Parliamentary Reception 2014

 

Graham Brady MP with Education Secretary Michael Gove MP
Graham Brady MP with Education Secretary Michael Gove MP

On 18th June 2014 Graham Brady MP held a reception on the terrace of the House of Commons for headteachers, as well as MPs and Peers from all political parties.

2014 is the 70th anniversary of the 1944 Education Act which raised the school leaving age to 15 and brought grammar schools fully into the state system, opening access to children regardless of the ability of pay. We believe this Act presaged a period of unrivalled social mobility and opportunity.

Held in conjunction with the National Grammar School Heads Association, the event heard from Education Secretary Michael Gove who paid tribute to the success of grammar schools in achieving academic excellence. Happily, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt also attended. This event showed a willingness to listen and learn from some of the people who have been most successful at spreading academic excellence and extending opportunity to pupils from all backgrounds. It also provided a useful forum for interested individuals to come together and discuss the best way to take the advancement of grammar schools policy forward.

 

Left to right: Mark Simmonds MP, Tobias Ellwood MP, Tristram Hunt MP, Graham Brady MP,
Left to right: Mark Simmonds MP, Tobias Ellwood MP, Tristram Hunt MP, Graham Brady MP,
Left to right: Bob Neil MP, Philip Davies MP, Nigel Evans MP, Chris Chope MP, Esther McVey MP. Angela Watkinson MP, James Gray MP
Left to right: Bob Neil MP, Philip Davies MP, Nigel Evans MP, Chris Chope MP, Esther McVey MP. Angela Watkinson MP, James Gray MP
Graham Brady MP with Rt Hon Lord (Michael) Howard
Graham Brady MP with Rt Hon Lord (Michael) Howard

 

‘Grammar Schools are the key to increasing social mobility in the UK’

Souce: The Independent /05/2012 – Mary Ann Sieghart

It’s open season on private schools this month. Not from the left of the Labour Party, but from the most senior ministers in the Government. First it was Michael Gove lamenting the widening divide between the private and state sectors. Tomorrow it will be Nick Clegg.

They have a point. It’s no longer just politics and the professions that are disproportionately peopled by a public-school elite. These days, it’s also the media, music, acting and sport. Gove calls this “morally indefensible”. He claims that “more than almost any developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress”.

He might have added “county” to “parentage”. Because if you are bright but poor and you live in Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire or Northern Ireland, your parentage doesn’t have to dictate your progress. You have nearly the same chance of becoming a cabinet minister, a judge, a newspaper editor or a top rower as your privately educated neighbour. Why is that? Because these areas still have grammar schools, those turbo-chargers of social mobility.

Children at grammar schools learn at a faster pace, with more motivated peers, in an atmosphere in which academic excellence is treasured. This improves their results by up to three-quarters of a grade per GCSE subject, compared with children of the same ability in a comprehensive.

It’s particularly helpful for clever disadvantaged boys, who often find that the peer pressure in a mixed-ability school is to bunk off rather than work hard.

Clegg will point out tomorrow that Britain is almost unique in seeing educational inequality continue to increase between the ages of 11 and 18. This doesn’t happen even in America. The reason is that better-off parents can and do buy their children a better secondary education: either by educating their children privately or by buying an expensive house near a good state school.

Of course, the few grammar schools that are left (164 in England and 68 in Northern Ireland) educate a lot of well-off children. But they also offer fantastic opportunities for bright pupils from poor backgrounds, an opportunity that is denied to pupils in Scotland, Wales and four-fifths of England.

The highest ratio of acceptances to applications at Cambridge is from Northern Ireland. It is also the only part of the country that never introduced the comprehensive system. Not coincidentally, perhaps, only 0.3 per cent of pupils there go to private schools, compared with 7 per cent in the whole of the UK. And grammars are popular: according to ICM, 76 per cent of people support the introduction of new ones. Only 17 per cent oppose them. Their opposition can usually be summed up in two words: “secondary” and “modern”.

When selection was first introduced, the secondary moderns were the neglected repositories for the 11-plus failures. Their pupils then spent more time on cooking or metalwork than Latin and weren’t expected to succeed. But a selective secondary school system doesn’t have to be like that.

In Northern Ireland, the non-grammar schools do well, too – a few of them better than their selective rivals. Overall, the province easily outperforms England: 88.5 per cent of Northern Irish pupils get three A-levels, compared with 82 per cent of English ones.

If we moved to more selection, the grammar/secondary-modern divide needn’t be nearly as stark as it used to be. The grammars could allow extra intakes at 12, 13 and in the sixth form, to allow for late developers. They could invite non-grammar pupils to come to classes in A-level subjects where there wasn’t enough demand or teaching expertise at their own schools. Meanwhile all schools could be encouraged to specialise: grammars in traditional academia and non-grammars in technology, sport, languages, music, drama or art. In that way, children would be more likely to find a school that suited their talents, and there would be less stigma about failing the 11-plus.

