“Schools That Work For Everyone” is the government’s consultation document on grammar schools and faith schools. According to the government, this document outlines its ambition “to create an education system that extends opportunity to everyone, not just the privileged few”.
If schools worked for everyone our system of education wouldn’t look like this. It would address all of the needs of children and young people – their social, emotional and physical requirements as well as their intellectual needs (and would recognise that intellectual needs aren’t necessarily met through a heavily prescribed curriculum that doesn’t take account of individuals’ interests.)
If schools worked for everyone this document would consider the fact that children and young people have different interests, abilities and skills, and would welcome the opportunity to diversify the educational offer to them.
If schools worked for everyone the consultation document would recognise that children and young people don’t develop at the same rate according to their age. If schools worked for everyone, a thought or two for the age-old problem of summer born children might have been considered. It wouldn’t for one minute suggest that it’s appropriate to brand children successes or failures at the age of eleven – or indeed any age. It would grapple with the fact that Year 6 students could be taking the same test on the same day even though Pupil A might be 364 days older than pupil B.
If schools worked for everyone, there might have been a mention in this document of special educational needs as well as disabled children and young people.
If schools worked for everyone, there might have been a clear statement about how we are going to tackle the appalling and catastrophic mental health problems that affect thousands of young people. It might also have considered the fact that the persistent and excessive emphasis on academic attainment in high stakes exams is a significant contributory factor to the decline in the wellbeing of our young people.
If schools worked for everyone, it would focus on the overwhelming evidence regarding the disproportionate attainment for young people in other schools in areas where grammar schools exist.
The proposals in this consultation document don’t work for everyone. They don’t come near to working for everyone. The document makes gross assumptions. It ignores research. It doesn’t focus on the main issues affecting our schools, our teachers or our children and young people.
Furthermore, we’re surprised that nobody has asked the burning question about how this document relates to the academies department and its possible need for more sponsors. Have they run out of sponsors? Are the existing MATs not producing the right results?
Neither does it make explicit reference to the previous White Paper “Educational Excellence Everywhere” – remember the one where the government had to backtrack on making all schools academies, and where they’re now backtracking on their ludicrous decision to remove parents from governing bodies and academy boards?
An excellent summary of the key points in this Green Paper has been written by SchoolsWeek.
To summarise, on Selective Schools “Schools that Work for Everyone” says,
- Selective schools can expand if they also “support”, sponsor or establish a feeder/non-selective school.
- Selective schools must take a proportion of children from “low income homes” – (as yet this is an undisclosed percentage).
- Selective schools must partner with local schools to give young people opportunities to join selected schools at age of 14 and 16.
- £50 million available to support existing grammar schools to expand.
- New selective schools could be agreed and they’d be free to select 100% of intake.
- Existing non-selective schools can become selective – if they adhere to certain criteria.
- Selective schools that don’t deliver good results could be stripped of their status rights.
- Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) allowed and “encouraged” to select – setting up a single setting for “most able”
- Existing selective schools must link with other schools for CPD and teacher exchange!
- Selective schools should have a fair access process.
The “lower income families” stipulation sounds egalitarian but further into the Green Paper it becomes apparent that the government has no idea how to identify these families. In point of fact their first two questions to the general public, through the consultation document, are,
“How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not quality or apply for Free School Meals?”
“How can we identify them?”
Even those steeped in educational jargon would struggle to understand precisely what the first question actually means, and please note this is a consultation document for all, not just the educational elite!
The document states that only selective schools that are judged “good or outstanding” by Ofsted will be allowed to expand.
This equates to 99% of existing selective schools. So effectively all selective schools can expand – without reference to whether their “good” from Ofsted was borderline “requires improvement” or borderline “outstanding” or whether they’d been “coasting” in the “good” category for a decade. Or indeed whether the Ofsted report looked beyond attainment levels.
Delving into the document, you come across a marvellous section called “Evidence”.
“Estimates of how much of the educational gains [from attending a selective school] are due purely to attending a selective school vary, once other factors are taken into account, from zero up to around three quarters of a GCSE grade per subject.”
So the government’s prepared to spend all this time and money on the possibility of a 0% change? Not a “D” to a “B” or a “C” to an “A” – or a 7 to a 9 under the new system.
It also says,
“Other studies suggest that there may be an association with poorer educational consequences for those pupils not attending selective schools in areas where selection is allowed.”
This, in a document entitled “Schools that work for everyone” – except when they don’t.
The government is blatantly ignoring evidence.
Onto other issues within the Green Paper and we look at the criteria for Independent Schools and Universities.
On Independent Schools it says,
- To maintain charitable status, independent schools must either sponsor or set up a new academy or free school or offer a proportion of places (as yet % undisclosed) to those “insufficiently wealthy to pay fees”.
[N.B. apart from FSM data, they still haven’t worked out a way of ascertaining who is “insufficiently wealthy to pay”]
- Independent schools that set up a new school should ensure that the new school achieves a “good or outstanding” judgement from Ofsted within a certain number of years (as yet undisclosed).
- Smaller independent schools that can’t provide sponsorship must either provide school to school support to state schools or support teaching in minority subjects, e.g. Mandarin or ensure Senior Leaders become Directors of MATs or provide facilities for use by state schools or provide an undisclosed amount of sixth form places.
All of the above seems to assume that all independent schools are good or outstanding – as judged by their independent inspectorate! It also assumes that the quality of teaching and learning in all independent schools are magically superior to the teaching and learning in state schools since they are fee-paying.
On universities, the Green Paper says that if universities wish to increase their fees, then they can only do so if they in turn set up a new Free School or sponsor an academy.
It says universities provide,
“A depth of expertise and resources to draw on – in governance, in teaching and finance”.
In universities not in schools! And judging by some “teaching” in universities, the outcomes for young people would be far from favourable.
A comment like this is evidence enough that this paper been written by someone who has no concept or experience of working in schools and how they differ enormously from running a so-called prestigious university.
As the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, most aptly and succinctly said in a recent appearance on Radio Four’s Today programme,
“I think there are many wonderful teachers and headteachers throughout the country and I think it’s frankly insulting to them to suggest that a university can come in and do what they are working very hard to do and, in many cases, doing exceptionally well. . . . . . . . We are very good at running a university but we have no experience in running schools. . . . . . It would be a distraction from our core mission.”
In its Evidence section, the consultation paper says,
“Research shows that prior attainment of pupils is the overriding factor in predicting access to university.”
Really? Might that be on account of the fact that universities select on prior attainment?
And “access” isn’t the same as provision of a supportive education with a good degree and a well-rounded human being as an outcome.
The document repeatedly uses the phrase,
“In all cases, the overriding objective is to create an education system that will allow anyone in this country, no matter what their background or where they are from, to go as far as their talents will take them.”
. . . . . . as long as they’re academically capable, as long as their talents are “testable” and therefore valued by government, as long as they don’t live in a town where there’s existing selective schools, as long as they don’t have special educational needs or disabilities, as long as they don’t have any mental health issues – frequently brought on by the stress of complying with the high-stakes exam system, as long as they fit into a criteria that the government can’t work out for themselves regarding their financial status, and so on and so on.
We haven’t even begun to talk about faith schools in this post. As we said previously, it warrants a post of its own.
This document is a farce. Its questions are farcical. Its assumptions and evidence are farcical – before we even get onto its ill-judged proposals.
It’s a catastrophe of a document and a proposal that’s cost unnecessary time and money.
We will be responding to the questions and we encourage everyone else to do the same. It’s really important that the government understands the depth of feeling on this issue of selection.
The closing date for responses is the 12th December 2016.