National Grammar Schools Association
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May 2006

NGSA News - Newsletter of the National Grammar Schools Association

Important notice

Only in the weird world of politics would anyone consider destroying the best performing schools in the state education system, ostensibly in order to raise standards in schools that are failing their pupils. But that is what is threatened. Instead of leaving the best to continue their outstanding work, and concentrating every effort on improving under-performing schools, many politicians are determined to destroy forever some of the best schools in the country.

So if you wish to support and promote grammar schools, please give five minutes of your time to complete and submit the survey form on our website: Please ask your relatives and friends to do so too – we need several thousand individual supporters to demonstrate to politicians that grammar schools are a popular and vital element in the state education system.


Seventy per cent want more grammar schools

An ICM opinion poll carried out in March for the National Grammar Schools Association found a majority of more than 2 to 1 oppose moves by politicians to undermine or abolish England's remaining 164 grammar schools. 61% of those questioned oppose attacks on grammar schools by politicians and only 27% support them. 12% didn't know.

ICM also asked respondents whether or not they would support the introduction of new grammar schools, especially in urban areas where none currently exist. A remarkable 70% of those questioned would support the setting up of new grammar schools and only 21% opposed the idea. 9% didn't know.

The answers to these two questions clearly illustrate how out of touch the majority of politicians are with public opinion. Is it any wonder fewer and fewer people bother to vote?

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1006 adults aged 18+, by telephone between and 13 and 14th March 2006. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at

Yet now is a time of great danger

The government's new Education and Inspection Bill is now proceeding through Parliament. In the form it was originally published, it did not contain a major threat to England's remaining 164 grammar schools.

Nevertheless, several MPs did put forward an amendment to abolish all selection for school places on the grounds of high academic ability, though what is euphemistically termed 'fair banding' would still have been allowed. If it had been approved, this amendment would have effectively destroyed all the remaining grammar schools. Fortunately, it was rejected in the House of Commons, though it could possibly re-appear in the House of Lords as the Bill proceeds through Parliament this summer.

To appease left-wing MPs, the Bill already makes the government's proposed Code of Practice on Admissions statutory instead of advisory. This, in itself, could undermine grammar schools, but it will not be terminal.

At present, the 'draft skeleton code' helpfully says it is 'good practice' for 'grammar and other schools which are permitted to use selection by ability or aptitude, or their admission authorities, to ensure that parents are informed of the outcome of entry tests before they make their applications for other schools'. It also says that 'first preference first' (when schools offer places only to youngsters who list the school as their first preference) is 'normally to be considered to be poor practice'.

These good points, however, are undermined by a stipulation that "where all admission authorities in an authority with no selection by ability decide to adopt a 'first preference first' coordination scheme, this is acceptable practice". So what happens when families cross LEA boundaries to find the school of their choice, as many do?

With state education in turmoil, too many hostile politicians, a subversive Department for Education and Skills, and badly-managed LEAs that are envious of any form of excellence, perceptive observers believe this is one of the most dangerous times ever for grammar schools. So please email or write to national and local politicians and urge them to defend parental choice and (voluntary) academic selection.

Northern Ireland's grammars under imminent threat

A statutory instrument (Parliamentary regulations), blandly entitled The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, has now been published by ministers in Westminister. If approved, this will destroy Northern Ireland's 69 grammar schools by outlawing all academic selection.

The Order will have other damaging effects. Because it is largely the product of educational bureaucrats employed by our Department of Education and Skills in Westminster, and like-minded ideologues employed by the Department for Education (Northern Ireland), it is a blueprint for enforcing 'progressive' ideology throughout the state system. Once the model has been tried and 'improved' in Northern Ireland, it will almost certainly be exported to England.

The Order will turn curriculum subjects into 'contributory elements' which will be subsumed into 'areas of learning' with 'minimum content'. The contributory elements include 'media education', 'local and global citizenship' and 'personal development'. All secondary schools, regardless of the requirements or wishes of their pupils, will be compelled to make provision for one third of the curriculum to be academic, one third vocational, and one third at the discretion of the school. So, if the Order is approved in Parliament, even highly academic youngsters will be spending at least a third of their lesson time on vocational courses or 'work experience', almost certainly at the expense of their academic work.