For we have to make a choice about whether we care more about social immobility or about the feelings of 11-year-olds. Even now, 74,000 children fail to get into their first-choice secondary school and feel bad about it. Yet we don’t have the corresponding benefit of a school structure that provides an escalator up the class system.

The prize is to change the shape of the establishment in one generation. Tomorrow Clegg will unveil a fascinating statistic: that pupils who had free school meals and went to Russell Group universities have exactly the same chance of landing a good professional or managerial job afterwards as students from a more privileged background. In other words, top-class higher education dissolves class differences.

So if we want to make this country much more meritocratic, we must ensure that the brightest children of any background go to the best universities. At the moment, according to the Sutton Trust, bright pupils even at the top comprehensives are half as likely as they should be to go to these universities, given their A-level results. The top grammar schools, by contrast, send exactly the expected proportion.

We could try to improve comprehensives’ treatment of their most academic pupils, to raise teachers’ aspirations and expectations. But we’ve been trying for a long time with limited success. There are still some schools where not a single pupil has ever applied to a Russell Group university. Even more shockingly, nearly half of state-school teachers admit they would never recommend their brightest pupils try for Oxbridge.

We have to get these children into an environment in which only the best is expected of them. A few of them win fully-funded places at independent schools, which gives them a booster rocket to the top. The least we could offer the rest is a free, academically selective education that allows them to achieve their full potential.

By failing to have the courage to promote this obvious route to greater social mobility, Clegg and Gove are like men bobbing for apples with their hands tied behind their backs. Of course they can’t engage their teeth. The Education Secretary has so far allowed just one grammar school to set up a satellite. Yet he recently said that grammar schools were “a beacon for the entire state education system”. Well, if that’s the case, why can’t we have many more of them?

‘Lessons still to be learnt from Grammar Schools’

Source: The Independent – 22/05/2012

Last week, it was the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Yesterday, it was the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, and today it will be the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg. All, in their different ways, are seeking a solution to one of today’s most pressing conundrums: how to reverse this country’s shocking and stubborn decline in social mobility. Yet all, in their different ways, are also fighting shy of an obvious answer: taking another look at grammar schools and selection according to academic ability.

It is easy – especially for those who benefited from them – to wax nostalgic about grammar schools. They extended opportunities to bright children from modest backgrounds, children whose families in most cases not only lacked the means for private school fees, but would never have dreamt of paying. Many of those children rose to become the senior professionals – the politicians, academics, civil servants, scientists – of the latter 20th century. They made the country’s premier universities, and Parliament, more socially mixed than they were before and probably have been since.

But as Mr Gove pointed out, the dominance now exercised by those educated privately constitutes “a deep problem” in our society. It simply cannot be that those whose parents paid for their schooling are so much better and brighter than the state-educated majority. It can be, regrettably, that many of them enjoyed a better education, or at least one that equipped them better to advance in post-school life.

It could be objected that by no means everyone aspires to go to Oxbridge or become a senior judge, an ambassador, or even prime minister. But the persistence of the old school tie in these fields – despite often heroic efforts to broaden entry – strongly suggests that the pool of those who might harbour such ambitions is far too narrow. Grammar schools helped to widen that pool. But progress has not been maintained. Comprehensives were introduced with the best of intentions and have notched up successes. But they are failing the very pupils so well served by grammar schools: academically gifted children from poorer families, who now have no escape from the diktat of house prices and catchment areas.

The introduction of academies by New Labour, which has been accelerated by the Coalition and supplemented by free schools, was an admission that comprehensive schools were not always and everywhere the answer. Yet all the experimentation now in train eschews the one thing many parents most crave: selection by academic – as opposed to musical, artistic or sporting – ability. This remains taboo, so much so that the chief objection voiced by opponents of free schools is that they will become grammar schools by another name.

There was, of course, a double downside to grammar schools: rigid selection at 11, which branded a majority of pupils failures, and the substandard education at many, though far from all, secondary moderns. This shows what else needs to be done if grammar schools are to return: perhaps a higher age for selection, with the flexibility to transfer at any age, and a radical improvement in the quality of technical and vocational education, so that pupils leave with recognised, and respected, qualifications.

That Britain needs to increase social mobility, and urgently, should go without saying. The issue is not just one of social justice and cohesion – though these are important in themselves – but one of squandered talent and unfulfilled lives. For the sake of those who would surely benefit from a more academic education, the ban on opening new grammar schools and selection by academic ability should be revisited.

‘Grammar Schools Can Lead the Gove Revolution’

Graham Brady: Grammar Schools Can Lead the Gove Revolution

 

( This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post.)

