'Grammar schools or not, selection is already covertly embedded throughout our education system'
When we select pupil-premium students in a class or cohort and ask teachers to highlight them on their lesson plans, aren’t we being "selective"?
When we judge schools on the gap between the attainment of those whose parents happen to fall below a certain income bracket and those whose parents don’t, aren’t we being selective?
When students who receive free school meals are taken off timetable for "special intervention" and when extra teachers are employed to "ensure their progress", is that being selective?
When "more able and talented" students go on special trips or hear from guest speakers, is that being selective?
When students enter a school and complete a baseline test to then be banded into sets, is that being selective?
Is this all OK because this is happening in the state system in schools called “comprehensives”?
So, are you happy that these examples reflect forms of selection? If yes; have you spent the past week lambasting the mere mention of the term “grammar schools”? If yes; can you see any contradiction in any of this?
On all of the above examples, I hear few complaints. I hear few cries of discontent. Is it because of some notion that it’s OK to select the poor, but not the rich? It's ok to select the low ability but not the high?
I’m concerned that the backlash against our own class system, with its in-built elitism, has manifested itself in a subtle form of positive discrimination. Where people pour scorn on grammar schools because of connotations of privilege, while they spend hundred-thousand-pound pupil premium budgets on a handful of children, without question.
'Turning a blind eye to selectivity'
It’s my view that this positive discrimination may have led to many turning a blind eye to the selectivity that is already covertly embedded within our state system. Take one prominent headteacher, on the one hand a very vocal critic of grammar schools, and on the other a leader of a special school that selects students based on a range of factors including academic ability. Is this “OK” because these students are simply more “deserving” of selection?
Are we saying it's OK to take students “out of mainstream” at one end of the ability spectrum, but at the other, it's being “elitist”?
This article is not about whether grammar schools “work” or not – that’s another debate altogether. The issue is more that if we are saying we want a fully inclusive system, let’s have one. If not, I’m afraid that I don’t see how it's OK to pick and choose.
If we are going to carry on selecting, let’s try and make that system more transparent. For example, the “power parents” who spend copious amounts of money on private education options to train their son or daughter to pass the 11-plus, need to be stopped. The current system is against social mobility in that sense. It provides a loophole for those with the financial and cultural clout to plug it.
Let’s remove any semblance of prejudice from our already selective system. If we are going to select, let’s not do it based on a one-off, snapshot test. Let’s base it on ability rather than attainment. I’m sure there are plenty more rigorous and fair ways of doing that than through the 11-plus.
This is not an argument for selective education – far from it. I would personally prefer a system that is all-inclusive, and I think you would struggle to find a teacher who doesn’t.
This is an argument for a sense of transparency in any debate about grammar schools and selective schooling; a sense of humble acceptance about what we already do.
Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets at @RogersHistory