Grammars plan: heads tell education secretary of their ‘deep opposition’

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CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

A group of headteachers of non-selective secondary schools in Kent have written to the education secretary to voice their “deeply held, vehement opposition” to government plans to expand grammar schools across the country, the Guardian reports.

The group’s views are significant as they work in a county where the 11-plus and selection are still in place, so they have first-hand experience of the impact of grammar schools on non-selective schools in the area and the children who attend them.

The letter to Justine Greening, signed by 33 headteachers of Kent’s secondary non-selective schools and academies, was sent as the government’s consultation on extending selection in education closed on Monday December 12. It warns of “philosophical and systemic flaws” in the proposals and calls for selection in Kent and elsewhere to be abandoned rather than expanded.

Kent is one of the few remaining authorities in England with a selective system. One headteacher of a non-selective secondary who did not want to be identified said he was appalled that more children across the country might have to go through the same experience that Kent children face as a result of government proposals.

The letter, which follows a similar one from concerned headteachers in Surrey, says the advantages for pupils in selective schools are obvious – a confidence boost, a sense of success for selected pupils and their parents, and a culture of high expectations and aspirations.

Those that are not selected, however, are left with a sense of being second best, the letter says. “It certainly serves to erode self-confidence, to limit aspirations and develop a culture of ‘second best’ that good leaders in non-selective schools then spend time undoing so that they can unlock the students’ true potential,” it says.

“The reality is that the students were not selected – this is a clear message and one that is hard to take and even understand for an 11-year-old. We challenge the government to provide convincing evidence to parents, school leaders and children that not being selected aged 11 will motivate any child to make better progress than before.”

The heads argue there is no compelling evidence on which to base the development of a new wave of grammar schools. “The experience of school leaders in Kent should be valued and heard,” the letter says.

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“Kent has one of the widest gaps between the achievement of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. The very existence of a two-tier selective system is the biggest cause of this inequality.”

Many in the education sector have made submissions to the government arguing there is no evidence that grammar schools have a positive impact on social mobility. Among them is the National Association of Head Teachers.

“The evidence does not support the expansion of grammar schools. They do not contribute to social mobility and will distract attention from the things that really matter,” said Russell Hobby, the union’s general secretary.

A report by the Education Policy Institute, published December 12, said less than 4four per cent of local authority areas in England would see a boost to educational attainment from new grammar schools and attract the necessary parental support to make them a success.

The Department for Education said: “Our proposals are about creating more choice, with more good school places in more parts of the country. We want to do this by lifting the ban on new grammars, and harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, faith schools and independent schools. We welcome contributions to the consultation and will respond in due course.”