MICHAEL Gove may prove to be the most radical and successful Education Secretary of modern times.

It isn’t that he is cleverer than those who went before (although he has a formidable intellect), it isn’t that the idea of giving schools more freedom through the Academy and Free Schools programmes is particularly original either: what gives hope about Gove is that he is clearly so passionate about what he is doing.

Speaking out last week against the “ideologues who are happy with failure – the enemies of promise”, he was actually angry with those who have been happy to tolerate and excuse failure in our state education for so long.

As he went on to say: “If you’re poor, if you’re Turkish, if you’re Somali, then we don’t expect you to succeed. You will always be second class and it’s no surprise your schools are second class”. This, he said, was a result of “the bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left-wing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity… an ideology that’s been proven wrong time and time again”.

Some powerful ideas are at the heart of the revolution that is being driven forward in England’s schools.

First is the refusal to accept failure: bad schools left unchallenged can blight the lives of generations of children.

Second is the belief that good schools flourish when governments interfere least.

Third is the confidence that most parents, however poor, whatever their ethnic background, want their children to have the best possible start in life.

The key to raising standards, therefore, is to give parents more choice, not simply to expect them to put up with whatever local school politicians choose to give them.

But if we are so determined to reject ideology and to champion good schools of whatever sort, it looks increasingly odd that the Government remains determined to veto one type of school that everyone knows works well.

The BBC’s Grammar Schools: A Secret History, the second episode of which is screened tonight, once again reminded us of the many bright kids from poorer backgrounds who have realised their potential through the grammar schools.

As Michael Portillo wrote in the Daily Mail: “The paradox today is that no major political party would dare to bring back grammar schools, yet where they still exist, such as Kent or Buckinghamshire, no front-rank politician would dare to advocate their abolition, because they are so cherished by parents. Why won’t any political party champion grammar schools? I owe mine everything.”

Of course, it is not just parents who currently benefit from grammar schools who support them. Opinion polls show massive support for more grammar schools which are seen as beacons of excellence in a system that is all too often marked by mediocrity.

We now have 40 years of evidence allowing us to compare the performance of comprehensive and selective areas and the picture is clear.

There are good comprehensives, but they are often in the leafiest areas and admit pupils from catchment areas defined by the highest house prices.

Left-wing critics like to suggest that grammar schools are “socially selective” but conveniently ignore the Sutton Trust’s findings that the best comprehensives are more dominated by the middle classes than grammars.

Overall, selective areas (grammar and high schools together) get better results at GCSE and A-level than comprehensive areas, they offer more rigorous subjects and get more youngsters into top universities.

The tragedy is that if parents despair of state schools, those who can afford to will vote with their feet. In Camden 25 per cent of parents go private, in Hackney 19 per cent, and in leafy selective Bromley it is less than nine per cent. In the Manchester Borough of Trafford, part of which I represent (with probably the best state education in England), it is five per cent.

Mr Gove rightly champions academies as “an evidence-based, practical solution”. I agree, but so are grammar schools.

Few people would advocate a massive top-down reorganisation requiring communities to offer academically selective schools alongside all the other specialist schools that have been created in recent years.

But if Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the coalition are really bound together by an instinctive belief in “localism” – that communities know better what is good for them than the man in Whitehall – then the way forward is clear.

Michael Gove has already lifted the prohibition on expansion of existing grammar schools, even allowing them to expand into new campuses. Now he should allow the same freedoms nationwide.

If the Government allowed schools to select a proportion of their intake and if they allowed new free schools to open as grammar schools, the world wouldn’t change overnight. However, more neighbourhood comprehensives might develop an academic specialism and a more rigorous ethos, more coasting schools would be challenged, more bright children in our inner cities might find the opportunities that today are too often available only to those who can afford to go private.

Ironically, contrary to the cherished view of the “ideologues who are happy with failure”, we would also see middle-class families which have fled the state sector bringing their children back into the fold.

With admirable passion and real determination to challenge failure, Michael Gove has unleashed the forces of freedom and parental choice. That choice should be real; it should include more academies – but more grammar schools too.

 

 

Graham Brady is a grammar school campaigner and Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West.

HOUSE OF COMMONS RECEPTION TO SUPPORT GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

Altrincham and Sale West MP Graham Brady has held an event at the House of Commons to support Grammar Schools and selective education.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, on the left, and Graham Brady MP at the House of Commons on April 17th.

Guests at the event included the Education Secretary Michael Gove, former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, former leadership candidate David Davis and around one hundred MPs. They were joined by the heads and staff of Grammar Schools from Trafford; Lancaster; Ripon; Trafford; Lancaster; Warwickshire; Reading; Torquay; Kingston; Kent; Sutton; Ilford and Barnet.

