Thursday, 3 September 2009

Education, education, education...

Melissa Benn's condemnation of the 11-plus, as always, comes with the best of intentions. With fox-hunting gone, there are few issues remaining that have the totemic power to flare the passions between Left and Right. However, she, Fiona Millar and Comprehensive Future make three crucial mistakes.

The first is that they have won the argument politically. While none of the three main parties are committed to selection on academic ability, selection upon the grounds of parental wealth, geography, religious faith and interview technique continues. All of these are surely less equitable than testing upon ability. Surely, if selection is to be ended, Comprehensive Future would be better using its energies against these discrepancies, rather than a smattering of remaining grammars?

Secondly, they allow ideology to trump good practice. If an LEA wishes to continue with a selective system, then to dictate from Westminster that it may not do so, regardless of the views of local people, seems to go against the progressive spirit. We see the apotheosis of this in Northern Ireland. There a reticent community is being forced, by a woman who educates her own children in Eire, to renege upon a system that consistently delivers the best GCSE, A-level, and Oxbridge entry rates in the UK. Why this system is to be torn down few can say, especially given that Ulster's secondary moderns outperform Britain's comprehensives, thwarting the argument that little value is added.

Lastly, they do not consider what the effects of their actions are. Rather it seems, they consider only what they would wish them to be. The effect of comprehensive education has not been to make every school a grammar, it has been to make every school a secondary modern. The result has been to push the best grammars not into state control, but into the private sector, the opposite of the progressive aim. Far from bringing about a classless society, the comprehensive system has entrenched class status, and protected the middle class children of journalists who eulogise it from the clever poor. The rich pay the fees for private school, the middle classes move to a good catchment area. Only the poor are condemned.

I do not doubt the author's zeal, nor that of her compatriots. I merely invoke the law of unforseen circumstances. It is often the cry of these groups that we must care about the education of the many, not the few. I concur. Fix the comprehensive system, and then we may debate about Kent and Trafford.

1 comment:

Joanne Bartley said...

This seems to be post lacking in evidence. London's comprehensive system outdoes any selective area. England achieved better in Pisa rankings than Northern Ireland. Perhaps this poster was looking at the NI's stat's on grammar fan's Peter Hitchens blog? He has admitted he got those wrong.

This post seems to assume that every education professional who speaks out against selection is a fool. There are many who speak out, and they have are speaking with the best interests of children at heart.

I live in Kent and myself and other parents suffer a system that we can not get rid off. It is awful to see the divisive affects, having lived in a comprehensive area with good schools open to all.

It is ironic that May's grammar school plan fixes the social selectivity of grammar schools with rules that poorer children must be allowed in. If she did the same for every school in the country house price selection would be ended overnight.

The comprehensive system has come on leaps and bounds, and I fear that this poster has not looked at the best schools in the country based on pupil progress. They are not grammar schools, which only succeed by turning pupils away, the best schools these days are comprehensives.

Perhaps this poster should learn a little about the best modern schools before he posts something without a shred of evidence to prove his points.

My daughter is stuck in a secondary modern, and everyone I know pays £1000+ for tutors. Give me a comprehensive area any day of the week.