It is the last week of term as I finish this. The Christmas Concert is behind us and the Carol Concert awaits. It has been a great term and a great year. We have had a record number of applications for Year 7 following very successful open events and we are already breaking records for sixth form applications with the deadline still approaching. Nationally Grammar schools are a hot topic.
The debate about Grammar Schools has been gathering speed recently with a Conservative party backbench revolt and the potential satellite grammar in Sevenoaks. I was also witness to Mayor Boris Johnson's failed attempt to rally Headteachers at the Mayors Conference to the Grammar cause.
Sadly there is a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation concerning the issue. For one it is assumed that the purpose of Grammars is to create greater social mobility and thereby solve the rich/poor divide in Britain. While providing an important opportunity this is not their function. In reality education should be about enabling all young people to grow and develop as individuals, to raise aspirations and help young people fulfil their ambitions. Certainly able pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds should be able to enter Grammar schools and Townley achieves this by maintaining a broad selective ability (avoiding a divisive rank order selection), leading the reform of selective testing, not only in Bexley but nationally and thereby resisting the influence of intensive coaching which gives advantage to more affluent families.
We are not naïve enough to presume that Free School Meals take up is the only identifier of disadvantage. Many parents while on low income never register for benefits but struggle nonetheless. I would urge those that are eligible to to do so since the school receives funding from this to help not only your child but the school as a whole. However, to focus on this issue alone is to lose sight of our responsibilities in education. Every child should be educated according to their ability but unfortunately in Britain currently able children are repeatedly failed in schools.
The Ofsted report of 2011 into the education of able pupils in non selective schools was quite damning. The recent Ofsted regional report looking at London identified London as doing well with able pupils compared to the rest of the country but Bexley was one borough that fell below the national for English A*/A at GCSE. Not the case at Townley. It also made the education of able pupils in London a priority.
So which schools are the most successful at educating the most able? Of course its Grammars and particularly Townley Grammar School which has outperformed all other Bexley Schools and also been placed in the top 100 schools nationally. Those schools above us are invariably the super selectives, which only accept the top scorers regardless of location.
This then is an even greater achievement since to my mind it demonstrates the real power of a traditional grammar school. From 1964-1997 every British Prime Minister, from Harold Wilson to John Major, was grammar school educated. Now it is the independent schools that dominate top positions and this is a result of the removal of Grammar schools. So I am in support of more Grammar schools but where they are needed across the country and which accept a broad entry of able students from the local area, Grammars like Townley.
Until that happens Townley will blaze a trail for others to follow!