The opposition Conservative group are calling on the city council to hold talks with the city’s grammar schools and look for opportunities for them to open “satellite sites” around the city, following the precedent set in Kent, according to the Birmingham Mail 2 April.
It is vital that every Labour councillor votes against Cllr Matt Bennett’s socially divisive motion at the Council meeting on 5 April. During Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign, the Labour leader spoke of the need for “all grammars to become comprehensives and end the 11-plus where it still exists”.
But according to the Birmingham Mail report, “The council’s ruling group of Labour councillors are divided over their support of grammar school education and so are likely to propose a watered down amendment in support of all types of school.” This would be disastrous.
Here is a case in point; a BCASE supporter happened to meet Cllr Mahmood Hussain and a group of supporters electioneering on the Soho Rd on Saturday and asked if they’d campaign against the Tories’ grammar school plans. The answer was a chorus of “No, grammar schools are good”, including from Cllr Hussain himself. This is a damaging betrayal of Labour’s policies and the interests of working class parents and children in Birmingham. Labour leader Cllr Clancy should insist that every Labour councillor votes and campaigns against the Tory motion, and hold an urgent party briefing to explain to members why opposition to selective schools should be ABC.
Fully comprehensive systems do at least as well by the most able pupils and achieve better overall results than selective systems.
When we compare like with like, the overall results in those authorities that have fully comprehensive systems are better than those in authorities that have retained selection. Research carried out by Professor David Jesson at the University of York consistently demonstrates that the most able 25% of pupils in comprehensive schools achieve at least as well as their contemporaries in Grammar Schools, whereas the least able pupils in Secondary Modern Schools perform worse than their contemporaries in comprehensive schools. Moreover, those authorities that have remained fully selective, such as Lincolnshire and Kent, are regularly over-represented in OFSTED’s lists of worst performing schools. In other words, genuinely comprehensive systems are able to raise the aspirations of the least able while not depressing those of the most able. This contradicts the often repeated prophecy that comprehensive schools would inevitably “level down” the achievements of the most able: it emerges that the opposite is the case. More on the history and success of Comprehensive schooling can be found in the CASE Briefing Comprehensive Success Story (September 2014)
The Tory myth that grammar schools increase social mobility and the Birmingham facts
Bennett claims that creating more grammar schools will create more places for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds and increase social mobility in the city. This is a myth. All the research disproves it.
The evidence is summarised on the Comprehensive Future website, including the recent study by three leading researchers The myth of grammar schools & social mobility – that`s the evidence from leading academics
The facts for Birmingham are these. There are 9 grammar schools. The percentage of pupils on Free School Meals is as follows:
- Bishop Vesey 3.4%
- Handsworth GS 11.5%
- King Edward VI Aston 8.0%
- King Edward VI Camp Hill Boys 3.3%
- King Edward VI Camp Hill Girls 5.6%
- King Edward VI Five Ways 3.4%
- King Edward VI Handsworth 3.9%
- King Edward VI High School for Girls no data available
- Sutton Coldfield GS for Girls 3.3%
The average for the 8 grammar schools with FSM data available is 5.3%. The average for all Birmingham secondary schools is around 33%. (The figure is actually higher because the average includes the grammar schools.) The King Edward VI Foundation also runs one non-selective schools, the King Edward VI Sheldon Heath Academy. Its FSM figure of 34.2% vividly demonstrates the social divide between it and the overwhelmingly middle-class grammar schools.
What one Birmingham parent says about the grammar schools
Below we reprint a report about selection in Birmingham given by a Birmingham parent, Maggie LeMare, at November 2015’s Comprehensive Future Conference. Maggie Le Mare is a mum with direct experience of Birmingham state education. She has seen the way the selection process affects her daughter, and her friends’ children. She has witnessed at first hand, the impact of the grammar versus comprehensive division. (It’s on the website here)
Locally I am probably known as the one who bangs on about Fair Trade, Sustainability and Grammar Schools. My interest in this subject stems from my own education at a private, boarding school. When I emerged from that isolated, sheltered environment into the big, wide world I didn’t really know what had hit me!
We need to be able to rub along with everyone in society so when my daughter (who didn’t take the 11+) started secondary school I wanted her to learn this vital social skill from the start. She is 19 now and appears to be a much more grounded individual than I remember being at that age!
I’ll start off giving you a bit of background before telling what really bothers me about it. Birmingham has a population of 1.1 million. It’s a really good place to live: It is ethnically very diverse; it is very friendly; there’s plenty to do and loads of activities for children.
BUT – it has a grammar school system. There are 76 non-selective secondary schools.