All this is clearly intended to reduce the overall exam performance achieved by Northern Ireland's excellent state schools – and avoid invidious comparisons with the systematic failures of many schools in England. For example, a Parliamentary Question by James Clappison MP, answered on 9 February, reveals that in 2003-04, 60% of all pupils in Northern Ireland achieved 5 or more A*-C grade GCSEs and 51% achieved A*-C grades in English and maths. Needless to say, these results shame the average results achieved in England, and especially the results in many LEAs where there are no grammar schools.

Meanwhile, the National Grammar Schools Association is doing everything possible to prevent this vandalism. Our Annual General Meeting in January this year was combined with a conference in London, mainly to discuss the Northern Ireland situation. We were delighted to welcome several leading figures from Northern Ireland's grammar school community with whom we made plans for even closer co-operation and possible legal action to defend existing grammar schools, if necessary.

We were also delighted to hear that the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (Northern Ireland), which is supported by Robert McCartney QC, is raising funds to defend their schools in court, if necessary. More information at or from Stephen Elliott in Belfast, Tel. 02890 293788.

Grammars remain on top

Education ministers and their officials at the Department for Education and Skills regularly manipulate exam league tables to protect under-performing schools and LEAs. Instead of using raw results, officials are forever dreaming up new ways of producing 'value-added' or 'contextually value-added' tables in order to narrow the gap between the best and the worst performers. This manipulation of raw results almost always disadvantages grammar schools and makes under-performing schools appear better than they are.

Yet despite attempts to spin the truth, the gap between the performance of grammar schools and comprehensive schools is widening, according to league tables published at the end of March (Daily Mail, 30 March). These league tables record the average performance of pupils in different schools in national tests for 14-year-olds. And they measure the 'value-added' by schools between the ages of 11 and 14.

Although grammar schools only account for 5% of all state secondary schools, in these particular league tables, there were 86 grammar schools among the top-performing 100 secondary schools. Last year there were 82 grammars among the top 100, so grammar schools are improving their performance compared with other types of school.

The figures also showed that some grammar schools are squeezing the equivalent of four terms of extra learning out of their pupils between the ages of 11 and 14 on top of what might be expected. Under the 'value-added' system, schools whose pupils did as well as expected in the national tests were rated at 100. Each point above or below 100 is equivalent to approximately one term's learning gained or lost. The average score for comprehensive schools was 99.51, for secondary modern schools it was 99.55 and for grammar schools it was 101.97. So the average 'value-added' achieved by grammar schools was roughly equivalent to two terms of extra learning.

Next NGSA Annual Conference/AGM

Our next annual conference for parents, governors, heads and teachers will be on Saturday 4 November 2006 at Stratford upon Avon Grammar School for Girls. Details and booking forms will be sent out as soon as possible, so please make a note in your diaries.

Associate membership

Parents, governors, teachers or anyone else who wishes actively to support and promote grammar schools is invited to become an Associate Member of the National Grammar Schools' Association. Full details and an application form are on the website:

And finally...

Soon after the government's education White Paper was published as a prelude to this summer's Education and Inspection Bill, a group of Labour MPs and their allies who are fundamentally opposed to genuine parental choice and grammar schools, published an Alternative White Paper. The Alternative White Paper even opposed the government's very limited proposals to allow schools a little more autonomy and parents a little more choice!

However, the Reform think-tank's email Bulletin (27 February 2006), commented on the Alternative White Paper as follows:

'Those Labour MPs who have opposed the reforms outlined in the [education] White Paper have the least reason to oppose change. Analysis by Reform has shown that of the 91 MPs who signed up to the Alternative White Paper, 75 per cent represent English constituencies with GCSE results below the national average. Analysis by Professor Philip Cowley has shown that over half attended selective education (with a third attending grammar schools and a fifth attending independent schools).'

More information at