Also at the event on April 17th were Andrew and Sarah Shilling, the parents from Sevenoaks in Kent, who successfully campaigned in favour of a new Grammar. Though new Grammar schools are prohibited by legislation, the new school in Sevenoaks will be a satellite of two existing schools. The Shillings began their campaign because there were not enough grammar school places locally. It’s the first new Grammar to be built in fifty years.

Graham Brady said:

“The event on 17th April was given great support – around 100 MPs attended to give their backing to excellent schools. We were particularly pleased to be joined by Mr. and Mrs. Shilling, who have persuaded Kent County Council to open the first new grammar school for fifty years. Parents in Trafford have given their overwhelming backing to selective education; it would be tremendous if parents in other areas were given the same choice for their children.”

When the results are this good, exams are failing

A-level achievement shows that able pupils and teachers are ready for even greater academic challenges.

CHRIS WOODHEAD   1462 words

Publication date: 15 November 2009 Source: The Sunday Times

Page: 1  (c) 2009 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved  

   

Separated by the tiniest possible margin, six schools compete at the top of this year’s independent table for the coveted No 1 slot. A total of 99.2% of A-level candidates at Perse Girls and the Stephen Perse Sixth Form College were awarded A or B grades, while 98.3% of students at Magdalen College School, Oxford achieved A* or A grades at GCSE. More startling still, 93.6% of all entries earned Alevel A grades at St Paul’s Girls’ School and 81.9% of entries earned GCSE A*s at Westminster. Whatever we might think about the intellectual rigour of today’s examinations these are incredible results, and the best state schools are close behind. 

I have visited a good number of these schools. The argument that they are examination factories interested only in improving their league table position is nonsense. In my experience it is the schools that achieve the best academic results that offer the most exciting range of extracurricular activities and the most supportive pastoral care. 

It is equally absurd to suggest that top-performing schools are highly selective ones, full stop. Yes, the ability of the students admitted to a school is an important factor in considering that school’s success. But so, too, is the excellence of the teaching its pupils receive. Bright students need passionate and expert teachers to challenge their thinking and raise their expectations. It is such teaching that explains the phenomenal results achieved by these schools and the eight Parent Power Schools of the Year. 

That said, these outstanding successes raise serious questions about the examination system. In that the purpose of an examination is to identify the candidates who really deserve the highest grades, the debate about whether GCSE and A-levels have been dumbed down is an irrelevance. This year, 71 independent and 12 state schools had 90% or more students achieving A/B grades at A-level. Six years ago, the figures were 25 and one respectively. 

Those who defend today’s examination standards, arguing that improved results reflect the greater ability and dedication of the students and the effectiveness of their teachers, dismiss this as a wickedly elitist question. Examinations, they argue, should be an opportunity for every candidate, however ignorant and ill-prepared, to show ability. Perhaps, but when marks are awarded for putting your name on your exam script, one wonders whether a generous sentiment has not been overdone. I worry more about the fact that we have no way of recognising the genuinely outstanding student than I do about the possibility that not everybody would win a prize if standards were to be raised – so that fewer students gained top grades, and, at the other end of the scale, more failed. 

You would have thought that top universities would have welcomed the government’s introduction next year of an A* grade at A-level. Some have. But others appear to worry that the new hurdle will disadvantage students from state schools and are saying that, for now at least, they will ignore this initiative. It is a classic example of the sentimental egalitarianism which threatens the existence of our most prestigious universities and militates against the radical reform the examination system really needs. 

Tinkering with the A grade is not enough. Examinations matter. They determine the topics to be studied and define the level of the academic expectation. The teachers in the schools which appear in Parent Power today challenge their able students in spite of, rather than because of, the expectations of GCSEs and A-levels. 

An increasing number of the most prestigious independent schools are abandoning GCSEs and A-levels, preferring to enter pupils for the IGCSE and, at 18, either the international baccalaureate (IB) or the Pre-U examinations. Others are reducing the number of GCSEs their pupils are prepared for in order to spend time on what they call “enrichment classes” where, they say, the real intellectual work is done. 

If Labour were to win the next election, reform is unlikely. Ed Balls, the secretary of state, wants the government’s new diploma for 14 to 19-year-olds to be “the qualification of choice” and hopes that it becomes so popular that A-levels “wither on the vine”. He thinks one qualification can cater for the needs of the potential Oxbridge scholar and the 16-year-old desperate to leave school and get a job. In fact, the diploma is a doomed hybrid: on the one hand it is too academic, as a recent study found, for the less able, and, on the other, it is nowhere near rigorous enough, as eminent scientists have stated on more than one occasion, to stretch the more able. 

