Last week, the Sunday Times published a letter from a group of concerned individuals – it included Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector, so you know where they are coming from – advocating the reintroduction of grammar schools. This is a recurring piece of educational nonsense (no one pledges themselves to lead the fight for new secondary moderns), to which I wrote a letter of reply:
The idea of re-establishing grammar schools is (as Tim Vine said of crime in multi-storey car-parks) wrong on so many levels. There is no evidence that it would raise quality. The leading international systems are all nonselective. Northern Ireland, which has retained selection, falls behind England in PISA ranking; indeed, selective areas of England perform to a mediocre standard, and have a particularly poor record in staying-on rates. The idea that grammar schools favour working class children has been disproved. Research from the Institute of Education shows grammar schools increase inequality, and in selective areas, poor children do particularly badly at GCSE. The idea that creating selective schools aids choice is plainly nonsense: the moment selection is introduced, parents who wish their children to go together to a local comprehensive school have that choice removed. And they can’t choose a grammar school if they’ve ‘failed’ the 11+.
There is an increasing consensus that educational policy should be guided by evidence rather than by passing enthusiasms or saloon-bar wisdom. In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests re-introducing selection would be a mistake.
This was not published. I don’t mind about that – I am not the country’s leading educational thinker, and there are fine organisations working to defend and develop state education in better ways than I can. What I was upset about was that there was no reply at all on the grammar school theme, apart from a minor squib about the success of Indian kids getting in to them. I am sure that the editor will have received a substantial number of letters of response, yet not one was chosen for publication. In my view, a serious paper – especially one with claims to be the national paper of record – should not be setting hares off and then allowing no space for rebuttal. It’s not quite at the same thing as a personal right of reply, but in some ways it is more important. We’re talking here about the future of generations of children, rather than the reputation of one individual, and that shouldn’t be left to the unchallenged rambles of saloon-bar reactionaries.