CROYDON COMMENTARY: The idea that a new secondary school, run as an “annex” of a Sutton grammar, would improve education in Croydon is wrong, according to one local teacher*
Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, in his Croydon Commentary earlier this week, makes a number of ill-informed, misleading and politically blinkered arguments in support of his divisive proposition to re-introduce academically selective education into Croydon.
Much evidence exists to demonstrate that grammar schools produce the very opposite of the social mobility that he claims for the 11-plus system. Selection at age 10 favours the children of those families with enough income to pay for private tutoring dedicated to training for the entrance examinations.
This process is very evident in Sutton, which retains a selective system, with grammar schools with hugely skewed cohorts of pupils displaying exceptionally low numbers of those coming from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
All of the conventional benchmark data, be that numbers in receipt of pupil premium, free school dinners or those statemented, demonstrate the inequality and exclusivity rendered by such an educational system.
It is also the case that grammar schools, such as those in Sutton, operate with no catchment area or commitment to serve the children of the ratepayers responsible for their funding. These “super-selectives” engineer their high levels of examination attainment by drawing on pupils from the wider region, offering well over half of their places to children resident outside of the borough.
If Philp were correct in his analysis that Croydon’s school building programme will fall behind the growth of the pupil population, a satellite of one of these super-selectives would be the very last sort of school to address any predicted shortfall. That said, any Croydon pupils “creamed-off” for their academic attainment would obviously have an impact on the intake of our pre-existing non-selective schools.
Philp is completely wrong when he asserts, “Grammar schools are a complement to other types of school.” By denying other schools a cohort of pupils exhibiting the full range of academic abilities, a grammar inevitably undermines the comprehensive ideal.
It isn’t coincidental that local authorities with grammar schools, such as Kent, have more schools that fail to meet the “floor target” of 30 per cent of pupils attaining five GCSE grades (A* – C) than their neighbouring, fully comprehensive authorities. In providing his own back-story (in true X Factor style), Philp laughably contends that grammars such as the one he attended “offer a unique, specialist ultra-academic education”. Perhaps he has overlooked the fact that since 1988 all schools teach and assess against a common GCSE syllabus.
It is true, though, that grammars can have an impact upon the curriculum, ethos and learning experience in primary “feeder” schools. Selective systems have often produced an overly restrictive, pressurised, “entrance-exam factory” experience, to the detriment of a broad, balanced primary curriculum.
Setting aside these obvious weaknesses in Philp’s “case” for bringing academically selective schooling back to Croydon, there is one very practical reason why this is a very poor idea: it would be unlawful.
The School Standards and Framework Act (1998) legislated that no new selective schools will be permitted, and Philp’s colleague, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, has confirmed that the Act will remain on the statute unaltered. The Weald of Kent/Sevenoaks “annex” precedent offered is a very misleading one; Morgan agreed to that expansion within one local authority which already uses the 11-plus system, which is a very different context to that suggested by Philp for here in Croydon.
It is also significant that The Sunday Times has reported that Morgan was advised by her department’s own lawyers that the Sevenoaks decision was unlikely to survive a legal challenge. Morgan has resisted calls to make public that legal advice… I wonder why?
Rather than playing party politics with his own ideological hobby horse, and seeking to impose a socially divisive, elitist school system, Philp could more usefully address the needs of Croydon schoolchildren by working with the council to provide sufficient, quality school places for all local children.
* Croydon Commentaries are usually authored opinion pieces. In this instance, where the author is a teacher working in south London, they asked not to be identified
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