Selective facts to defend selection

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Anthony Stanton asserts that able children do better in grammar schools than in comprehensives and quotes the Office for Standards in Education as his authority. There are strong reasons to doubt the validity of OFSTED "evidence" but, even if it were true, the difference in performance would have to be considerable to justify the enormous drawbacks of a selective system, some of which are admirably set out by the headteacher of St Anthony's high school, Trafford.

Trafford, of course, is next door to Cheshire, which has had a fully comprehensive system of secondary schools for 20 years and which routinely outperforms its neighbour on all established measures of school success.

This may, perhaps, be an unfair comparison as Trafford contains a large swathe of industrial Manchester. Much closer to Cheshire in social make-up would be Mr Stanton's own authority, Kent: predominantly middle-class but with some pockets of deprivation.

If Mr Stanton's convictions about the superiority of selective systems were correct we would expect Kent to outperform Cheshire.

Alas for Mr Stanton, the reverse is the case. On all current measures Cheshire comprehensively (as it were) outperforms Kent.

Even more interesting is the case of Scotland. It is poorer than England, educates only 4 per cent of its secondary children in independent schools and none of them in grammar schools.

Scotland has not had the advantage conferred on England by the attentions of Chris Woodhead and other experts in "school improvement", and yet in the general attainments of its children Scotland remains comfortably ahead of England.

Naturally, those who are fortunate enough to work in selective schools are impelled to justify the continuation of a divisive and damaging process by inventing a rationale for it.

Michael Pyke

9 Church Road Shenstone Lichfield Staffordshire

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