National Grammar Schools Association
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Bad news from Brighton… and elsewhere

5th October 2004

Extracts from a BBC News report dated 29 September 2004:

School selection 'to be reduced'
The government says it is going to take steps to reduce selection within the education system in England.

In a question-and-answer session with Labour conference delegates in Brighton, Mr Clarke [the education secretary] was challenged more than once on the issue of selection - which also sees children in some areas having the option of taking an 11-plus exam for grammar school places.

Mr Clarke said he believed the 11-plus was "quite the wrong way for anybody to be chosen to go to school in any way whatsoever. It does a disservice to all the children who go through that system." But he said there were "political issues" around the subject which – in Gloucester for instance – "generated tremendous power". [Plans by Labour and Lib-Dem councillors in Gloucester to reduce the number of grammar school places have been opposed by 82% of respondents to the ‘consultation’.]

He added: "I know it is controversial with some colleagues in the party and I can give the assurance however that we are moving, in response to the education select committee, to reduce the aspects of selection in the system. We steadily have to reduce it and that is the right way for us to go."

Later he said the response to the select committee "will have the effect of reducing the impact of selection within the system". That would be "in the fairly near future", he added.

On 3 October 2004, The Sunday Times reported that of the 17,000 pupils who achieved 3 As at A-level in 2002, 38% of them came from independent schools, 16% from grammar schools, 27.5% from ordinary state comprehensives and 13.6% from state sixth form colleges. So the very small proportion of youngsters educated in independent and grammar schools account for more than half those gaining 3 As at A-level. Hardly surprising, then, that only 57.6% of Cambridge University’s student intake is from state schools. By contrast, at Queen’s University, Belfast, where the school system has up to now been largely selective, almost 100% of the students come from state schools. Nevertheless, in pursuit of its policies for ‘inclusion’, the government’s new ‘fair access regulator’ for England and Wales will soon be able to fine universities up to £500,000, or withdraw their funding, if they offer places based on academic merit and fail to discriminate against high-achieving applicants from the best (independent or state) schools in favour of less well-qualified applicants from ineffective state schools.

On 4 October 2004, The Daily Telegraph reported that parents in Reading who want to send their child to a grammar school may end up with a ‘sink’ comprehensive under Government changes to school admissions procedures. These changes give more powers to Local Education Authorities and reduce individual schools’ influence over their admissions. So if parents nominate either of Reading’s single-sex grammar schools as their first preference, instead of the town’s only successful comprehensive school, failure to win a place at a grammar school will probably mean their child is destined for a ‘sink’ school. Rob Wilson, the Tory education spokesman on Labour-controlled Reading council, said: ‘In trying for the best, [families] could end up with the worst…This is detrimental to the grammar schools and detrimental to parental choice.’ Tim Charlesworth, chairman of education on the neighbouring Tory-controlled Wokingham council, said: ‘This is a Labour Party attempt to weaken grammar school education by a back door route. Having failed to win the argument against grammar schools in public, it is now resorting to deceit.’