Do we still believe in comprehensive education? What is going on?
The evidence is stark. The more grammar schools an area has, the lower the overall average attainment of pupils in that area (this is comparing ALL selected pupils including the results of grammar pupils, with those in non-selected areas).
Grammar schools are only the tip of this hierarchical system funded by taxpayers money. Selection goes much much deeper. The wealthier you are, the better state education you get. Haven't we got this the wrong way round? Shouldn't a Labour government target resources to the poor, not the well off. The poor pay their taxes as well (a higher proportion of their income than the rich), shouldn't they get the same level of service?
Of course selection has always been there. Nobody wants to go to a secondary modern school, but the name doesn't necessarily give the selection away.
I went to a comprehensive in the West Midlands, but I failed my 11 plus. A lot of the most able pupils who would have gone to my comprehensive were creamed off to a grammar school 3 miles away. So really my comprehensive was largely a secondary modern. Saying that I was lucky because the comprehensive I went to was fairly good, not brilliant but much better that some secondary schools in the area.
Today this school is in demand, and my parents house probably wouldn't fall into the catchment area, despite being only 15 minutes walk away. I hear it had trust status and introduced an admissions test under Tory rule. Now those with the money probably just buy into the catchment area (or more cheekily, temporarily rent). This is grossly unfair, purely selection by wealth.
From Tuesday's Guardian comes even more interesting stories on how the selection process works. Parents have to fill in complicated application forms, attend interviews, re-find religion, any hoop they can jump through to get their children into the better schools. Parents are encouraged to make six choices from a wide range of schools in the area. Some parents don't even get an offer from their sixth choice. It can be heartbreaking for children who are rejected from the school their friends are going to, this already labels them failures. All people want, is a good local school, i.e. we need to make sure every school delivers a good education. There is realistically only one way to do that, but those of you who went to grammar schools or who defend inequality are not going to like it.
We need to make sure the middle class children don't all congregate in a few 'good' schools, we need to spread them around evenly by offering the incentive that every state school (3800) is guaranteed a place for it's top pupil at Oxbridge. This goes right to the heart of those who protect privilege and the class system. The truth is that, depressingly, there isn't the political will for such an upheaval, not even in the Labour party. The privileged middle classes, not surprisingly don't want selection in state schools to end, because their children are getting a better education at the expense of all taxpayers.
The suspicion has to be that these complicated, time consuming and stressful selection procedures are designed to put off those parents from the more deprived backgrounds.
Considering all this, it seems hard to believe that the new education bill could be even worse than the current system, but apparently that is the case.
LEAs are elected and for all their failings do provide some democratic control, they do try and ensure a more level playing field and stop some of the most overt selection in schools. For example, ensuring there is a proportion of non-Catholics in a Catholic school. This bill is determined to remove control of admissions from LEAs and place them with..well almost anyone with 2 million quid. More Reg Vardy creationist schools here we come. What is Blair playing at?
Some of the new bill is to be welcomed - after some pressure from backbenchers, parent interviews will be banned and there are some reasuring noises on selection but the devil will be in the detail when it goes through committee stage. Here is hoping for the best (the bill is so complicated that is all we can do), it surely can't get much worse, but then I don't remember what it was like before 1965 when comprehensives came in, neither apparently does Blair if the worst is to be believed about this bill.