National Grammar Schools Association
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GSHA: the things they say and where they lead...

After failing to take over the long-established National Grammar Schools' Association (NGSA) using the anti-democratic technique of entryism, a small group of headteachers separated from the NGSA and formed the Grammar School Heads' Association (GSHA) in 2009. But why should they want to weaken or destroy the NGSA, whose primary purpose is to defend and promote grammar schools. The GSHA charges around £500 a year for membership, which comes out of the school's budget, funded by taxpayers. For whose benefit? The GSHA claims the support of governors, but has this additional expenditure always been formally approved in governors' minutes?    

The things they say...

'Some of you have expressed concerns...that the organisation [NGSA] is being used as a vehicle to express right wing views which are not helping the Grammar Schools cause.'
Letter to grammar school heads from GSHA treasurer, David  Wheeldon, April 2008.
(Question: since when was it 'rght wing' publicly to defend the existence of grammar schools?)

‘If it works locally for a grammar school to become an academy [which at that time had to be comprehensive], that is a decision to be made locally. Gradual evolution is fine.’
GSHA chairman Shaun Fenton, Times Educational Supplement, 3 July 2009.
(Question: doesn't this show a disturbing lack of commitment to the grammar school cause?)

"Children from poor homes should be given priority over the middle classes in admissions to top state schools, according to the chairman of the newly-formed Grammar Schools Heads' Association. Shaun Fenton said children from disadvantaged backgrounds should go to the front of the queue for places to boost their numbers at grammars... Mr Fenton suggested that poorer pupils could be treated in the same way as children in care, who have to be shown preference when popular schools are over-subscribed.  'Grammar schools exist to serve social mobility...', [he] insisted."   Daily Mail, 4 July 2009
(Question: we all want social mobility but should it take precedence over academic standards?)  

'The NGSA criticises our Association for not taking a stand on the proposals that St Bernard’s Grammar Slough be incorporated into a [comprehensive] Academy. St Bernard’s is a Roman Catholic School and the proposal to form an Academy is supported by the Roman Catholic Diocesan Board. In such circumstances it is inappropriate that a Professional body should make comment.' 
Written statement by GSHA secretary Barry Sindall, October 2009.
(Question: why should it be 'inappropriate' for the GSHA to defend the existence of the schools it claims to represent and what about the views of parents, who have never been consulted?)

'Our work is professional and non political...We wish to inform the development of educational policy for the future.'
Statement by GSHA co-chairman Shaun Fenton on their website,  May 2010.
(Question: so one week before the general election, why did several GSHA leaders sign a letter to The Daily Telegraph (27 April 2010) supporting Conservative proposals to allow all schools to become academies?  When educational policy is controlled by politicians, how can its development be 'non political'?   

And where they lead...

'[Parents] were furious when their children were given a place at the new Tunbridge Wells Academy...[instead of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School], despite having passed their 11-plus. [Parents] are also angry  that [children] missed out on spots at Weald of Kent Grammar School, instead being offered places at The Skinners Kent Academy.', 7 June 2010
(Question: how helpful is this to responsible parents or grammar schools, especially when GSHA co-chairman Simon Everson is head of The Skinners (Grammar) School in Tunbridge Wells, which is the 'lead sponsor' in academies that are denying parents and children their choice of a grammar school? When children have taken and 'passed' a voluntary 11-plus, what could be more cruel than to deny them a place at the school of their choice?)

It should also be noted that in 2007, some grammar school heads tried to prevent the NGSA and parents from publicly defending Boston Grammar School for boys against federation and possible closure. It is easy to see why: later that year, the then head of Boston Grammar School is said to have received a £200,000 redundancy payment after he had helped to enforce a 'hard federation' with Boston High School for girls, even though he was nearing retirement age. After the federation, in September 2009, only 69 boys were given places out of a possible 112. Between 2008 and 2009, the percentage of boys achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths fell from 99% to 83% – a 16% drop in a single year.
(Question: for whose benefit – for the school and its pupils or the headteacher concerned?) 

On its website, the GSHA promotes several 'progressive' innovations including 'learning walks', 'personalised learning', 'deep learning', 'metacognition', 'thematic' and 'cross-curricular study', the 'thinking student' and 'sustainability' (as a subject for study?).  Already some grammar school heads have become the 'executive head' of a grammar school and a non-selective/comprehensive school. (The position of 'executive head'  carries an increased salary, though it has no official status.) Others 'give support' to local comprehensive schools, while others run Exclusion Units and Pupil Referral Units as well as a grammar school. The danger, of course, is that such extra-mural activities are likely to distract heads from their primary purpose, almost certainly at the expense of their own grammar school, its staff and its pupils.

/10 June 2010.

Education secretary Michael Gove has recently announced that grammar schools can become academies and retain their selective admission arrangements, but only if they merge or federate with underperforming schools or give help in other ways.   
On 18 June 2010, Mr Gove's criteria for his new parent-run, taxpayer-funded 'free' schools were published.  On the question of whether grammar schools would be allowed to become 'free' schools and retain selection based on academic ability, the answer is:   
'No. Free Schools will be required to follow fair, transparent and inclusive admissions policies in line with the Admissions Code. We have set out provision in the Academies Bill to allow established state grammar schools to convert to academy status. This allows them to retain, but not extend their existing admissions arrangements' (emphasis added).

This restriction re-enforces a damaging ratchet effect: the number of 11-year-olds allowed places in grammar schools can be reduced, but the door is firmly closed against expansion. This direction of travel can only be detrimental to genuine choice and standards. What is 'free' about that?    
/19 June 2010.