National Grammar Schools Association
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May 2011

NGSA News - Newsletter of the National Grammar Schools Association

The good news…

Research  for The Sunday Times (6 February 2011) has found that grammar schools not only produce the best A-level results, they do it at less cost too.  The study compared A-level results and the costs of each 100 A-level points achieved at more than 1,600 state secondary schools.  A useful table is available on The Sunday Times website, though a subscription is required – see http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Education/article535115.ece

On 9 May, The Daily Telegraph reported that the Reverend John Witheridge, headmaster of Charterhouse School,  was making a speech saying that the abolition of  academic selection in most of England’s state system has led to ‘a loss of opportunities at both ends of the spectrum’.  The introduction of mixed ability schooling, he said, was a ‘regrettable and damning political step, inspired not by good educational practice, sense or experience, but by socialist dogma’. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8493158/Schoolchildren-being-failed-by-comprehensive-education.html

There are moves in Reading local authority to enforce a parental ballot to decide whether or not Kendrick (girls’) and Reading (boys’) Grammar Schools should continue as grammar schools or turn into comprehensives.  Needless to say, this vindictive action will distract and destabilise two of the best performing state schools in the country. 

If you would like to help, please email or write to your MP to explain that politicians will never help the under-privileged by destroying the best schools.  The best way to help youngsters from poor backgrounds is to increase opportunity by allowing more places in existing grammar schools and new grammar schools to open in areas where they don’t currently exist – with entry objectively decided on the basis of  a voluntary 11-plus selection test. 

For useful factual information in support of grammar schools, please see the ‘NGSA Briefing’ in the  ‘Articles’ section at www.ngsa.org.uk

Massive demand for grammar school places

Although none of the 3 largest political parties officially supports grammar schools, demand from parents and their children is undoubtedly increasing.  For example, Wallington High School for Girls  in Sutton, Surrey has had 1,452 voluntary applications to take its 11-plus selection test.   Of these, 645 children scored above the selective cut-off point – ie ‘passed’ the test. But because the school has only 180 places to offer, 465 girls took, and ‘passed’, the voluntary 11-plus, but could not be offered a place in the school of their choice – see ‘Bright pupils turned away by grammars’, Sunday Express, 30 May: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/249478/Bright-pupils-turned-away-by-grammars.  And these are just girls.  No doubt the area has a similar number of boys in the same situation.

And although Mrs Barbara Greatorex, the head of Wallington High, has the space and plans to expand, in common with many other grammar schools, she does not have the necessary funding.

The NGSA recently received a letter from Mrs Marie McGurin, the parent of a child in Maidenhead who had achieved the required marks in her 11-plus and lives within the catchment area. However,  she has been refused a place at William Borlase’s Grammar School, less than 5 miles from the family home. Meanwhile, it appears that 19 other children, who did not achieve the required 11-plus marks, have been offered places on appeal.  In a letter to Buckinghamshire local authority, NGSA chairman Robert McCartney QC has described the situation as ‘unconscionable’.

This cruel and unfair situation is caused entirely by leading politicians such as David Cameron, Michael Gove, Nick Gibb, David Willetts and Nick Clegg. Thanks to their limits on grammar school places,  and their refusal to allow more grammar schools, many hundreds of bright, enterprising youngsters each year are compelled to accept places in ordinary comprehensive schools, or (comprehensive) academy schools, where results may be dreadful and pupils may be expected to study the Spice Girls (yes, its true!) instead of decent literature. But how does that help the youngsters concerned, or their families?  Or social mobility, for that matter?  

(Current proposals to allow some expansion of grammar school places are a welcome acknowledgement of demand. They will help, but cannot possibly solve the problem. What about 4 out of 5 local authority areas in England, where there are no grammar schools to expand? )

Academy status?  We still recommend caution

The pressure for grammar schools to become academies is now very strong with promises of massive increases in funding and the prospect of increased salaries for academy headteachers.

Of course, the NGSA fully supports increased funding and autonomy for schools. But we still recommend that grammar schools exercise extreme caution before they change their status.  It is now around 8 months since ministers and the Department for Education began to publish detailed information concerning grammar schools that become academies.  Yet for some reason, there is still nothing in writing that can properly justify a grammar school becoming an academy with absolute certainty that its unique status will be maintained in the medium to long term.

The summary below, from a recent discussion at an NGSA committee meeting, may be useful for parents, governors, heads and teachers:

1) An academy trust could be controlled by only two directors and only one parent representative is required. This is less democratic than the current requirements for representation on governing bodies.

2) The selective schools’ annex to the academy funding agreement is not as specific as the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act about who can and cannot vote in a ballot to end selection in a grammar school that becomes an academy. Why is it necessary to encourage disruptive ballots in the first place? Also, the 1998 Act is primary legislation approved by Parliament, not a mere 7-year agreement that any education minister may change at any time.

3) Although, at present, the financial benefits of academy status appear attractive, they are entirely speculative. Schools are currently facing budget cuts, even though ministers had promised that front-line funding would not be cut. But no-one knows whether the anticipated funding for academies will remain at the promised level in future – that too could easily be cut next year. Furthermore, when staff costs make up 80%-plus of a school’s budget and because ministers have failed first to address ever increasing, over-generous teachers’ pay, conditions and pensions, academies could, in future, be looking at a financial time-bomb: hugely increasing staff costs combined with reduced funding from central government.

4) The requirement that ownership or control of land and property currently held by ancient trusts must be legally transferred to the new academy trust could make full nationalisation of all schools easier in future. Academy trusts are controlled by the Charity Commission which, in turn, is controlled by politicians. Political control and the regulatory requirements of the Charity Commission are already compelling some private schools to consider surrendering their charitable status in order to retain their independence.

5) It is important to remember that any academy judged to be failing reverts to full control by central government and the Department for Education. (A grammar school should not find itself in the position, but a federated school may do so.)  

A grammar school cannot be comprehensive

On 8 March 2011, Caitriona Ruane, who was then Northern Ireland’s education minister,  approved a proposal to discontinue academic selection at Loreto College, one of the province’s 68 existing grammar schools. In a press release issued by the Northern Ireland Department for Education, Ms Ruane suggested that other grammar schools wishing to end academic selection could still remain grammar schools, which, of course, is nonsense – a grammar school is officially defined by its selection process. Without that, it is a comprehensive school.

Following the elections in May, Ms Ruane has been replaced as education minister by Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, another vehemently anti-grammar school ‘progressive’. Nevertheless, despite the complacency of leading Conservative politicians and official hostility from the Catholic Church, all except two of Northern Ireland’s grammar schools are standing firm. They continue to offer their own voluntary 11-plus tests, which parents continue to support in large numbers – as, of course, they do in England.

Has your school considered the Cambridge Pre-U?   

Cambridge Pre-U courses are two-year linear courses, meaning that all the examinations are at the end of the two years. It is available in 27 subjects which are all accredited by Ofqual and funded for use in the UK. Approximately 120 schools are now offering Cambridge Pre-U subjects and the system is very flexible, with schools using many different models of adoption. Further information is available at www.cie.org.uk (then navigate to Pre-U page) or directly at http://www.cie.org.uk/qualifications/academic/uppersec/preu/index_html

And finally…

If you haven’t already done so, please record your support for grammar schools by joining our Campaign for Choice or signing up as a Friend at the bottom of the NGSA’s homepage at www.ngsa.org.uk.   We are currently developing a system of emailed news updates from our various lists. If you are not already receiving these and would like to do so, please ensure you sign up on our website. Or send an email directly to ngsa-news@PeachGrey.co.uk

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