools to support existing state schools, open new state schools or offer funded places to children whose families can’t afford to pay fees;
- Asking universities to commit to sponsoring or setting up new schools in exchange for the ability to charge higher fees;
- Allowing existing selective schools to expand and new selective schools to open, while making sure they support non-selective schools;
- Allowing new faith free schools to select up to 100% of pupils based on their faith, while making sure they include pupils from different backgrounds.
The deadline for submissions to the Government consultation is 12th December 2016.
A fundamental point in changing any system is there is clear evidence this change will be for a positive, and actually improves a system. Yet, this Green paper is without clear evidence of improvement and is more about political dogma, than improving the educational system.
Research shows that children from deprived backgrounds are much less likely to attend (existing) grammar schools than better-off children. Only about 3% of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). A recent article by Sam Freeman highlights research from OECD which found that not only are the selective systems socially segregated, they are also less effective than inclusive ones. Furthermore, all the top educational systems in the world, which includes Korea, Finland and Canada are comprehensive.
The outgoing Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw is critical of the plan to return to the Grammar School system. In his recent speech at the London Councils education summit in central London, Sir Michael makes some very valid points.
“If grammar schools are the great answer, why aren’t there more of them in London?
If they are such a good thing for poor children, then why are poor children here in the capital doing so much better than their counterparts in those parts of the country that operate selection?
I appreciate that many grammar schools do a fine job in equipping their students with an excellent education. But we all know that their record of admitting children from non-middle-class backgrounds is pretty woeful.”
He went on:
“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense – and is very clearly refuted by the London experience.”
“Let’s not delude ourselves. ‘A grammar school in every town’, as some are calling for, would also mean 3 secondary moderns in every town – a consequence rarely mentioned.
That is why I am in no doubt that a return to selection would be a profoundly retrograde step that would actually lead to overall standards sliding back, not improving.”
Whilst I support Sir Michael’s viewpoint on selective education, I believe a lot of London’s success is because of their generous funding arrangements as I have highlighted HERE. If Cornwall was given the same level of funding as London, then we would be able to do so much more.
I do not think the Government has thought about rurality in its social engineering plans for schools – otherwise known as Schools that work for everyone. For Cornwall with its distinct geographic layout we have a diverse pattern of school provision from smaller schools of less than 30 pupils to larger urban towns of more than 1500 pupils. If this Green paper is implemented, it adds an additional complexity to the introduction of any selective provision. Furthermore, which the Green paper fails to address is the significant pressure on the Home to School transport budget.
If this the selective system is implemented, there is a grave danger of a ‘bidding war’ between schools for the most able students. This is not how an education system works. Children and young people are not a commodity who can be brought by the highest bidder.
I am against the principle of selective education not only as the Lead Member for Children’s Service at Cornwall Council and Councillor, but as a parent too. I am very pleased that the Cornwall Association of Secondary Heads (CASH) in Cornwall remain committed to the comprehensive principles that we have in Cornwall.
If the Government really wants to help schools, it has to look into fairer funding. Yet sadly, like pumping over £500m into the free school provision, it is likely to put more money into the selective system, which could be better spent on all schools.
I will also highlight the issue of fairer funding for schools, the Government has let this slip right from 2017 to 2018 (and likely to slip again) and the word fairer has been removed in the policy looking at school funding.
This issue will be discussed at the Young People’s Advisory Committee on Friday and will be debated by the full council in reference to the Motion against Grammar Schools I have seconded.