Category Archives: Schools

Danny Dorling Gives 2016 Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture

This year’s lecture was delivered by Professor Danny Dorling. His theme was “The Education Shuffle: What will the next two steps forward be?” He explored the impact of comprehensive education, the ways in which that progress has been compromised and what the next steps forward need to be.

You can hear a recording of the talk (below). Danny Dorling is introduced by Melissa Benn.

SEA asks the Labour conference to reject all 11+ selection.

edbpltcscoversept2016On Tuesday SEA’s delegate, Sarah Williams, will move the resolution on selective schooling at the Labour Conference. The resolution, if passed, will represent a significant moment in the long struggle against selection. It not only asks the party to oppose the current government proposals but also makes the case for the phasing out of all remaining selective education. The full text is in the previous post on this page.

The latest issue of the SEA journal, Education Politics, addresses the issues around selection in detail. It contains an analysis of the arguments by Melissa Benn as well as a number of personal testimonies to the value of comprehensive schooling. It can be accessed here: education-politics-september-2016.

Defeating the government’s proposals won’t be easy. Ending selection everywhere will be even harder. So we would encourage all Labour members and supporters who want to be part of that campaign to join the SEA – just follow the tab on the top of this page.

Labour Conference 2016 delegates asked to support SEA motion to end selection in state-funded schools

John Bolt, SEA Secretary

John Bolt, SEA Secretary

John Bolt, SEA Secretary, has called on SEA members and others attending Labour Party conference to support our motion on grammar schools in the ballot this coming Sunday.

John says, ‘ This is a critical issue. We need to take every opportunity to make the case against this appalling proposal. It is also an opportunity to make the case for taking action to phase out all selection wherever it remains.’ He added, ‘I would like to ask all SEA members to do what they can to persuade their conference delegates to vote for this resolution in the priorities ballot on Sunday. A number of CLPs have submitted similar motions but we need to maximise support for it so that it reaches the conference agenda.’

The text of the motion is as follows:

Conference deplores the Prime Minister’s threat “to launch a new generation of grammar schools by scrapping the ban on them imposed almost 20 years ago”, reported in the Daily Telegraph on 6th August;

regrets that a selective system continues in force in parts of the country;

is aware that research evidence, both in England and internationally, shows that that selective schools do not promote social mobility or contribute to the raising of standards.

recognises that the purpose of education should be to provide all children, irrespective of background or specific needs, with the skills, knowledge, enthusiasm and understanding necessary to lead a rewarding and fulfilling life. Labelling children as failures before education has given them the chance to develop, which is what selection does, is one of the prime causes of division and unfairness in our society.

therefore commits the party to opposing any expansion to selective education and also to the ending of educational selection in all state funded schools through the establishment in all areas of a genuinely comprehensive and inclusive secondary education system that provides for all children according to their needs.’

Educational Apartheid in Lincolnshire: selective education as a catalyst for driving inequalities

Sadly, comprehensive schools of the 1950s and 1960s never reached South Lincolnshire. I went to a “red brick” secondary modern school in Louth while my better-off counterparts attended the local grammar school, the history and traditions of which go back to at least 1548, supported by the Church and local guilds. On leaving school in 1976 I was conscious that university wasn’t an option. None of my peers left school to go to university because we didn’t have a sixth form, which meant there were limited opportunities to combine O-Levels with CSEs and no opportunity to do A-levels. There were, and, still are, inequalities within that town that are symptomatic of selective education dividing social class. There are still demarcations across housing and income as to which schools serve particular parts of town. It is a popular misconception that secondary modern schools went away. In Lincolnshire we retained this type of secondary school designed for the majority of students – those not in the so-called top 25% ability-range of the 11-plus. To confuse matters still further, most secondary modern schools are now academies, some offer A-levels while others don’t; grammar schools offer A-levels but are selective. Lincolnshire does not have a comprehensive education system due to the sporadic nature of its school structures. Secondary modern schools and grammar schools maintain the 11-plus status quo, while academies complicate matters further. Continue reading

A Generation of Radical Educational Change. But in which direction?

A new book has been published which analyses the radical changes which been made to English education in particular during the last three decades. Unfortunately for the left these changes have been in the opposite direction.A Generation of Radical Change will make uncomfortable reading at the Department for Education. A dozen distinguished practitioners explain and reflect on how they worked to do their best for their schools,teachers and pupils in these years of great change.

They understand the reasons, explained by Lord Baker in his early chapter, for a National Curriculum in 1988, and also the reasons for a more effective national inspection system. Yet their stories accumulate to become a powerful critique of the top-down policies of the last two decades.

Continue reading

A family’s experience of selective education: the divisions and unrealistic expectations placed upon us

A father and daughter have written this piece for us about their experience of life in a selective local authority.

I don’t want to denigrate my teachers in any way, but on a social and emotional level the stress of the selective school system in my area perpetuated unreasonable expectations on young people to fit into stereotypes associated with the “natural orders” within our community. With some small exceptions, demarcation existed between the haves and have-nots who were allotted to either the grammar school or to the secondary modern school at eleven plus exam. I went to both types of school, transferring to the grammar school at 16 years old to study at A-level.

