Head Teachers from schools in Harlow and Bishops Stortford were united in their opinion that the expansion of grammar schools did not offer a solution to problems within our school system. Mr Goddard, Principal of Passmores Academy said, ‘A Grammar School in Harlow would be of huge detriment to every child who doesn’t attend”
Karen Spencer, Principal of Harlow College, Vic Goddard, Principal of Passmores Academy and Jeremy Gladwin, Headmaster of Bishops Stortford College provided an interesting panel to discuss the implications of new Grammar schools in the area.
Grammar Schools are back on the political agenda. It is a debate that has continued for decades with advocates declaring they offer social mobility and opportunity for academically able children irrespective of background and critics declaring the system divisive, enabling little impact on social mobility with their intakes firmly middle class and has an adverse effect on primary education as it limits the breadth of education while the schools prepare the students for testing.
Theresa May, who attended Grammar School, promised to address some of issues and declares there will not be a return to secondary modern schools and a feeling of failure at 11. There are proposals of further selection at the 14-16 age group and proactive polices to give places to disadvantaged children if they are academically able. The ComRes opinion poll said that parents felt that grammar schools are good for social mobility with 51% favouring the opening of new Grammar Schools.
League tables already show superior GCSE and A level results from the 163 Grammar schools already in existence.
None of our education leaders were excited about the proposed policy with two claiming to be horrified. They were all united in expressing concern for the children who failed to obtain places at the Grammar schools.
In creaming off the most able children academy schools such as Passmores in Harlow would lose student role models, face challenges with recruiting and retaining staff and possibly see an increase in mental health issues in secondary school children who had faced enormous pressure and then felt a failure.
Karen Spencer and Mr Goddard both felt that the academically selective system damages social mobility and assaults the families they are designed to help. There is no evidence to support the social mobility claim either now or in the Grammar school heyday as disadvantaged children are underrepresented in selective schools even amongst pupils who achieve highly at primary school. Ms Spencer feared a fall in the number of able technical students attending further education colleges, such as Harlow, mirroring a current challenge in Kent where he Grammar School system is well established.
All three local heads felt that the UK education system did not need another layer of complexity and that the Grammar School proposals were a poorly considered policy with no evidence it would solve current problems. Ms Spencer suggested that the government ‘stops tinkering and consolidate what we have got’. This sentiment was echoed by The Head master of Bishop’s Stortford College, who would like a period of time for schools to implement the recent frequent changes and look to recruiting and retaining teachers.
‘I wish that successive administrations would stop changing the goalposts, such as wholescale curriculum change and allow schools the time to implement such changes over a reasonable timescale and with sufficient resources to do so. A better priority might be to look at recruiting and retaining more teachers into a profession that deserves better status and respect for the dedicated professional graduates who work so hard to educate the nation’s children. ‘
It appears that Theresa May and her ministers should reconsider where to spend £50 million and consider using it to provide challenge stimulation and classroom reform for all rather than a few.