A Conservative victory could possibly offer some hope. Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, has criticised the diploma. He has spoken about the need to restore academic rigour to the curriculum. Would, though, a Tory government have the political courage to challenge the vested interests: an educational establishment that does not want to have its achievements questioned, aided and abetted by parents who are expecting their children to be awarded top grades? 

Serious reform would without doubt leave blood on the tracks. 

What, though, is the alternative? Will next year’s Sunday Times table see a couple of dozen schools neck and neck at the top of the list because the GCSE and A-level examinations are too easy for their gifted students? Will the A*-B pass rate at A-level hit 100%? Will the percentage of students achieving A (and the new A*) grades rise to a third or more? And, if so, what possible value will these grades add to university admissions procedures? 

These are the questions I am asked whenever I talk to teachers in top-performing schools. “What is the point of it all?” they say. “These examinations have no relevance to the students in our classes. Worse, they get in the way of what we want to teach. Why can’t anybody in power understand what is obvious?” There are two answers to this question. The first is that dumbed down examinations suit ministers as well as teachers and parents. “Look”, they can say to the electorate, “your children are doing better on our watch. Our policies are working. 

Vote for us next time round.” 

The second is that politicians and educationalists alike appear to believe that equality of opportunity means that all children should follow the same curriculum and be entered for the same examination. 

Hence the hostility to selection on grounds of academic ability, the decision in the 1980s to merge the old O-level examination with the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE), and now the diploma. 

The truth, of course, is that some children are highly intelligent and others are not. This year’s Parent Power guide celebrates the achievements of some of the brightest students in the country and the schools they had the good fortune to attend. Just think, though, what they and their teachers could have done if the system was designed to challenge further their exceptional abilities. 

Chris Woodhead is a former chief inspector of schools 

Find the best schools at timesonline.co.uk/parentpower 

Go to timesonline.co.uk/ parentpower for the full 2009-10 Sunday Times survey of Britain’s leading schools. Our fully searchable online database contains 2,000 schools spanning state and independent sectors, primary and secondary education and all four countries of the United Kingdom. These are the definitive school listings, ranking schools on their academic achievements. Enter your postcode to find the best schools near where you live. You can also search for schools by name, town, local authority area and region, as well as plotting the schools closest to you via our unique Googlemap. In addition to displaying examination results going back as far as 2003, there are links from the Parent Power website to latest inspection reports and school websites. You can even search for houses in nearby areas using our Globrix weblink. 

PARENT POWER SCHOOLS OF THE YEAR 

State Secondary The Latymer School, London 

Independent Secondary Withington Girls’ School, Manchester 

State Primary Manor Primary School, Wolverhampton 

Independent Preparatory Kensington Prep School, London 

International Baccalaureate King’s College School, Wimbledon 

Scottish State Secondary Mearns Castle School, Newton Mearns 

Scottish Independent Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh 

Northern Ireland Secondary St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt 

FINDING THE BEST 

The best 2,000 schools online timesonline.co.uk/ parentpower

A new role for grammar schools?

Peter Newsam, former chief schools adjudicator, has come up with a radical proposal for the future of post-16 education. Could it catch on?

Jessica Shepherd   1684 words

Publication date: 17 November 2009 Source: The Guardian

Page: 1  © Copyright 2009.  The Guardian.  All rights reserved.  

             

Students at the non-selective sixth-form college in Farnborough, Hampshire, achieved an average of 398 Ucas points last year – the equivalent of more than three As at A-level. At grammar schools, meanwhile, the average point score was 385, according to a Guardian league table created from a database into which schools entered their results.

The full A-level results for schools and colleges will be published in January, but early signs indicate that at least 20 of the 94 sixth-form colleges in England and Wales will have outstripped the average grammar school.

It has prompted a suggestion from Sir Peter Newsam, the former chief schools adjudicator: why not turn the “best” grammars into sixth-form colleges? This, he says, would mean thousands more 16-year-olds would get the best opportunities – and would boost the intake of comprehensives.

Newsam was chief schools adjudicator between 1999 and 2002, and chief education officer for the Inner London Education Authority before that. He is also a former director of the Institute of Education, University of London, and was knighted for services to education.

He told Education Guardian that his idea would lead to “at least five times as many students getting an education as good as, sometimes much better than, [from] many grammars”.

Under Newsam’s proposals, a grammar school in which at least 98% of students achieve five A*-C GCSE grades and the average Ucas point score is high, and where the sixth form is at least as big as other year groups, would be “invited” to consider turning into a sixth-form college.

These grammar schools would stop admitting 11-year-olds and instead open their doors to a mix of 16-year-olds from non-selective schools, thereby gradually transforming themselves into sixth-form colleges. About 40% of current sixth-form colleges are former grammar schools, including Farnborough.

What is unique about the best grammar – and for that matter independent – schools, says Newsam, is the quality of their sixth forms. Under his plans, many more pupils would benefit from a top-quality post-16 education, he says. What’s more, the intake of neighbouring 11-16 comprehensives would improve.

