Tuesday, January 16, 2007


In the light of the considerations presented below, a cynic might suggest that the continuing hatred of (selective) grammar schools emanating from the British Left is NOT about equality: it's their hope of turning the mass population into dumb docile sheep who can be pushed around by Leftist politicians. Grammar schools are and always were the best avenue of upward mobility for the British working class. Note that the BNP -- Britain's most working-class and least elite party -- pledges to restore all those that have been closed, and open them in every community that wants them.

There are three problems with our schools. We are failing to give an excellent education to cleverer boys and girls. We are failing to give a sound basic education to less able pupils, especially in deprived areas. And we are failing to stimulate the social mobility that good education makes possible.

Your educational chances, and your life chances, depend too much on where you live. The Government's City Academy programme attempts to address the problem of the underprivileged areas. It is expensive and unproven. Sadly, money and buildings do not solve all educational problems. We can expect successes and failures. On the other two problems, the Government's silence is deafening. Yet in the 21st century, Britain cannot afford to educate its people less well than the best in other countries. It is a personal tragedy as well as a national loss when many of our best youngsters are not helped to fulfill their potential. We have to educate everyone well if we are to compete with the rest of the developed world and the emerging economies of the East.

We have some very good individual schools, including some good comprehensives, but the system as a whole simply does not achieve enough. International results put Britain so far down the league tables that it must be time to look at another way of doing things. Between 2000 and 2003, for instance, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) [And PISA is very undemanding!] showed the UK slipping from fourth to 11th in science and from eighth to 18th in maths.

However, there was one dazzlingly good result: when Pisa divided state schools from the private sector in 31 developed countries, our independent schools came top of the 62 groups. So if Britain is running the best schools in the world, why are we not also running the best state schools?

I think, after 46 years in and around teaching, that I know the answer. An outworn ideology prevents the country from learning from the successful model in its midst. One of the most important lessons is that independent schools are schools of choice. They deal with reasonably willing pupils, with teachers who care about their subjects and their students, and with parents who are supportive. Independent schools are, in the real sense of the word, selective: the parents select the school and the school selects their sons and daughters.

Where selection remains in the state system - in those English counties which have fought to retain grammar schools, and particularly in Northern Ireland - we can see its value. Their results show that selection works better, not just for the very able, but for the student body as a whole. In Northern Ireland, 10 per cent more pupils achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE than in England, and 30 per cent of A-level papers get an A grade compared to 22 per cent in England. That makes the Government's recent legislation intended to abolish selection in Northern Ireland particularly regrettable.

But education is about much more than just exam results - and as well outperforming the rest of the UK in tests, Northern Ireland also provides the model for what a selective system can achieve for social mobility. There, 42 per cent of university entrants come from less privileged backgrounds, compared to only 28 per cent in England. The concentration of our remaining grammar schools in a small number of mostly higher-income areas means that many able children from poor families miss out on the opportunities selective education can provide.

Yet it is the poor who benefit most from access to grammar schools. Recent research from the University of Bristol compared the results of selective and non-selective LEAs. While the average level of attainment was not significantly higher, the minority of children from poor families who made it to grammar schools did 'exceptionally well', bumping up their average GCSE scores by seven or eight points - equivalent to converting their grades from Bs to As. This compared to a four-point uplift for grammar-school pupils as a whole.

There is a way of extending these opportunities to pupils from all backgrounds in every part of the United Kingdom. It is not a case of reverting to the 11-plus, nor of creating a few good schools for the academically able and forgetting about the rest. A pamphlet published this week by the Centre for Policy Studies (www.cps.org.uk), Three Cheers for Selection: How Grammar Schools Help the Poor, proposes a selective system which would free schools to choose their students; which would offer ladders of opportunity to clever boys and girls from deprived areas; and which would create a national network of specialist academic schools. This is the debate we should be having: not a debate about whether or not to select, but on how to do it.

Selection is unmentionable in political circles only because it is a synonym for the 11-plus [A scholastic aptitude test once universally taken at age 11 -- which tended to dictate the child's future educational chances]. I would not want to go back to that. We should be debating more flexible methods of how best to choose pupils for schools and when. Almost everyone - except the lunatic fringe that would like university places decided by lottery - accepts selection at 18. But since good students have fallen by the wayside by then, what about 16, or 14? Why is it all right to select pupils for 'Gifted and Talented' programmes at a much younger age (and even to offer vouchers to the top 10 per cent, as the schools minister Lord Adonis proposes), but not to select them for particular schools? Why can specialist schools select 10 per cent of their intake for being good at languages or general studies, but not because they may be clever?

