Thursday, May 31, 2007

In the grammar school debate
One cliche fits most Tories

It seems once again as if, the Conservatives are in self-destruct mode, this time over Grammar Schools, since the announcement the other week by Mr Willetts about his preference for Labour's Academy schools. This infighting must be welcome news to the Labour Party supporters, it will be interesting to see whether the Conservatives, allow this to get out of hand, in the same way that they allowed John Major's government to be destroyed by a simple-minded anti-European minority.

As you will know I personally, believe that grammar schools are divisive and harmful to education in general for two simple reasons. Firstly the selection process is not entirely fair since a significant number of parents either send their children to private schools, to be coached in passing the Kent Test (11 plus) or alternatively pay for additional tuition therefore creating a selection system that benefits the well heeled. Secondly the selection is clearly not ideal since it segregates children for six years offering no incentive for hard work and effort, since if you don't get selected for grammar-school you're given a second-rate education.

Anyway the thing I note is that quite a few Tories Paul Carter the KCC leader, Roger Gale MP, trot out the cliche of not having 'a one-size-fits-all' education system, instead of relying on cliched thinking, I feel it is about time that these great Tory geniuses sighted some significant evidence proving that Kents grammar-school system benefits the whole school population not just a middle-class minority.

What is it, that Conservatives fear, about having a proper comprehensive system which allows children, to be assessed on a yearly basis, rather than its odd system of assessing children at 11then forgetting for six years , to me it's brings to mind the cliche of the Tories being class-ridden, protectionist and selfish.

The stupidity of this debate, is twofold, it's been many years since the last grammar-school was created, and Mr Willetts made no suggestion of improving Kents segregated schools by closing grammar schools, still it's always amusing to see politicians fighting amongst themselves.

From what I can tell Mr Willetts preference for Academy type schools, was to give a fair opportunity, to those of less affluent backgrounds. Obviously such thinking proves that not all Tories fit a one type cliche, clearly an open minded individual for whom I might not have problem in voting for.


  1. Sorry to disagree Tony, but the lines are simply not as straightforward as you have elucidated here. Firstly, as always when anyone debates selection there is the memory of what that meant in the fifies and sixties. Secondly there is the presumption that comprehensive schooling worked, and is not dependant on being able to afford catchment area status. Thirdly there is the presumption that a new form of selection, City Academies, is the answer, when exactly the same types of arguement are able to be used. There is nothing magic about academies, they have longer hours, more resources, better teaching ratios, and thus tend to produce better results(except I believe in Middlesborough, where the academy has not improved results compared to other schools). This is exactly the criticism that used to be levelled at grammar schools, better staff, facilities and teaching ratios. What about those who cannot get into an academy Tony, they are condemned under your outline to a worse education, but as it is a comprehensive one that is alright?

    We have to improve education attainment for all. Some do better in academies, some in comprehensives, many of whom specialist select some pupils these days, some in areas where they survive in grammar schools.

    As a conservative, my duty is to ensure the best schools are there for parents and children to choose from, and let them do the choosing if humanly possible. Right now across the country as a whole, the better schools, of whatever structure, tend to have the whiphand because of over subscription. Our work is surely to eliminate that by making it not so vital to get into the 'good' school and avoid the other.

    Which structure they are built around is much less important than that; and that is what makes Paul Carters condemnation of one size fits all approaches absolutely right. We have tried grammar and high schools, and that works to disadvantage some; we tried comprehensives and that serves to disadvantage some; we are trying city academies, and guess what, that serves to disadvantage some. Juggling who gets disadvantaged this year following the new idea is surely pointless - we must raise standards across the board and be less worried about the emotional spasms of structure; more about the real problems of raising standards.

  2. Chris does his best to defend the indefensible, but truth is that the Kent Tories are caught in a horrible dilema.
    They know, because their education officers tell them that the existance of selection is detremental to the education of 80% of children. It is no accident that some of the worst "sink" schools are in Kent and Buckinghamshire, the two major areas where Grammar Schools remain.
    Schools without sixth forms and with a higher than necessary proportion of special needs will inevitably struggle to attract the best teachers. Experts have found that it can take 2 to three years for a child to overcome the experience of being judged a "failure" at age eleven. Some never do. There is nowhere in the country that has returned to Grammar Schools once they have been abolished.

  3. I am not surprised to hear this from David, as the whole issue is a potential home goal by the conservative leadership nationally - though I would have to add that I know several people outside Kent, ie in areas with no grammar schools, who felt this position enabled them to vote conservative in the future!

