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.