New polling undertaken by ICM for the Centre for Policy Studies shows that the public is no longer in agreement with the politicians. Despite the years of public argument against selection, the majority favour it. The idea that more academic children maximise their potential through streaming, or by attending selective schools, is backed by 76 per cent of the public - and 73 per cent believe that this applies to less academic children, too. Even if the majority would still opt for a mixed-ability school for their own children, as many as 40 per cent would now choose a selective school if it was on offer. More than 50 per cent were in favour of schools being set free to choose their pupils by a mix of exams, interviews and head teachers' recommendations.

The 40-year experiment with comprehensive education has failed. It was meant to provide, in Harold Wilson's words, 'grammar schools for all', and to lead to increased social mobility. It has done neither. It has not raised standards - and, as the Sutton Trust has recently shown, we now have a less mobile society than in the 1950s and 1960s. In effect, selection by ability has been replaced by selection by neighbourhood. That is neither sensible, nor egalitarian. It is time to rid ourselves of an outworn dogma and explore practical ways of making our schools as good as we can make them.



Huge tax increases have led to what? Stifling bureaucracy, mainly

Hundreds of thousands of pupils will be taught in dilapidated classrooms because the Government is abandoning its targets for a 45 billion pound schools rebuilding programme. The plans, heralded by Gordon Brown in successive budget speeches, have become mired in red tape, forcing the Government to admit that three years after promising to rebuild all 3,500 secondary schools before 2020 not a single project has been completed. It expects to open just 14 of the 100 new schools it had planned to by the end of this year, according to official Department for Education and Skills figures, The Times has learnt.

Pupils, parents and teachers who had been promised new facilities are having to continue using buildings that have been described as not fit for purpose, with a lack of modern facilities and many temporary structures. The programme, Building Schools for the Future, is in such chaos that construction firms have pulled out, the official in charge has been replaced and the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers have been brought in to review the mess.

When it launched the programme in 2004, the Government promised to spend 3 billion a year rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in the country over the next 15 years, in what it said was the biggest schools investment programme in Britain ever. It said that the first 100 building contracts would be signed in 2006, and the first 100 new schools would open in 2007.

But according to the figures, obtained by the Conservatives, only five building contracts have been signed and the Government now expects to open only fourteen new schools by the end of this year. The first new-generation school is not scheduled to open until this summer, in Bristol. Next year 200 schools were planned to open, but just 56 are now expected to do so. The problems mean that the Government has been unable to spend much of the money set aside by the Treasury for building schools. This financial year it has failed to spend 700 million promised by Mr Brown, and the last financial year it failed to spend 166 million.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said: “These admissions are yet more evidence of Gordon Brown’s spin on education. In every Budget and pre-Budget statement he claims to be giving more money to education, but he is still not building the new schools he promised.”

The delays have caused anger and frustration among teachers and parents. Steve Sinnett, the general-secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the mess was “absolutely unforgiveable” and that there was no doubt that it was affecting education. “We have a building stock that is not fit for purpose. Some schools are little better than slums,” he said. Malcolm Trobe, president of the Association of School and College leaders, said: “The youngsters, parents and the community have an expectation of a new school and it’s getting delayed and delayed.”

The Department for Education and Skills has brought in Tim Byles, a former chief executive of Norfolk County Council, to take control of Partnership for Schools, the agency in charge of the programme. Mr Byles is talking to ministers about abandoning the building targets and hopes to announce new ones later this year. He told The Times: “The early forecasts were too optimistic. We need to be realistic about the timings for this programme . . . and I believe that needs to be reset in the light of experience.” The delays were a result of insisting that schools were being properly built, he added. “Do you want to get this multigenerational investment right, or roll it out as quickly as possible? We took the decision to get it right.”

But schools and construction firms blame red tape, which has made the procurement process cumbersome and expensive. They also blame a lack of expertise among local authorities and school headteachers, who have no experience of overseeing such vast building projects. Mr Byles said he was confident that the programme could be brought back on track over the next 15 to 20 years. The Department for Education said in a statement: “Addressing decades of investment will not happen overnight. We were always clear that we would learn from the lessons and get this project right. “Every child being taught in world-class facilities in 50 years time will be grateful that we took the time to get this right.” [But why does it take so long to get it right?]



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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