Teachers ‘almost unanimously’ reject grammar school proposals

Teachers are “almost unanimous” in rejecting government proposals to lift the ban on new grammar schools, according to research by The Fair Education Alliance (FEA), which found four in five opposed the plans.

The survey of more than 2,500 teachers, school leaders and heads also revealed that 80 per cent of the profession did not believe that the 11-plus test, taken to get into selective schools, could reliably measure long term academic potential.

The poll, conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and Teach First on behalf of the FEA, comes days after the government unveiled a green paper on its latest school reforms.

Prime minister Theresa May has said the “ambitious package of education reforms”, which also include new measures making it easier for new faith schools to open and force universities and private schools to play a bigger role in the running of local schools, will help make the country “a true meritocracy”.

Today’s survey followed a public petition launched by the FEA, and adds to the growing list of opposition against the plans which includes at least 12 Conservative MPs.

The poll found that 79 per cent of teachers believe there is no good evidence for increasing selection in education, and 81 per cent believe there is no evidence for opening new grammar schools.

Eighty five per cent also believe a test at age 11 can be “insulated” from non-academic factors such as parental engagement or income.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the survey was “yet more damning evidence against the Tory government’s plan to bring back segregation in schools at 11”.

“School leaders and teachers, the experts that work with children every day, are almost unanimous in their opposition to this regressive step,” she said.

“Theresa May needs to listen to the concerns of the profession, experts and the many members of her own party who oppose this before pushing ahead with a damaging policy that will only help the lucky few at the expense of the vast majority.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said increasing the number of grammar schools would “lower standards and restrict opportunity”.

He added: “We cannot afford such an elitist policy in the twenty-first century – as many students as possible need a high quality academic education. This is a terrible distraction from the issues that matter most.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the ASCL, said the government should focus on getting more teachers into the profession and ensuring there is enough funding instead of “obsessing” about an education policy “plucked from the 1950s”.

A key condition for selective schools expanding under the government proposals will be for them to take on a proportion of pupils from low-income households, in an attempt to drive up educational outcomes “for all” and not just the most abled.

But Brett Wigdortz, chief executive of Teach First, said there are already “great comprehensive schools and academies” which are delivering a “stretching and ambitious education”.

He added: “We must aim to replicate this for every child, not selecting only a few to be supported to succeed, whilst leaving the majority behind.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said grammar schools provided “a good education for their disadvantaged pupils”, adding: “we want more pupils from lower income backgrounds to benefit from that”.

“Our proposals will ensure that any new and existing selective schools will prioritise the admission of disadvantaged pupils and that they support other local pupils in non-selective schools to help drive up educational outcomes.

“As set out in the consultation document, we are clear that relaxing restrictions on selective education can and should be to the betterment, not at the expense, of other local schools.”

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    • Mark Watson

      I read your article. Your whole point about “the bottom 10%” comes from an unidentified “Whitehall source”. It certainly didn’t come from Nick Timothy as your article implies. So it’s not actual Government policy, and given that the original quote came from the TES published on 12 August it doesn’t take into account anything that has happened in the last month.
      So one civil servant with an axe to grind gives a juicy quote to the TES and you’re serving it up as official policy. That’s quality journalism.

        • Mark Watson

          NO IT WASN’T !
          Stop spreading such obvious lies, and have some respect for the people that read these pages.
          I’ve got the article in front of me now. Both the quotes you have attributed to Nick Timothy come from “a Whitehall source”.
          The quote did come after a paragraph that referred to Nick Timothy, but the quote was NOT attributed to him.
          For anyone that’s interested in facts the full extract from the Times article is:
          “It is unlikely they will try to bring in thousands of grammar schools,” the source told the Times Educational Supplement. “Instead it will be a handful here and there, in normal working-class areas. This government will be far less interested in raising the bottom 10 per cent and more concerned about helping low and middle-income families — in-work families with a reliance on public services.”

          • Thank you for pointing out that it was not Nick Timothy. I have corrected the error in my article for the Local Schools Network. It is possible to point out an error without accusing the writer of ‘spreading such obvious lies’. It was a genuine mistake and not intended to deceive.