    The quoted figures are tosh, I could produce, as Graham Brady did recently as much evidence that points in the opposite direction. Problem is that no one conducts this debate on rational statistics any more. its on pure emotion. Thats why it was a foolish fight to pick, certainly from a kent perspective.

    Perhaps David could comment on how this all began, with Gordon Browns cooling toward academies after a period of 10 years in which costs of education have soared and achievement crawled upward.

  4. tony flaig bignews said...
    Look lets just cut the waffle, on this one, how the hell can the arbitrary selection of children, at one moment in their life, constitute a sensible basis, for the next six years education.

    Mr Willetts, clearly has a conscience, and obviously holds the to an egalitarian approach, unlike many Conservatives as we have seen this week.

    What I suggest Chris Wells might, lobby for is an examination into the practice of special coaching to pass, the wretched Kent Test, that many parents pay for. I am sure that Kent Tories, could find money to fund such an examination, perhaps by preventing ludicrous trips to totalitarian regimes such as China by the county's education department.

    I don't suppose Chris Wells caught, Radio Kent this morning, one news item referring to a Kent school, that confiscated reference works, half way through an examination. Surprisingly this was not a grammar-school where presumably adequate funds are provided for examination materials.

    I can only assume that most, of our 'county Tories' are public schoolboys, who would be oblivious to the county's divisive, failing education system.

    If the Conservative Party ever gave a toss, for education in Kent other than for the favoured few, the years of misery caused by the Ramsgate School would never have happened.

    I cannot recall a Tory ever, complaining about the appalling standard of education in Thanet, why not, because most are able to buy their kids into a better education at our expense.

  5. "I cannot recall a Tory ever, complaining about the appalling standard of education in Thanet, why not, because most are able to buy their kids into a better education at our expense."

    That would probably be out of respect to the schools themselves, which work bloody hard to provide the best education they can...

    I had to catch up on a year of missed primary education to make it to Grammar School. My parents didnt buy me a better education at your expense.

    Brady rightly points out that with grammar school areas, acheivement in all social classes goes up. The socialist arguments are poorly made and are based on generalities. As for successes and failures, failing is a part of life. If a child fails in the 11+ then it should motivate them to work harder next time. They should stop blaming other people.

  6. James This has little to do with socialism and is more about whats right!

  7. All this froth is not just a theoretical arguement here in South Thanet. Local secondary school structures are having to respond to the impact of the Marlowe on a static (perhaps slightly falling) school population. There is the opportunity to restructure due to the Government's Schools for the Future Programme making large investments possible.
    We have the opportunity to cut through all the Grammar/Comprehensive/Secondary Modern crap by moving all four secondary schools onto adjascent sites at Pysons Road. This would allow sharing of resources, shared sixth form, preserve the option of single sex educatiion. Allow movement of pupils and teachers between schools.
    Instead the Tories are moving stealthily towards creating a new sink school on the cheap at Pysons from Ellington and Hereson, by moving Hereson (boys) into buildings designed for Ellington (girls). They will then come foward with expensive plans to create a new Grammar School, probably on the Chatham site.

    Instead of this stealth, lets have a proper debate now.

  8. Fair point David, few except perhaps you or I are brave enough to point out the penalty of having a city academy foisted upon us in an era of falling rolls.

    I am not going to diss your analysis, though it asks for it, but query if you really meant to condemn Ellington and Hereson as sink schools before they have even amalgamated and are working?

    Alittle less emotion and froth and a little more objectivity please, especially as the success of these schools has given Chatham House 6th form some of their best pupils in recent years - but I suppose neither you nor Tony will want to recognise that reality, merely pretend it does not exist for the sake of your debating position. Tut Tut!

  9. Chris, can you honestly tell me that you Tories are about to create a new school at Pysons Road that will compete interms of resources with the Marlowe, or with Charles Dickens/Dane Court, or with Clarendon/Chatham. If you can, then I will withdraw my remark.
    Of course the staff will do their very best as they have in the past.
    As you know, I work at Clarendon. I know that some (a few) of our best pupils have fought their way through from Secondary Modern.
    That only illustrates what a farce selection at 11 is.
    But as I say, by co-locating we can have the best of both, why not take it?

  10. Trouble is, when the Government intervenes, it can only paint with a very broad brush. The Marlowe is a kick up the backside for KCC Tories who have been content to allow the Ramsgate School to fail our youngsters for 20 years.

  11. As Cllr Green knows, you can go to Grammar School at a later time than only through the 11+. Its not like the 11+ is the one and only time you have to make it to Grammar School. I remember a number of students coming to Dane Court through the alternate route than in Year 7.