Newsam has always been opposed to selection at 11. “It is not necessary to be selected at the age of 11 or to be in the same school since then to do well at A-level,” he says.

Although the government and the Conservatives are opposed to any expansion of grammar schools, they haven’t dared to get rid of them. In 2007, Conservative MPs Michael Howard, David Davis and Liam Fox were reported to be angry with what they said was a calculated attack on grammar schools by David Willetts, the Conservative shadow education secretary. But could Newsam’s suggestion be just the get-out clause they need?

“Grammar schools had a good purpose when 10% of the population went to university, but not now,” Newsam argues.

“Teachers in high-performing grammar schools are well qualified to teach sixth-form students to a high level. Were they to concentrate on that, they could reach at least five times as many students as they do now and transform the quality of education in their area. A new post-16 role for many of the best grammar schools would have a profoundly beneficial effect on local primary and secondary schools,” he says. “Given assured access to first-rate post-16 education, parental anxieties at 11 diminish.”

His proposals might just be taken seriously. They come just as a bill expected to trigger an increase in the number of sixth-form colleges has received royal assent – the last stage before it becomes an act of parliament.

Under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act, sixth-form colleges are being given a separate legal status.

Local authorities will once again be responsible for planning their area’s post-16 education and will be free to choose a model of a sixth-form college.

David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Forum (SFCF), says this is likely to see a rise in their number from the current 94 in England and Wales to up to 400.

On top of this, sixth-form colleges have been found to operate on between 6% and 20% less funding per pupil than schools, according to calculations by consultants KPMG and by the SFCF.

And the school inspectorate, Ofsted, and others have noted the considerable achievements of sixth-form colleges given their non-selective intake. An Ofsted study of 25 colleges and schools, published in September last year, found that “standards of attainment varied, with those in sixth-form colleges generally higher than those in the schools and further education colleges visited. Similarly, progress overall was greatest in the sixth-form colleges.”

A spokesman from the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was up to local authorities to decide whether they wanted more sixth-form colleges.

On grammar schools, he said: “Ministers do not support academic selection at 11 and it cannot be extended outside the tiny minority of schools where it already exists. It’s down to parental ballots and local communities to decide whether to wind up grammar schools and become comprehensives. Our focus is on expanding popular and successful non-grammar schools to meet parental demand.”

Wide ability range

Igoe says he is “very confident” that there will be a lot of new sixth-form colleges over the coming years, but he has doubts about whether they will be former grammar schools. “It has never been part of the forum’s thinking to target grammar schools. Sixth-form colleges have worked really hard to cater for young people of a wide ability range; we wouldn’t necessarily be thinking of grammar schools taking that role,” he says.

Others also have their concerns. John Guy, Farnborough’s headteacher, who served on the government’s Tomlinson committee on 14 to 19 reform, says things have changed since the 1960s when many grammar schools turned into today’s sixth-form colleges.

“It just isn’t that simple to convert grammar schools into sixth-form colleges,” he says of Newsam’s plans. “Sixth-form colleges have changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. I agree absolutely that a sixth-form college is a wonderful model – it maximises maturity and gives independence to young people, which enables them to support each other to study. But where I would pause is at the suggestion that it should be grammar schools that become sixth-form colleges.”

Tim Boyes, headteacher of two Birmingham comprehensives – Queensbridge and Moseley schools – says he broadly agrees with Newsam’s “provocative yet practical” plans. However, he says Newsam has not thought through the “complexities” of the qualifications pupils aged 14 to 19 can take. “I’m not sure a pupil who started taking a vocational qualification at 14 would fit into this grammar school-turned-sixth-form college model,” he says.

To which Newsam answers: “The argument that grammar school teachers could not cope with students arriving at 16 with “good” GCSEs is weird. If a grammar school teacher cannot teach A-level to such students, they are in the wrong job. How does anyone in sixth-form colleges manage in that case? They don’t insist on only admitting students who have As and A*s at GCSE.”

Newsam says pupils who start vocational qualifications at 14 should study part-time at an FE college and part-time at their schools, rather than the grammar schools-turned-sixth-form colleges.

Unsurprisingly, Shaun Fenton, the chair of the Grammar Schools Heads Association and headteacher of Pate’s grammar school in Cheltenham, gives Newsam’s proposals short shrift.

“We should not close successful and popular schools,” he says. He cites research by the Sutton Trust charity from last year, which found that grammars outperformed non-grammars by up to two-thirds of a grade. Fenton says: “Educational excellence in this country is about a rich tapestry of schools, including academies, specialist schools, comprehensives, grammars and more. Grammar schools have a distinctive and valuable place in that framework.”