          • Mark Watson

            I pointed out the error in your article and you came back and specifically reiterated your claim that the Times quote was attributed to Nick Timothy. As far as I can see there are two possibilities:
            1. You knew it was an incorrect statement and wilfully repeated it (aka ‘spreading obvious lies’); or
            2. You didn’t read the Times article properly in the first place before writing your own article, and on having this pointed out you didn’t bother to check the facts but saw fit to repeat the mistaken assertion.
            Is there a third possibility, and if not which of the above two was it?

  1. ‘we are clear that relaxing restrictions on selective education can and should be to the betterment, not at the expense, of other local schools.’ And the evidence is also clear: the earlier selection occurs, the greater the effect of socio-economic background. The presence of a grammar, a ‘centre of excellence’ as the Green Paper refers to them, relegates neighbouring non-grammar, non-selective schools to second tier. The majority of parents will not be chuffed when they find their child has been officially labelled as ‘second-class’, ‘non-elite’ at age 11. And they might just ask why their child isn’t deemed worthy of an excellent standard of education.

  2. Mark Watson

    Shock horror!
    A survey carried out by an organisation which is fundamentally opposed to grammar schools surprisingly says that teachers are against grammar schools.
    I’m really in two minds about whether this is a good idea or not, but one of the things that would help is information/surveys etc from objective and independent bodies who aren’t pushing their own agenda.
    And by the way, how an earth do you get away with saying “almost unanimous” when 20% of the teachers didn’t agree with the statement?

      • Mark Watson

        Do you really think you can just spout such rubbish and not get picked up on it?
        You pick one statistic that you think backs up your opinion and then conveniently forget to put it into context or refer to the others. I went to have a look at the YouGov survey you refer to (remember, you said “YouGov is respected for its objectivity and independence”) and here are some of the other results of their poll:
        62% would get their child to sit a grammar school entrance exam.
        67% would send their child to a grammar school if they passed.
        Only 19% of respondents thought grammar schools are bad for social mobility (as opposed to 35% who think they’re good for social mobility and 27% who thinks they make no difference).
        In relation to the statistic you referred to, yes “only” 38% wanted to create more grammar schools, but this was by far the highest percentage score of the four possible options. A massive 22% said they didn’t know.
        Even more embarrassing for you must have been the results from those people who attended secondary moderns (the ones you refer to above as being for “second class children”) – even from this group the largest percentage (33%) were in favour of more grammar schools, with 13% supporting the status quo and 27% wanting to scrap them.
        So please don’t insult everybody’s intelligence by trying to claim the YouGov survey shows the public are against grammar schools. It doesn’t.

  3. The only reason it matters what teachers think about this is that they are the ones with the real experience of educating children and they usually have a good feel for what works. If large numbers of them have concerns that it won’t work then Justine Greening should be listening – and they will have their chance to respond to the Green Paper which I am sure they and their various representative groups will.

    Suggesting that grammar schools will help the non selective schools is a complete red herring. Firstly it’s been shown that the convertor academies who were expected to help poorly performing local schools almost universally failed to do this in any realistic way so why would we expect it to work between grammar/secondary modern schools? Also, talking about this as school helping school misses the point. This is about the outcomes and experiences for individual children. Giving them at age 11 the message that they have already failed will be immensely damaging to their self belief and confidence. No amount of collaboration between schools will overcome this – it will appear patronising at best, the elite throwing the plebs a few crumbs (a lot like what’s also proposed for the independent sector).

    The fundamental problem Justine Greening has got is that all the evidencen points to collaboration not competition between schools as being the driver of high standards and yet the system is becoming increasingly competetive as it pursues an increasingly marketised and segregated approach to education in the name of diversity and choice.

    I urge Justine to consider the evidence – not just those bits of it that support Theresa May’s unfounded belief in the power of selection. Education policy needs to be based on solid independent research not blind faith. Talking of which, is there anything more ridiculous than trying to argue that allowing faith schools to select 100% of their students on the basis of their parents’ belief will increase inclusion. George Orwell would have loved it.

    • A major review done one behalf of the OECD in 2010 found evidence that market forces including ‘choice’ improved education achievement and efficiency was “fragmented and inconclusive”. In its report on the last round of PISA, the OECD said their findings chimed with other evidence that ‘choice’ doesn’t raise results but does increase the effects of socio-economic background.
      At the same time, a report done in Europe found the earlier selection took place, the greater the effects of socio-economic background.
      As you say, Sarah, it’s collaboration not competition which is the key to helping schools do well. The NAO found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than former interventions such as academy conversion in improving schools. This is the evidence the Government persists in ignoring.