National Grammar Schools Association
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6 November 2008

Meeting with Michael Gove MP, Shadow Education Secretary



In the run up to the Election, the N.G.S.A. intends to significantly increase its public profile in support of the maintenance of the existing grammar schools, and the creation of new ones in areas where there is an absence of such and a patent parental demand for their provision. The N.G.S.A. is anxious to ascertain the Conservative Party’s position and its likely manifesto on both the principle of differentiated education based on selection and the future of grammar school education.

A selective system affords to every child, regardless of social status, an opportunity to enjoy an academic education on merit, determined by testing. The Party’s document "Repair Plan for Social Reform" para. 2.2.3 opines that a high standard of education is the best route to social mobility. The demerits of the present system of comprehensive education are then exemplified including the threat to the nation’s future economy. Why does the Party shy away from endorsing and supporting the academic excellence of the grammar schools based on selection upon merit?

Teaching by traditional methods we endorse, but that is not the current mode in either the Comprehensives or the Academies. The latter share the experience of the former – a few excellent, the majority sub par.

This is essentially Marxist in origin. The Conservative Party appears to at least tacitly adopt this and attempts to ameliorate its baleful effects by a series of essentially administrational reforms which fail to address the central issues.

The B.S.F. programme is concerned with amalgamation of smaller schools. The N.G.S.A. agrees that Bigger Schools do not work. But a rapid expansion of smaller schools ignore:-

Where will the New Heads with the required leadership skills come from? Smaller Schools have lower heads' salaries. Smaller Schools have serious limitations in the range of subjects offered.

The Swedish Experience is unlikely to offer a solution for the inner city schools where current problems are most acute. Sweden is much smaller and less class conscious than Britain. Its essential single class structure offers better discipline and greater pupil respect for adult authority both of teacher and parent.

If these schools are non-selective they will have an all ability intake ranging from those requiring remedial teaching to pupils capable of A star A Level results in the tougher subjects. Leaving size apart, they will be mini comprehensives, albeit with less political control. Comprehensives, to work, require very large schools to cater for the range of abilities that their intake entails.

Almost every virtue claimed for the policy objectives of the Party as set out in the “Repair” document are already to be found in the existing Grammar Schools:-

An ethos of academic and scientific achievement
Good discipline and respect for teachers
Traditional teaching methods
The best results: 164 Grammar = to 1,500 Comprehensives in A and B grade A- Level results in difficult subjects
An appropriate size 800/1000 pupils
Acceptance of entrants of all classes on merit testing
A proven ladder of upward social mobility.

Does the Party support free parental choice? If yes, then will it amend the 1998 Education Act to allow parents the same rights to have a Grammar School in their area, as it allows for parents to ballot for a Comprehensive to replace a Grammar School.

Will it ensure that in relation to funding per pupil the Grammar

Schools will broadly receive pro-rata financial provision as is given to Comprehensives.

Will it support a policy that compensates the loss of Grammar School places in one area due to falling rolls, with the expansion of existing school places in areas where there is an increasing demand for places, viz. East and West Kent.

Selection and the Grammar Schools have suffered from Labour propaganda that they are elitist and discriminatory. Yet all research and the empirical experience of educationalists and academics including Lord Adonis confirm that upward social mobility has significantly declined with the expansion of the comprehensive system. An all ability intake policy viewed nationally is inconsistent either with improving standards or social mobility. However schools are described or sized, if they are all ability they will suffer from the same defects. Research has established beyond doubt that border line children as a smaller percentage of the Grammar School total intake invariably improve their performance, while brighter children as the smaller proportion of an all ability intake tend to regress.

Northern Ireland which has a differentiated system of 69 Grammar Schools and Secondary Modern Schools and no independent schools has results the envy of every other part of the United Kingdom. In addition, some 42% of the students it sends to university are from the lower income groups as opposed to the 28% from the same groups sent by the more allegedly egalitarian Comprehensives in England.

It is a matter of some disappointment to the N.G.S.A. that the Conservative Party, faced with the excellent results of the Grammar Schools, has made a virtue out of emphasising the non-selective character of its school proposals. Instead it appears to be adopting the Academy Route chosen by Tony Blair as an escape route from the depressing consequences of comprehensive education. If thought and resources were put into policies for identifying intellectually capable children within the disadvantaged sectors and counselling their parents about the procedures for gaining entrance to selective schools including additional tuition to balance the advantages of middle class children, then social mobility and justice would inevitably follow.

Robert McCartney Q