Wednesday, May 16, 2007

'Tin Hat' at the ready over Grammar Schools announcement.

I am preparing myself for serious flak over David Willets contentious announcment this afternoon that a Conservative Government would not permit the opening of any new grammar schools.

This is a very difficult issue for me, as I am the product of a Grammar school and one of my daughters is currently benefitting from a Grammar School education.

In a survey I conducted in 2004 over 80% of local residents say that the want to retain our Grammar Schools. So I am expecting howls of protest from many quarters over this proposal to back the City Academies initiative and dump our previous long-held promise of re-introducing the 11 plus.

I agree that turning the clock back to the old days of grammar schools is , frankly, a no-no. The well documented problems of selecting pupils on a fairly narrow band of ability aged 11 is a historical debate we lost long ago and I see no point in trying to turn back after such a long time.

What David Willets says is this:

"We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids. This is a widespread belief but we just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it."

"For those children from modest backgrounds who do get to grammar schools the benefits are enormous. And we will not get rid of those grammar schools that remain. But the trouble is that the chances of a child from a poor background getting to a grammar school in those parts of the country where they do survive are shockingly low.

"A Conservative agenda for education will not be about just helping a minority of pupils escape a bad education. We want better schools for all, based on fair admission and fair funding. That is why we are outlining a series of specific measures for driving up standards and expanding the Academies programme begun by Tony Blair."

Directly funded schools is an idea I have always liked, whether they are called 'grant maintained' as they were under John Major or 'City Academies' as they are under Tony Blair.


Anonymous said...

Hi Marcus,

Enlivened (?) by the latest debate I sent the stuff below to central party website. Its a test of your party's communications to see if they let you know !!

Hi Mr. Cameron,
I won't bore you with my history, suffice it to say I had always been a strong supporter the grammar school system until recent personal experience changed my mind.
Against all the predictions from her teachers, tutors and headmistress our 11 year old daughter recently "failed" the 11+. In my opinion she did not fail at all, she just didn't quite get enough marks to secure her one of the 120 places available at the local grammar. One of the reasons for this is the substantial number of pupils from "out-of-borough" that apply. I am told that whilst grammar schools may be "selective" they may not be "restrictive". Under this rule they can therefore "cream-off" the very top talent from the county (even outside as some applicants are I am informed) thereby ensuring the best possible results for themselves, and the worst for the local population. I suggest that this is not what is meant by social mobility.
There are 2 "good" schools in our borough. The grammar and the local church school. Both insist that if your child is to have a chance of a place their school has to be the first choice. Failure to get into either leaves the only alternative of the local comprehensive. This, in a borough of extreme economic deprivation can only struggle to achieve levels of academic success way below the national average.

I believe in parental choice, but here I have none, and this I suggest is due to the "partial" maintenance of "the grammar school system". I'm sure all the brains in your party have it sorted but for simple me it seems that we should either endorse it wholeheartedly, everywhere or get rid of it all together.

Kind regards

Marcus Wood said...

Hi local resident

When I get this passed on to me (if I do I guess it will be in about 2 weeks) I will contact you directly.

There is a problem with this locally and I agree you have a very strong point.

I have a second child coming up to 11 plus and we, like you, fear the consequences if she fails.

My difficulty is I instinctively oppose 'banning' things.

I particularily dislike the idea of banning good schools because others aren't up to scratch.

Surely the right way of dealing with this is to ensure that it makes no difference which school your child gets into? If every local school had excellence there would be less concern about this altogether.

Anonymous said...

Hi again Marcus,

I too dislike the idea of banning good schools merely because others aren't up to scratch. Surely though because the grammar school system is not endorsed by Devon (and Somerset) county councils, we are inundated with applicants from outside the borough.
I know many parents within Torquay with bright children who dare not take the risk of the 11+ because they can't afford the alternatives offered by failure. This system is iniquitous and deprives local children of the chance of benefitting from precisely what the grammar school system is supposed to offer. Of course I agree that the ideal solution is to ensure all schools are up to standard, but long term aims do not satify short term needs.

kind regards

Barrie Wood said...

Local resident you make some valid points. The partial Grammar system in the bay is problematic. It's the worst of all worlds. My wife and I faced the choice of our child either passing the 11+ and securing a place at a Grammar, but if she was unsuccessful then we'd have been left with the least palatable choice in Torquay.