Although I do understand that my teachers at both schools were required to meet government targets, I know selection does not work and cannot understand why segregation is so readily accepted. As children, we were separated from our friends by a faceless system that did not care about our feelings, into schools that our parents believed were either good or bad. Hardly the best start to education. No parent was going to choose the “bad” school.Selective education seemed to mean there had to be more losers than winners. It was in our DNA to compare and contrast students in the “other school.” Students at our secondary modern school were sometimes compared to the grammar school kids with comments like, “you should have known that concept because those at the grammar school know it”.

It was generally accepted that students at the grammar school had access to many more varied and wonderful opportunities, such as expensive trips abroad that were not available to students at our secondary modern school. Outings from our school appeared to be heavily subsidised, I guess due to higher numbers of low-income students. But our experiences were not lower quality, far from it, our teachers went the extra mile to ensure they added value and joy.

Home-school transport was always an issue; students from our schools were segregated on the double-decker buses. Any damage to the buses was usually attributed to my peers, “to those at that other school”, and not to students from the grammar school. Consultations about bad behaviour echoed this fact; they were conducted at our school but not at the grammar school. Some of the bus drivers disliked us so much that they joked with teachers from the grammar school about us being from that other school. It appeared that they were expecting us to misbehave.The selective mindset of them and us was endemic within our community: “No matter what, some will never be academic”, “they come from troubled families” and “they are hard to reach, chaotic.” A particular zero-hours employer even expressed his preference for grammar school children.

With regards to post -16 education, I had high expectations for myself. The problem was my secondary modern school had no sixth form, and with minimal careers advice, learning pathways were difficult to predict with any sense of security. It was highly unlikely my parents could have afforded bus fares to a college so far away that it meant getting up at 5am.

Anyway, I achieved very good GCSEs – a big thank you to my teachers – and I now have first-hand experience of what it was like transferring to grammar school that provided the nearest sixth form setting for A-levels. Not everybody was as fortunate as me. Some had to get up at 5am to travel on the early morning bus to college and withdrew from their studies after just a few months.

A friend of mine had to study at an adult education college with middle-aged men. I am not ageist or sexist, but for goodness sake they deserved to be among young people their own age, didn’t they? After at short time my friend dropped out of college and doesn’t do much these days. I think the experience of some of my friends has taken its toll. They too wanted to go to a local sixth form, to a grammar school, but they didn’t get the grades.

This is why I chose to tell my story, for my friend. It’s not just about education; it’s about protecting the wellbeing of young people. It doesn’t feel fair that I gained the opportunities I dreamt of while my friend got none.The effects of selection at 11 years old continue for years to come in ways that don’t seem to be acknowledged.

Following on from my daughter’s experience

My daughter’s experience with the 11+ affected me quite badly. Having attended a 1970s secondary modern school within the same county, which provided an awful experience of learning by rote with no means for self-expression, I had vowed to help my daughter to do better. Not only that, her mum had been very ill and I had taken over the role of primary caregiver – so no apologies in advance to my critics for being protective.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the structure of education, so at the time of my daughter’s transfer to secondary school I couldn’t understand why her primary school years, in a comprehensive all-ability setting, were soon to be transformed by a quiz at 11 years old into a make-or-break situation labelled as parental choice. Of course most parents opted for the grammar school as a way out of local poverty. The posh kids went to the grammar school, so what was good enough for them was good enough for my daughter.

My daughter failed the 11+, but it was the way in which she received the news that left me feeling debased as a parent. It was as though she had not been regarded with the esteem of her peers and that she was now consigned to the secondary modern that was one of the worst performing schools in the country. I felt at that point that my own school experience was contagious. I now realise that I hadn’t caused this misery, that the very same ideology that had divided us in the 70s was still very much prevalent.

I know from bitter experience of not being given a voice in these matters that traditionalists on both sides of the political fence are committed to defending grammar schools out of their own narrow experiences, but I won’t have it said that parents like me don’t have any expectations for our children’s learning.

Labour’s Lucy Powell: we will fight any Tory revival of selective schools

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Education Secretary

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Education Secretary

Shadow education secretary says pending decision in Kent could open floodgates, and accuses Tories of ‘complete lack of new thinking

The Conservatives will drag England’s schools into the past by reviving grammar schools, demoralising teachers and cutting resources, according to the new shadow education secretary.

Lucy Powell, who took over the education role last week following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory, said Labour would fiercely contest any move by the government to allow the revival of selective schools. A decision on the proposed expansion of a Kent grammar school is expected soon. Continue reading

A guide: Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny

guidance paper The guide has been launched by the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Governors’ Association and education lawyers Browne Jacobson. Aimed at senior school leaders and governors, it points out the benefits and types of collaboration, as well as the steps that need to be taken to form a group of schools.

More than half of academies are part of formal partnerships and maintained schools are forming federations. But many schools, particularly smaller ones, are finding it difficult to navigate the new terrain. Their leaders and governors are unsure about the options available to them and are concerned about the time, commitment and knowledge required to properly understand the choices. They may also be nervous about the changing expectations on schools and concerned that decisions may be taken out of their hands if they struggle to meet those expectations. The guide points out that:

• Strong collaboration with shared accountability can lead to better progress and attainment for pupils and help schools meet rising expectations.

• School leaders and teachers can share thinking and planning to spread expertise and tackle challenges together.

• Governors can come together to share strategic thinking, to combine skills and to support each other during challenging times. Continue reading