students at grammar school

We could be seeing a return of grammar schools following a new Prime Minister, who attended a comprehensive and grammar school, and a newly appointed Education Secretary who is ‘open minded’ about grammar schools.

Currently, new schools are required to be a free school or academy. During Tony Blair’s term as Prime Minister, there’s been a ban on opening new grammar schools since 1998, due to him opting for the principle of “no selection by test or interview.” With Theresa May having backed a grammar expansion in her own constituency and Justine Greening’s ‘open-minded’ comment, ministers are now pushing for the ban to be overturned.

Grammar schools are selective secondary schools which require students to pass what is known as the 11-plus exam. Whilst some argue that this kind of school permits an elite few, others argue that they allow for greater social mobility.

Parents and carers think of grammar schools as having high standards and therefore, by association, believe they offer a ‘better’ education. They allow poorer students, access to a more private-like education, that they otherwise might not be able to afford with fee paying schools. They create a sense of pride and achievement for those that are accepted and teachers are less likely to have to cater for such diverse ability in one class. There is the argument however, that diversity in ability is an effective teaching and learning tool.

The social mobility argument has come under criticism, as it is the poorer students who are less likely to be selected. An investigation by Newsnight policy editor Chris Cook found that poor children perform worse in terms of their GCSE results in areas where there is selection. Research by Policy Exchange also shows that, as of 2012, just three of the 164 remaining grammar schools had 10% or more pupils eligible for free school meals.

There are also concerns about the stress the 11-plus caused primary children are reminiscent of the recent worries over the KS1 and KS2 SATs and over-testing.

Whatever the outcome, it is encouraging that Justine Greening is thinking about the possible move from a modern perspective: “I think we need to be able to move this debate on and look at things as they are today, and maybe step away from a more old-fashioned debate around grammar schools and work out where they fit in today’s landscape.”

Share your thoughts – should we be focusing on establishing the current changes, rather than adding another element to the mix?

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