Coached at seven

But other headteachers are convinced Newsam is right. Sue Roberts, head of Haddenham community junior school in Buckinghamshire, says that if parents knew their children would have access to top-quality education post-16, they’d be less inclined to “hothouse” their children for the 11-plus.

“Some pupils are coached at seven years old to get through the 11-plus, and it stops them enjoying primary school,” she says. “It’s tragic. We have children who can’t do netball club because they have to be coached. Parents have this sense that unless they go to grammar school, their children will be failures. Children are much more developed and have found more of their strengths at 14 or 16.”

Phil Karnavas, principal of Canterbury high school, one of the country’s highest performing non-selective schools, says: “Children develop at different rates. To pretend to be able to measure intelligence accurately at 10 or 11 is a nonsense. Some children spend their summer holidays being crammed, others are offered cash incentives for passing, and some are placed under major strain. Some who are put through all of this will ‘fail’ and the damage to their self-esteem could be profound.”

Even so, this year, the number of children sitting the 11-plus in Kent, which has the most grammar schools in England, climbed by a fifth. Private tutors have also reported record business as parents attempt to coach children to win a place, sometimes as early as 5am.

The best hope, says Newsam, is a few “charismatic mayors to make an audit of what their cities could do and see what bigger role the grammar schools could play if they concentrated on what they do best”.

Grammars set for new transfer tests

  Simon Doyle, Education Correspondent  

402 words Publication date: 10 November 2009

Source: The Irish News Page: Pg. 3

(c) 2009, The Irish News Ltd.  All Rights reserved.  

           

Grammar schools are making final preparations for new entrance tests starting this week. 

More than 7,000 primary seven pupils are expected to sit the first of three Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) papers on Saturday. 

The results of these unregulated transfer exams will determine whether children will be awarded a place at one of 34 non-Catholic grammar schools. 

One week after the first CEA exam, a similar number of children will sit multiple-choice papers set by GL Assessment which are being used by another group of schools, most of them Catholic. 

A total of 13,737 pupils have been entered for tests – about 1,600 fewer than for the final official 11-plus last year. 

It has emerged that just five per cent of pupils taking the CEA papers are entitled to free school meals. 

Free lunches are usually provided to children whose parents receive benefits or whose family income is less than £15,000. 

The families of those entitled to free meals – about 350 – did not have to pay the CEA’s £35 entry fee. 

This means the Association for Quality Education, which runs the CEA, raised almost a quarter of a million pounds in entry fees. 

The newly published figure mirrors the socio-economic make-up of the grammar school population, where about six per cent of children are on free meals. 

The average free meal entitlement in non-grammar secondary schools is about 17 per cent. 

Meanwhile, with just days to go before the first test, education minister Caitriona Ruane has again been asked to commission a new state-sponsored 11-plus for use next year. 

In response to an assembly question asked by Alastair Ross of the DUP, Ms Ruane said she had no plans to ask the north’s exams board to prepare a new test. 

Mr Ross had said such a move would help “avoid uncertainty for P6 pupils and parents next year”. 

The minister replied: “The 11-plus is gone and will not be coming back in any form. Academic selection is a failed process and there is no place for it in our education system. 

“My department’s policy clearly states that postprimary transfer should not involve academic testing. 

“I do not therefore propose commissioning a test, as this would merely serve to perpetuate the inequalities associated with the former transfer test.” 

Money buys the best state education

 Alison Shepherd   719 words

Publication date: 8 November 2009 Source: Independent On Sunday

Page: 44,45 (c) 2009 Independent News & Media PLC  

   

Comment | Every child deserves a good school place, says Alison Shepherd 

An education system that produces record-breaking GCSE and A-level results year after year ought to instil pride both in children and parents. And yet last month the Government that has presided over this incredible rise in achievement released figures showing that the number of children skipping school, preferring to hang listlessly around shopping precincts, has risen to its highest ever level. 

Parents too are dissatisfied: last year, 62,000 households appealed against a school’s refusal to take their child. And more than 1,000 were caught lying or cheating to try to get their child into the primary or secondary of their choice. “Choice” is the watchword of a Labour Government keen to recast parents as simple consumers. But there are some things too important to leave to market forces, and education is one. For make no mistake, it is money that buys choice. Money has always been a way of leaving the system altogether, but now even for those in state education it buys a house in the right catchment area, hires lawyers for the appeal when even renting a second “home” in that area didn’t swing it and pays for private tutors to get your child through the myriad of entrance exams, the 11-plus, key stage 2 SATs. 

And if you have enough money, even if not much to spare, to invest in your child’s future, you’re not just going to sit back and think “Well, at least we tried” when Ophelia or Felix ends up at the not so local, maybe even “sink” comprehensive, missing out on the better, closer option because it was only sixth on your list of back-ups. No, you’re going to fight every inch of the way. 

