Grammars: ‘We must concentrate on what happens in classrooms, not the label on the school gate’

26th November 2016 at 16:02
Grammar schools vs Curriculum content
Curriculum, rather than school type is what determines successful outcomes for pupils, argues one academy chain head of research

The research director at a major multi-academy trust has said that it’s not school type but the subjects studied at different institutions that explains the success of grammar pupils in later life

Writing in Friday’s TES (article free for subscribers), Daisy Christodoulou, director of research at Ark warned that the government’s recently announced plans to reintroduce grammar schools could prove to be a distraction.

Improving social mobility was more likely to be achieved by concentrating on curriculum content than worrying about "the label on the front of the school" she said.

Subjects are what matters

To support her argument, Ms Christadoulou points to a study, The Role of the School Curriculum in Social Mobility, by Dr Cristina Iannelli of Edinburgh University, which uses a national longitudinal data set that tracks people born in one week in 1958 over the course of their lives.

"Instead of just looking at the impact of school type, [the research] investigates the effect of the subjects studied by different pupils," Ms Christadoulou writes. "It turns out that it was actually the subjects being studied in each school that were decisive, not the type of school itself."

“The positive message from this research is that what happens in the classroom is what matters, not the label on the front of the school.”

Ms Christadoulou also points to the educational history of Finland: "It moved from a selective to a comprehensive system at about the same time as [England and Wales] did. But unlike us, it also ensured that its new comprehensives all taught a similar, very academic curriculum. A lot of effort was also put into training and developing teachers, so they were able to deliver such a curriculum to all pupils.

"Belatedly, more comprehensives in England are taking this approach, with entry to the academic English Baccalaureate subjects increasing. But there is still a lot more to do and the risk is that a return to selection will jeopardise this progress.

"The only way to realise the full potential of the comprehensive ideal is to ensure that such schools also teach a core academic curriculum. Whatever happens with pupil selection, we can’t neglect curriculum content."

This is an edited article from the 25 November edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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