In theory, despite being an ex-Grammar student myself, I fully support the comprehensive ideal but the choice on offer was not between a plethora of good local schools. As such we avoided the 11+ route and, as practicising Christians went for the local Anglican / RC school option.

CM is a 'good school' with good discipline and good results when one bears in mind the Grammar intake elsewhere and it is non-selective in terms of ability.
Indded the chool does much admirable work with [so-called] 'special needs' children.

The first choice is key. Even our 'success' in attaining the church school place was only after an appeal [and we were one of only 3/19 appeals that were so lucky].

I should add I write from the perspective as a parent and not a LD activist.

As for Marcus, this announcement leaves him in a difficult spot. Does he defend the new party direction which many Conservatives and others will be aghast at, or does he speak out against his own party and become more popular with local Tory opinion ?

Where do you stand Marcus ?

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

You commented in your post "a historical debate we lost long ago". As with so many issues, the conservative side of the political spectrum did not lose this debate, it simply failed to fight for what it once believed in. I do not accept for one moment that the Grammar School debate was lost and frankly Conservative Party spinelessness on this issue is the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. The press release today has sparked much debate amongst my friends and family and the upshot of it is that you have lost several votes in the Torbay Constituency at the next General Election.

The degeneration of the Conservative Party into its current state leaves a large part of the electorate effectively disenfranchised. This is not good for the long term health of any democracy and does a great disservice to our Country.


M. Saunders
Long Term Local Resident

Marcus Wood said...

Easy Barry.

I fully support the proposal not to allow any new Grammar Schools; and I strongly support the view that if local residents want to keep the current system in Torbay then they will be allowed to do so.

Having said that I strongly object to the current hotch-potch situation - where some local schools induct their pupils to take the 11+ while others don't. I also strongly resent the system where if your child doesn't get selected at the Grammar School they go to the 'bottom of the pile' so far as second and third choices go.

The real question at the heart of both your points (Barry and Local resident) is that while the political goal is parental choice the reality on the ground is all too often 'no choice' at all.

Worse, it is the less well off who get the least choice; they can't move to a better catchment, they tend not to appeal, and they can't afford the time/cost of a long school run; and they don't have the ultimate opt-out of the middle class of private schools or extra tuiton.

Much depends on getting the much vaunted 'bog standard comprehensive' sorted out properly; that means better discipline, more power and freedom for teachers and more resources - not necessarily for bricks and mortar but for front line teachers.

Marcus Wood said...

Dear Mr Saunders

Thank you for your comment. Clearly I don't want to lose your support, but I have to be honest with you.

You said "As with so many issues, the conservative side of the political spectrum did not lose this debate, it simply failed to fight for what it once believed in"

I coudn't disagree more.

Conservatives pledged to restore Grammar schools in nearly every election we have fought since 1992; we fought for selective education and we lost and lost again.

The right wing have continually promoted selective education at every opportunity but the public increasingly just don't agree.

Over time new a new consensus has emerged. It is a fact that the vast majority of the public no longer wish to see a widespread return to selective education at 11.

Going back to a system we have chosen to abandon - however tempting it might sound - is rarely the answer to our problems.

A new way has to be found to improve educational standards; I think that grant maintained schools, run by parents governors and teachers but open to all are the answer and the statistics tend to agree.

Barrie Wood said...

Just as Labour had to ignore the siren voices on the hard-left the Tories cannot hope to re-run the elections of 97/01/05, just to please right-wing supporters, despite me wishing them to do so. That would be electorally suicide.

However, whether Academies are 'selective' in the way Grammars were / are, is a moot point.

What you do fail to mention Marcus is accountability to the **communities** they serve of many Academies. Governance being taken away from local populace via the governing board and into the hands of the 'Reg Vardys' of this world is not my way forward.

Your penultimate paragraph in your first posting following mine is paramount - there is little 'choice' for many in our poorer communities.

Anonymous said...

This is a very wise move by the Cameron people.

Grammar Schools divide communities and consign the three quarters of kids who don't get in to second-rate education.

Look at the results of Torbay schools, althougfh we have two in the top 100 the rest come out very near the bottom; surely this cannot be a reasonable outcome for such a small authority as ours?

Barrie Wood said...

Selection by ability lives on - irrespective of Cameron's surprising statement.