We can’t blame these parents; we all want what we think is best for our children. And we have been led to believe that even the choice of “right” primary school can make or break the adult life of today’s four-year-old. But what is best can vary from region to region, even council to council. I confess my daughters are at a selective school, but – and I do feel the need to justify our decision – if you live in Kent it is difficult to shake off the feeling that it would be next to neglect not to fight for a grammar school place, when the alternative is to leave your child to sink or swim in schools that even on open evenings can scarcely disguise an inferiority complex. We can blame a state system that allows such differences to flourish. Why should parents be faced with such contrasts when choosing that most basic of rights – education? 

But this Labour Government has done little to narrow the gap. Instead, it has created even more schools that can cherry-pick the brightest children. The names vary: academies, city technology colleges and specialist schools, but selection is how they operate. And, of course, there are still faith-based institutions. 

In the north-east London borough of Redbridge, where about one in 10 parents appealed against admission decisions last year, almost half the children are awarded a school place on some sort of selective principle, whether by one of the two grammars, four faith, or two foundation schools. That’s eight out of the 17 schools available. When any school starts with the “bottom” half of the available 11-year-olds, who are there only because they lack academic prowess, a special talent, faith, or parents willing to take on the system, it’s a very steep climb up the league table and into a parent’s reckoning. 

Now, Michael Gove, the Conservative counterpart to Education Secretary Ed Balls, believes the answer to the rise in admission appeals is to give parents even more choice. But the more you winnow, the more indigestible bran you leave behind, only in this case we are talking about children. 

What most parents want is not more a boutique system, but homogenisation, so that each March they need not dread the post because whichever school your child is allocated will prepare them well for their adult lives.

How a good school can add 125% to value of your house

By Sarah O’Grady Property Correspondent     551 words

Publication date: 4 November 2009 Source: The Daily Express

Page: 19 (c) 2009 Express Newspapers   

          

HOUSE prices are soaring in areas whose schools enjoy a good reputation as parents pull out all the stops for their children’s education. 

In what have become known as “educational super towns”, the average house price is 10 per cent more than typical homes outside the catchment areas of quality schools, a study shows. 

Results show more dramatic rises in suburbs than towns. Properties near grammar schools in Altrincham, near Manchester, where GCSE scores are high, sell for a staggering 125 per cent more than the Cheshire county average. 

Houses in Hallam, Sheffield, in Clifton, Bristol, and in Solihull and Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands are all more than 60 per cent dearer than their county averages. 

Property in the Surrey town of Leatherhead is 59 per cent over the county average. It is followed at the top of the rankings by Winchester at 39 per cent, Harrogate at 23 per cent and Tunbridge Wells at 22 per cent over their county averages. 

Lucian Cook, director of property firm Savills Research, which carried out the study, said: “Access to a good school is the single most important consideration when parents with school-age children decide where to live, but homes with access to highquality schools come at a significantly higher price.” 

He added: “Homes in the vicinity of the top-performing quarter of secondary schools cost 16 per cent more than their county average, up from 13 per cent in 2007. At the extreme, homes in areas with a combination of good state and independent schools can be worth two or three times their county average. 

“During the downturn, property prices around the top-performing 25 per cent of schools fell by just under 16 per cent but prices for homes in the vicinity of the not-so-good schools dropped by more than 19 per cent, suggesting that good schools can help to recession-proof a home. 

“It’s clear that a good education – state or private – almost invariably comes with an added cost in terms of the price of local property.” 

But parents whose incomes do not stretch to a large mortgage can still find bargain prices near good schools. 

Properties in Dartford, Kent, sell for 11 per cent under the county average, while Bishop’s Stortford, Herts, and Woking, Surrey, enjoy a respective five and four per cent discount compared to their county averages. 

Houses have regained £11,000 o f their lost value since April, according to the Halifax. Owners of an average three-bedroom semi would have seen its value rise by £1,833 a month, or 7.1 per cent, to £165,528. 

The fourth consecutive monthly rise of 1.2 per cent in October means properties are up 2.9 per cent on values recorded at the end of last year. 

The educational super towns 

Leatherhead 59 

Winchester 39 

Harrogate 23 

Tunbridge Wells 22 

Horsham 9 

Bath 9 

Sleaford 8 

Lincoln 0 

Woking -4 

Bishops Stortford -5 

AVERAGE 10 

. . . and suburbs 

Altrincham Manchester 125 

Sutton Coldfield Birmingham 68 

Hallam Sheffield 65 

Redland/Clifton Bristol 63 

Solihull Birmingham 62 

Crosby Liverpool 47 

Barnet 12 

Ealing 

Streatham and Tooting -7 

Dartford Kent -11 

AVERAGE 37