The return of grammar schools has triggered an existential crisis in education's 'neo-trad' wing

21st September 2016 at 14:56
The traditionalists seduced by Michael Gove’s commitment to comprehensive admissions are feeling betrayed, writes TES’ head of content. But this could prove useful in the campaign to see off selection

It would appear there is an existential crisis taking place in the world of education.

This crisis is affecting those who promote the "neo-trad" approach to pedagogy and curriculum. And it's happening because the Tory government has now decided it's in favour of a return to selection.

Many members of the classroom vanguard of the Govian revolution were and are instinctive Labour supporters, but were seduced by the idea of a “grammar school education for all”. They threw their lot in with a Conservative-led government, impressed by its commitment to comprehensive admissions and its determination to declare war on what they perceived as the worst excesses of progressive education, aka The Blob.

Perhaps this group of teachers and educationists ought to have done more due diligence on just how committed a Conservative government, shorn of David Cameron, would be to the comprehensive ideal. Because it's become clear in these recent post-Brexit months that the answer is: "Not very."

Attending ResearchEd the weekend before last, the atmosphere was furious. Delegates – who I have previously characterised as Nick Gibb's shock troops – were apoplectic that the government would countenance the idea of a return to selection. Not so much "a grammar education for all" as a "grammar education for those clever enough to pass the 11-plus".

I soon realised the ResearchEd Army weren't just angry about Theresa May's recent speech about selection: they felt betrayed.

As one high-profile neo-trad blogger put it: "It turns out I believed in their policies more than they did." It was all a little sad. After all, these are people who had taken lonely and often difficult journeys to the point where they’d become cheerleaders for much Conservative education policy.

Driven to distraction

But their opposition to grammars is such that they will no longer be welcome in the corridors of power – and, anyway, if this government is really going to force through a grammar school revolution, it’s going to spend years, if not decades distracted (again!) by systemic structures, and presumably will have less time to worry about curriculum and pedagogy.

All of which goes some way to explain the launch this morning of a new campaigning organisation, Parents and Teachers for Excellence, made up of many of the leading lights of the academies and tradionalist movement, to lobby for “government’s schools policy to move away from structures” and focus more on what happens in the classroom.

Before, these people could simply fire off a friendly email to one of Mr Gove or Nicky Morgan’s advisers, and they would have been listened to. Now they have to campaign from the outside.

It would be easy for those on the progressive wing of teaching to take pleasure from the way the neo-trads have been left out in the cold by the shock return of grammar schools, but there's too much at stake: this is an opportunity to unify the profession in a way not seen for more than a generation. Unify it against the common enemy, selection.

And because they’re organised, angry and hurt, this group could prove to be extremely useful: beware a lover scorned.

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