A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, September 18, 2006

"I'm against selection full stop"

Well done to Alan Johnson for saying here

" I'm against selection, full stop. I think the Prime Minister is as well. I'm curious as to why anyone would even think I'd changed my views on selection. I lived on a council estate in Slough, which was then in Bucks, which kept its grammar schools. I saw my daughter Emma fail her eleven-plus, and so she got sent to a comprehensive. But it isn't a comprehensive if you're creaming off the best students. She was very bright but, well, probably life chances were lost then. Her brother, Jamie, passed. So am I bitter about selection? Yes. I've seen what it does to kids."

But why then go on to clarify it through his aides here that he "did not plan to scrap the 11-plus: government policy is to avoid creating new grammars but leave existing schools untouched"?

If segregating kids into different schools by ability (which 9 times out of 10 actually means segregating them by social class/parental income) means they lose life chances as Johnson says, then surely it is morally indefensible and should be ended.

That doesn't mean "abolishing" grammar schools - they can keep the name, ethos and everything else, it just means they wouldn't be able to select by ability.

I grew up in a part of Kent that still has the 11+ now. I "passed" (and thanks to Thatcher's Assisted Places scheme got a free place at a minor public school) but I remember children in my primary school class crying in the playground because they had "failed" and would not be going to the same school as their friends or felt they were labelled as "failures". It wasn't a half and half split - only 5 of a year group of 50 at my state primary school "passed". Even within the "passers" there was - and is in my home town - further segregation and hierarchy between the 2 "good" grammar schools - both single gender - and the 2 "less good" grammar schools which had originally been "Technical" schools. Then there were a few whose parents had gone to church enough times to get them into the local RC "Comprehensive" or CofE "secondary modern". Everyone else went to the village "secondary modern" which Tory Kent County Council then shut down a few years later. I remember quite a few kids in my class saying after the 11+ exam they had assumed it was another practice (we did practice tests every week for two terms until we were experts in anagrams and all the other nonsense in the test) so had not bothered to answer all the questions...

I find it unbelievable that after 9 years of a Labour government we still allow 11 year old kids in some parts of the country to be put under that kind of pressure and stress, then separate some of them from their friends, fast track a chosen few and brand the vast majority as "non-passers". Not just Victorian but Mediaeval.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I find it unbelievable that after 9 years of a Labour government we still allow 11 year old kids in some parts of the country to be put under that kind of pressure and stress, then separate some of them from their friends, fast track a chosen few and brand the vast majority as "non-passers". "

well, you're the Education Secretary...you've just helped to pass a Education Bill...maybe you could have thought about it earlier....there was that amendment to hold parents ballot to abolish (or retain) selection by ability where it still exists

1:52 pm, September 18, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Andrea - unfortunately I'm not the Education Secretary...

2:02 pm, September 18, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, the "you" referred to Johnson, not at you!
well, you're right...I should have said "he" :-(

2:08 pm, September 18, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe there is anyone left who still believes in Comprehensive education! I went to one of the early comps and my wife taught in several of the later ones. Take off the ideological blinkers and it's obvious that they are educational and social disasters.

Why don't you read Frank Chalk's book or blog on the subject? Or why not actually visit one of the hellholes that Labour has built for our children?

Social mobility has decreased since Anthony Crosland's plans were implemented. Is that what you all want? I am afraid I think it is. Labour used to be about equality of opportunity. Now it seems to be about destroying life chances so as to keep people "in their place" (and voting Labour)

8:47 am, September 19, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Well Mr Paine my partner went to a comprehensive and thinks she got a better education there than I did at a public school, my mother went to a comprehensive for 2 years then moved to Kent and went to a state grammar school and thinks the comprehensive was far better so we will have to agree to differ. Presumably you think the secondary modern or "high" schools that 80% of kids have to attend in areas with the 11+ are educational and social triumphs.

If academic selection is so great, how come it isn't the model applied by most independent schools? (the school I went to had clever poor kids but a comprehensive (clever all the way through to ESN) intake of rich kids).

9:40 am, September 19, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matching the style of education to a pupil's ability makes perfect sense both for academic and less academic chidren.

The Germans, Russians or French would not dream of introducing such a crazed system as Britain's. Part of the problem is that people in other countries value academic ability more than the anti-intellectual British.

Paradoxically they also see no shame in being academically less able. And they are right. There are many other valuable skills which can - and should - be respected. It's far better to cultivate those than to deceive children as to their academic abilities, send them to ersatz "unis" to take degrees in marketing or beer studies and then have them shocked when they enter the real world and have people - finally - tell them the truth.

My wife was disgusted, as a qualified professional teacher, to be given a standard set of positive comments she was "allowed" to make on school reports - regardless of how useless a pupil was in her subject. She's out of teaching now and would "rather die" (her words) than reenter a state school.

