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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Selection creates failing schools

Anyone who needs convincing that selection at 11+ is a bad idea only needs to look at the map of "failing" secondary schools published by Ed Balls yesterday.

The county where I grew up, Kent, is shaded a nasty dark green colour rather out of keeping given its relative prosperity with the rest of the map, where the pattern broadly follows an economic one.

The accompanying list of schools tells you all the ones in Kent with GCSE pass rates under 30%.

26 of these schools are, when you check, "secondary moderns". They have often dressed up their names as something else, but these are the schools that necessarily have to exist as the corollary for selective Grammar schools in the 11+ system that Kent largely clings on to. That they get such low GCSE pass rates is hardly their fault when their intake consists entirely of those children branded as "failures" by the 11+, and all the kids likely to get a string of high grade GCSEs have been creamed off and put in different schools.

The remaining 7 are listed as comprehensives but from looking at the town names several of them are "comprehensive" in name only as they are in towns with high profile Grammar schools and hence face exactly the same problem of a lop-sided intake as the 26 secondary moderns do.

A quick way Ed Balls could get these 33 schools off the list of failing schools is to end Kent's nutty system of selection by exam at 11, and ensure every school in Kent has a mixed-ability intake and an equal chance of getting a good GCSE pass rate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely! I come from an area where the 11+ system still exists and I was failed miserably by it, being a late developer (not to mention lazy!) and not making it to grammar school. I understand that now they only enter you for the 11+ exam if you're considered bright enough so as to get fewer failures.

12:49 pm, June 11, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

An excellent point well made.

One reason for rising educational achievement levels that is rarely made is the generational effect of comprehensivisation. People who are parents now had a more positive experience of education than their parents, so they encourage their children to read at an earlier age, do their homework etc more than their parents did. (If they don't work long hours and have the time, of course.)

1:16 pm, June 11, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I fully agree, Luke. The entire framing of this debate annoys me. Its always 'do you agree with grammar schools. Have you ever heard anyone ask if we should bring back secondary moderns? Yet that is where 75% of young people will go - branded as failures at 11.

There are plenty of things which can be done within schools - setting, streaming etc, but no need for separate schools.

1:29 pm, June 11, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Spot on Luke and we could all do with being far less defensive and far more forthright about the state secondary cause.

Your instancing of Kent reminds me of my childhood experience in Scotland where, even under a predominantly state dominated system, there was an educational apartheid. I was one of the fortunate few to be 'sent' to the senior secondary school. whereas all my pals were sent to the 'junior' secondary. The junior secondaries were barely even the equivelant of a secondary modern.Result was that I lost contact with all those guys who were at 11 years of age already branded as no-hopers.

Junior secondary focused their boys on what was politely called 'vocational' studies (i.e. second rate, non-academic). The memories about that trouble me when I hear some policians today asserting that many 'oedinary' kids would be better off leaving school and taking up so-called vocatiuonal studies.

2:39 pm, June 11, 2008

Blogger Conor Ryan said...

However, it is also the case that 60% of secondary modern schools already exceed what is not an unreasonable benchmark. Balls rather more sensibly proposes developing trusts involving grammars and modern schools as a way forward, rather than consigning those MPs in selective area seats to oblivion. After the Ripon ballot rejected abolishing the local grammar school, the local modern worked together with the grammar as a partnership. In 2004, the College had 22% five good GCSEs (including English and Maths). By 2007, this was 44%.

4:13 pm, June 11, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Well we are being told that unless 50% of our schools improve they will be closed. And you wonder why my kids go to Trent College.

Grammer Schools do work and they take the bright kids and give working class people the chance of climbing the social ladder.

I'm sure if every child was given a grammer school education then we would see a vast improvement across the board.

It all comes down to money and class sizes.

6:37 pm, June 11, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Luke you are absolutely right on this one. The point someone else makes that some 'secondary moderns' exceed the benchmarks is a fantastic testament to those schools and their hard-working staff and pupils, not a vindication of selection.

End selection. Now.

8:41 pm, June 11, 2008

Blogger oldandrew said...

My first instinct was to agree with your point.

But now I stop and think about it, this definition of "failing school" is kind of biased against secondary moderns isn't it? You can't really complain that schools for the less able have lower results. If the secondary moderns were getting really good results wouldn't that be an even better argument against selection?

I would like to see an end to selection, but I think that's only an option when somebody designs a comprehensive system for England that actually works.

Teaching Blog here
Latest entry: 8/6/2008

9:48 pm, June 11, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Well, Rich, they may be able to spell 'grammar'

10:59 pm, June 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to recall we've gone down the comp route on this blog before.

Ok, secondary moderns are failures.

But so are comps.

The only difference being that in the comp everyone fails.

Those in this parish have to deal with that issue.

Just make that assumption and then make your argument.

Note to Duncan Hall. You are wasting your time if you then proceed to claim that comps are doing very well.

I repeat: We're not starting there

11:57 pm, June 11, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Note to anonymous: Lots are.

9:39 am, June 12, 2008

Anonymous Alexander said...

Bad teaching creates failing schools. It's about time that the left owned up to the disaster that is, and has been, the comprehensive education system. If anyone really thinks that "bog standard" comprehensives offer the same education that was available 40 years ago you are sorely mistaken. You only have to look at numbers of state school pupils getting into Oxbridge - in the 1960s the percentage was far higher. You must get over your fixation that selection is bad.

11:39 am, June 12, 2008

Anonymous Rob shorrock said...

The problem with a selective system at 10 and 11, based on nothing more than an IQ test, is that it does not take into account the differing levels in cognition that children have. Any good Year 6 teacher will verify this through their own observation.

The 11+ is a process fixed in time and lends a lot to physiological luck and middle class coaching.

Unfortunately, children get entered into this exam whether they have a chance or not, because grammars are seen to be the better schools. When they fail, as of course so many of them will have to do, there is an inevitable and often painful consequence.

What is worse, however, is that grammar schools are able to get a stranglehold on their LEA's so that the evidence is just not debated.

Sometimes you have to put your dissonance on this topic to one side and debate the evidence. Here in Lincolnshire they flatly refuse to that and, yes you have guessed it, like Kent they appear as a big dark green patch on the map.

7:36 pm, June 12, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at the figures for Islington and Hackney and you find all the comps are failing.

Those comps are doing worse than the secondary modern schools in Kent.

Everyone must fail

8:43 pm, June 12, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Mike, I left school at 13 and joined the Navy at 16 so my spelling has never been that good. I'm sorry about that but it's too late for me but not for my kids.

10:45 pm, June 12, 2008

Anonymous Tubby Isaacs said...

I too hate selection. My own hometown of Cheltenham, with its venerable grammar school, has two "failing schools", despite its relative affluence.

Yet I am also worried by the complacency of Luke and his ilk that the system is fair where you don't have the 11plus. Given all the backdoor means used to select (religion, postcode, Welsh language, interviews with parents) an anonymous exam has a certain appeal.

8:49 pm, June 13, 2008


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