There are 8 grammar schools. 5 of them are supported by the wealthy King Edward VI Foundation – one of the real ironies here is that King Edward VI set up the Foundation over 400 years ago to bring education to those who could not otherwise afford it. The KE VI Foundation sponsors only 1 academy school in the entire city [in Sheldon Heath]
Most children start their school lives in their local state primary. In areas where parents are more affluent or ambitious or both – they want their children to go to grammar schools. Preparation (by which I mean tutoring) for the entrance exams can start as young as Years 3 or 4. Shockingly, to me at least, some tutors won’t accept children if he or she feels that they won’t pass the entrance exam: after all, the tutor doesn’t want to be seen to be failing either. It’s not a cheap exercise: the cost of tutoring is between £30 and £50 per hour, usually for weekly sessions. After several years of tuition pressure on children can ramp up the closer it gets to the exam. You hear some pretty amazing stories – like this one: Families taking tutors on holiday with them or families not going on holiday so that tuition or revision can go on throughout the summer.
Ask parents what they think of Birmingham’s education system and they tell you it’s divisive and unfair. In what ways is it divisive? The obvious ones are to do with friendship groups, parents and communities. The more insidious ones are to do with the division of abilities, resources and opportunities.
So – first – it divides friendship groups. After year 6 – children will be divided between schools all over the city – breaking up friendship groups that they have developed over the previous 7 years. Because their schools are so spread out, getting to school often involves long bus, train or car journeys
Secondly – it divides parents. Strong opinions and disagreements are heard in the playground sometimes threatening friendships. Comparisons with and competition between families can be very destructive
Thirdly, it divides communities. When students are no longer at a local school many of their activities will happen in other parts of the city. Their friends can live miles apart from each other – sometimes outside Birmingham. Parents end up ferrying their children all over the place. This has an impact on: children’s social and academic lives; parents’ stress levels and relationships; the environment; traffic and family finances
By comparison if students attended local schools the local community would be strengthened in terms of networks, activities and social cohesion. Their friends would be local, often living within walking distance. Several of our friends felt so strongly about it that they moved out of Birmingham to avoid the selective system. Many students at comprehensive schools compare their school with the KE VI schools that have wonderful facilities with concert halls, theatres, large playing fields, dance studios and gyms. Many comprehensives are in dire need of refurbishment or rebuilding. One of our local schools has trouble getting adequate gas and water supplies into their science labs.
It is an elitist system. Despite claims to the contrary social mobility is not improved with the grammar school system: the vast majority of parents have to be able to afford tuition. One of the best indicators of deprivation is Free School Meal take up. In grammar schools it is about 3% In comprehensives it is anything from 25% – 70% or above.
The effect on non selective schools. 90% of students applying for a grammar school place are not accepted. A minority of these will go to private schools, the rest to comprehensives. They can arrive at their comprehensive secondary school feeling that both they and the school are second best. This isn’t good for confidence or self-esteem. Or – they’ve been told that they are too good for that school and they arrive believing they are a cut above the rest. This doesn’t go down well with either the students or the staff. It can result in some challenging behaviour from the start of year 7 – with teachers having to manage that. Schools benefit from a mix of students in terms of ability, faith and social groups. Non-selective schools in Birmingham miss out on many of the top-end ability students.
Another difference is parental involvement. Grammar schools tend to have more educated, ambitious and motivated parents who run PTAs or friends associations. In my experience it is very difficult to get parents involved at comprehensive schools. A teacher recently said to me that the poorer the school the more a school needs exactly those sorts of parents: the more educated, ambitious and articulate ones.
Expansion of grammar schools. All the grammar schools expanded this year taking in an extra year group. To ensure all places are filled they adjust their entry requirements, putting pressure on the non-selective schools. One built a new 6th form centre funded by “former pupils, parents and generous grants from the KEVI Foundation”. At my daughter’s school, on the other hand, years have been spent bidding for funding, using already scant resources, for much needed 6th form facilities and a new gym. Grammar schools poach students for their 6th forms from non-selective schools. No wonder either! The comprehensive students joining the grammar schools for 6th form often out-perform the grammar school students i.e. those who have been at the grammar school since year 7.
To sum up – it’s a fragmented and divisive system. Affecting –
- Friendships and relationships
- Family finances
- Academic performance
- Social interaction
- Cultural and social understanding
- Traffic and the environment
- Ambitions and aspirations
- Opportunity causing a disparity of facilities and resources that has an insidiously detrimental effect on children in Birmingham.
Of course, the situation is compounded if you have more than one child and the whole rigmarole is repeated.