Have you never asked yourself why so many trained teachers are not working in their chosen profession? Or why it is impossible to staff science or language departments with qualified people? Of course they mouth the party line when they are working (no promotion for them if they don't), but they vote with their feet eventually - if they have marketable skills - because the system is a total farce.

All this "branded as a non-passer" stuff is pathetic. Anyone who never fails has never tried and the sooner children learn that taking their knocks and getting on with life is important, the better.

That someone like Prescott is still smarting about failing his 11+ decades later speaks volumes about him. Like all those with a victim mentality, he is quite simply a loser. Not because he failed the 11+ - plenty of winners did that - but because he did not have the strength of character to move on.

Of course you know all this, but you will remain relentlessly "on message" and to hell with our childrens' future. It was not always so, but today Labour is all about appearance and doesn't give a damn about substance in education or any other field.

You and your party have betrayed working class kids such as I was. No-one going through the school I went to, as it is today, has a chance in hell of realising his or her potential. Playing ideological games with childrens' lives is quite simply sickening.

Finally, I note that none of the Party luminaries send their children to anything resembling a bog standard comp. The hypocrisy is quite breathtaking.

6:37 pm, September 19, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tom Paine" - you are completely wrong. Luke Akehurst - you are completely right.

I never thought I'd type that! Thank God for the inverted commas!

Not only do I believe in comprehensive education, I fundamentally believe selective education to have an adverse effect on the learning of both those who pass and those who "fail" at 11. The idea that people have to learn to fail at 11 is a ridiculous one (incidentally, I think that of the current system and the excess of testing that exists currently in schools too).

"Matching the style of education to a pupil's ability" was a myth from day one. Firstly I have seen no test that properly discriminates pupil's abilities at the age of 11. Furthermore I have seen no educational psychological work (that has not been roundly discredited) that "ability" at 11 has much to do with ability at any other age, nor that people develop intellectually in the same way or at the same rate. Nor that "ability" is something that exists across the board and across academic disciplines. Furthermore, an entirely academic education is of limited value for all students, just as an entirely vocational, non-academic education is of limited value for all students. It is of value for all students to acquire academic and vocational skills.

Of course comprehensive education is hard: for staff and pupils. What you disregard is that, under selection, 80% of pupils would have an education that could only be harder, taught by 80% of staff (and, if your analysis is correct, the best staff would be leaving the hardest jobs and going for the easy life in selective education, while those who remain with the hardest job of teaching those with most to learn would be those without the high qualifications and skills prized by selective institutions). Under a comprehensive system - and more so if we could achieve genuine comprehensive education and remove the selective option, both free and fee-paying - all pupils benefit from access to education at a higher level as well as at intermediate and lower levels. Most educational pyschologists agree that peer teaching and peer assessment are considerably more effective learning methods than traditional didactic teaching methods, so the learning of high-flyers is also improved by teaching them alongside colleagues who find the subjects harder: by explaining things to their fellows, they stretch themselves. That may seem idealistic but I've seen it at first hand (and I rarely follow the 'party line' on anything, and - in any case - am more-or-less anonymous on here so could admit to your 'truth' if I believed it). I think I'll stop there, for now.

8:45 pm, September 19, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

"Tom Paine" I don't disagree with your comment that "Matching the style of education to a pupil's ability makes perfect sense both for academic and less academic chidren." BUT this can be done by streaming and setting within a comprehensive - not by putting kids of differing (initial aged 11) ability in different buildings, different uniforms, different playgrounds and with different resources and teachers.

PS I don't think my views on this are the "party line" but they are what most Labour members - and a very large slice of our activists are involved in education as teachers, school governors and parents - also think.

9:43 am, September 20, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How weird that only in Britain has this higher plane of wisdom been reached on the subject of education. How weird too that the products of this superior system are so self-evidently less well educated that their peers in the other countries in which I have worked.

Obviously my personal experience of bog standard comps, my wife's experience as a teacher in the same, the experiences of all her colleagues and the evidence of working with the products of numerous different education systems are all as nothing compared to the ideologically-driven insights on offer here.

It's remarkable just how often one needs to ignore the evidence of all one's senses in order just to stay in the same room with Labour "thinking".

12:00 am, September 24, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe me, my views on this are entirely experience-based. There are plenty of things I would change about the education system in the UK - and I would borrow much from other countries. The one thing I would not bring back (and I long to see its last remnants removed) is selection. I attended both types of schools as a pupil and have taught the products of both types of schools as a lecturer and I am in absolutely no doubt which is best. Of course there are some schools which really struggle (and I would contend that those that struggle the hardest are in places where more parents are likely to take some manner of selective option - though I accept that can be a vicious circle). But the notion that there weren't at least as many struggling schools under the tripartite system is a fallacious one. You and your wife's experiences are, of course, not 'as nothing' and obviously help inform this discussion - but you have to accept that other people might be basing their views on experience too. I certainly am.

8:23 am, September 24, 2006


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