Headteacher’s Blog September 2016
What a summer it has been in terms of education. We have had the Olympic triumph in Rio and statistics published about the number of State School versus Private School Olympians. The publication of A level and GCSE examination results and the ensuing analysis, including Boys versus Girls and reasons for a drop in grades. And of course the heated debate about the possible reintroduction of Grammar Schools.
All of the Grammar School arguments seem to hinge on one fundamental idea, which has been absent from the media coverage. What is the purpose of education in the UK? If we could agree on this we would stand a chance of an intelligent and productive dialogue but my occasional interactions with the media via social media give me little hope. There seems little appetite for an intellectual debate.
Let’s consider the emotive subject of Grammar schools. There lies the problem. The debate so far has largely reflected people’s individual emotional responses on either side. Certainly data has been produced but largely to support the emotional argument. To date I have seen no consideration of whether Grammar Schools provide a good education. So I outline here what I feel should be considered:
- How do we judge schools? Nationally schools are judged on their educational performance, the attainment and achievement of their students. Progress is measured against their starting points when they enter secondary. Therefore while Grammar Schools might have higher results the progress their students make is measured in the same way. In fact comprehensives have a distinct advantage here as their students can potentially make greater progress. Destinations of leavers are also a good indicator, entry into professions and representations in certain fields such as STEM. Of course there is also Ofsted and thankfully Michael Wilshaw is not involved in making individual school judgements, just sweeping prejudiced generalisations.
- Are schools engines of social mobility? This is a political agenda not an educational one. The definition of social mobility in this context is not clear but it presumes that children from disadvantaged families should be able to go to university, enter professions and ultimately change class/status? Isn’t it also about poverty and the inequality it creates? So where is the debate about levels of poverty and actions to address this. An Economic debate not an educational one. The reality is that all Secondary’s, Grammars included, should be an aid to social mobility for all its students. Certainly there could be more disadvantaged students going through Grammars but this should not be a stick with which to beat them. The same is true of other schools and the issue lies with their academic progress at primary level. Grammars can only admit those who are deemed selective so the question should really be why are so many disadvantaged students failing to reach the selective threshold. The answer to this is complex and worthy of real analysis.
- What timescale for change are we considering? There is a habit in education policy of short termism. Quick fixes that grab headlines within the life of a government. If we truly want to end the inequality that poverty creates we should be educating our young people to tackle this when they are in a position to do so. Social conscience, reasoned debate, compassion and leadership. These are the qualities and skills needed to end inequality but where do we teach this? Well in the very best Grammar Schools certainly and isn’t this social mobility at work? We need to be creating leaders and professionals who have the skills and passion to change our society not in the next two years but over the next 50. For that we need intellectual mobility.
- What role do Grammars have? I believe Grammars are essential for supporting other schools and their communities.Young people don’t have to attend a Grammar School to benefit from them. Primary Outreach activities, Oxbridge Consortium support, teacher training and development are just a few of the activities Hub Grammar Schools can provide so that all students benefit. This is a moral obligation and one Townley takes seriously.
It is on the last point that I think the debate should focus. How can some sections of society get over their fear of or antagonism towards Grammar Schools and engage with them instead for the greater good. It is sad and shameful that so many individuals in positions of responsibility have chosen to peddle their own prejudices at the cost of the future lives of our young people. And in doing so have demonised the young people who attend Grammars on their merit and their parents who have worked so hard to ensure their children respect education and develop a work ethic.
I have no idea where this debate will lead but rather like Brexit it seems to have opened up the divisions and prejudices that sadly exist in our society. At least I know that Townley students will be equipped to tackle these because they had an outstanding Grammar School education.
Newest addition Maisy, the school's therapy dog.
Back to Blog