LBO March 2017
Important parliamentary work is carried out in select committees in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. In the Commons each government department has a select committee to scrutinise its work. The Education Select Committee comprises 11 members with all-party representation, a government majority and Conservative chair. So when it reports serious concerns about government policy we should take note.
Its latest report is into plans to expand grammar schools and it is not possible to read the report without wondering how out of touch ministers must be in persisting with a policy that is so easily shot to pieces by all sides and is described by the committee’s chair as “a distraction”.
Simply put, proposals to create more grammar school places and more grammar schools are from a different time. No educational or social justification can be found to support them however hard one looks.
Just 3% of pupils attending existing grammar schools are “disadvantaged”, the achievement of all pupils in areas that have grammar schools is lower than in comparable areas that do not and the claim that new eleven-plus tests will be devised that will not discriminate against those unable to buy private tuition has been dismissed as just not possible by just about everybody.
In areas with the eleven-plus, the private tuition market has never been stronger as parents desperate for grammar school entry can spend thousands of pounds buying coaching for off-spring reportedly for up to two years to pass the test. The market has apparently even spawned a semi-official league table of tutors. No doubt those with the highest success rates charge the highest fees.
Rarely can such an ill-judged and doctrinaire policy have been put forward and with such timing. As headteachers and governors the length and breadth of the country protest about the funding crisis in schools, the government insists on pushing ahead with a policy to increase selection that even its own most ardent supporters struggle to defend and, adding insult to injury, with the immediate injection of £150 million of new funding. Step back. Think again.