Monday, November 20, 2006

Everything You Learnt About Schools: The Sequel

Loathe as I am to get bogged down on specific subjects, the breadth of responses to last Thursday’s piece on grammar schools merited a full response, not least because an uncharitable mind might think that some of the respondents hadn’t read it. So let’s start again by restating the fundamental conclusion I put at the top of the last piece;

What makes you think that that is the result of selection by ability in and of itself?

Take for example the accusation that selection by ability closes off opportunities to children who don’t get into the “top” school. Now it’s true that if children have to stay in the same school for five years on the basis of the selection, those who do well may be held back by what they are able to achieve in the particular environment selected. But isn’t that a problem with it being five years? In reality, we do need to look at the split of years between different schools; the current 3/4/5/2 split should at least be 3/4/4/3 or maybe even 3/4/3/4. In that way, selection can be at 11 and 14/15, giving everyone two bites at the cherry.

Then again, the lack of logical diagnosis is not the real problem. In terms of grammar schools, there remains this ingrained concept that it is about “good” and “bad” schools, much of which relates to the idea that there are somehow vast swathes of children who aren’t particularly intelligent at 11 but by 18 will be off to Oxbridge to read biochemistry or nuclear physics. If someone would like to provide me with statistics showing that these people do exist, I’d be happy to publish them, but my suspicion is that they are a very, very small but vocal group.

Rather than expend enormous time and money trying to prevent a relatively rare occurrence, we should honestly state what education is there to achieve. I for one believe that education must be designed to maximise the potential of every child by providing tailored resources and teaching within an integrated framework that does not discriminate between academic and vocational training. You might be able to provide that within the comprehensive system, but it will be vastly more expensive to do so.

Above all, in education it is far too easy to be sentimental about things; rather than assuming that every child is born with the divine right to go to Oxbridge, let’s rise above the emotional attachment and actually consider what education should be achieving and how it can best be arranged to accomplish those goals.


Will said...

I went to one of the remaining Kent grammar schools and what struck me listening to the arguments on the local radio - at a time when the 11+ exam was entirely optional - was the woman ranting against grammar schools. She hadn't always been against them, of course: but now that her son had failed the 11+...

Anonymous said...

The trouble is, however, that the number of children needing the kind of "tailored resources and teaching within an integrated framework that does not discriminate between academic and vocational training" available through grammar school education has historically been magically equal to the number of pre-existing grammar school places. "Separate but equal" was a mirage from the 1944 Act till Circular 10/65 and beyond.

Selective schools have always been, and will always be, more about excluding than including, about weeding out most in order to nurture the minority. That's what selection means.

Auberius said...

Who said anything about those things being available solely through the grammar schools? The point remains from the first piece, selection works if you have multiple levels such that the division is neither arbitrary nor simplistic.

I'd point out that I usually would not publish totally anonymous comments but in this case I have done so as I think it serves as an excellent example of the problem; if we can't even conceive of any diagnosis other than the grammars being the cause of all the other problems, we'll never have a mature debate on the subject.

Liberal Neil said...

All the evidence is that once you separate children into different types of school at age 11 (or any other age for that matter) the number that subsequently change is tiny.

That is because it is inevitable that any child's development will be influenced by the type of school they are in. So a child that is sent to a school which spends more time on 'academic' subjects will become more academic.

For me the key point in this is that children don't fit into one of a small number of categories. Every child has a unique range of strengths and weaknesses and each should have the opportunity to develop them all.

Having one group of children go to an 'academic' school and another group to a 'vocational' school militates against that.