Don’t risk children’s potential with grammar school expansion, Bousted warns

Justine Greening risks squandering the “talents and potential” of children and condemning them to a sense of self “undermined by failure and exclusion” with the expansion of selection in England, Mary Bousted has warned.

The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said although Greening, the education secretary, was “far more competent, far less ideological” than her predecessor Michael Gove, she is having a “huge policy error foisted upon her” which is “hugely damaging”.

Greening has led the charge on new grammar schools, but Schools Week understands the policy itself is being driven from Downing Street, where Theresa May’s chief of staff and selection evangelist Nick Timothy also heads the Department for Education’s selective education team.

The facts of the matter are if you are a child of poor parents, you are disproportionately unlikely to get into a grammar school

Bousted said her union had spent “a deal of time and energy” using evidence to argue that an increase of selection at 11 “will do nothing to help social mobility”, but said the argument sometimes struggles to get through to parents.

“The problem we have when we make this argument is this: when parents hear about grammar schools they believe that their children will pass the 11-plus and get the best education on offer.

“But the facts of the matter don’t support this belief. The facts of the matter are if you are a child of poor parents, you are disproportionately unlikely to get into a grammar school. Even if you are the academically able child of poor parents, you are disproportionately unlikely to get into a grammar school – even if you live near one.”

Bousted warned that nobody had yet managed to invent a fully tutor proof 11-plus test, and said the children of poorer parents who could not afford the additional support would lose out.

“Look at Kent, which introduced a new tutor-proof 11-plus test in 2014 – which resulted in a drop of only one per cent in privately educated pupils passing the 11-plus.

“Or look at Buckinghamshire where a new tutor-proof 11-plus was introduced in 2013 which saw the pass rate for pupils from state school drop from 23 to 20 per cent.”

Bousted said that if Greening was “really serious about social mobility”, she would not “squander the talents and potential of children, condemning them, aged 11, to a sense of self undermined by failure and exclusion”.

“You will not risk their future potential as engineers, designers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, by telling them that they are not academically able and that their future should be circumscribed by their failure to pass a test they were not prepared for and which says so little about their potential. Our children are too precious, too valuable, to be treated like this.”

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  1. Helen Farrell

    The problem is that we are being too squeamish about setting out the damage that will be done to our children by this policy. In all the selective counties children are doing worse in secondary moderns than they would in comprehensives. I know why we don’t want to do this – because it seems we are blaming teachers in secondary moderns when we know that the damage is done by the selection process itself. But this can’t be a reason not to tell parents the truth about this policy.

    We also need to focus heavily on the fact that all comprehensives are under threat because all power will be given to those who want grammars – and these people will not care if setting up their desired grammar destroys a fabulous comprehensive school in the process.

    Every Headteacher in the country needs to send out a letter to parents explaining the damage that will be done to their school if it becomes a secondary modern. Tie it in with the funding crisis and show how many better ways there are of using the money that will be wasted on this Then they need to get together with other local schools to declare publicly that they will not be seeking to become a grammar. Schools in Windsor have done just this, why can’t this extend throughout the country? They need to organise petitions among their parents which can be used to establish that parents in an area do not wish to convert their comprehensive schools into grammars and secondary moderns. Let us make it absolutely clear that this attempt to return us to a failed system is NOT what parents wish for.