Posts Tagged ‘11 Plus’

The Tories and the Return of the Grammar Schools

September 7, 2016

I caught a glance of the front page of the I newspaper today. The cover story was of Theresa May bringing back the grammar schools. I’m afraid I haven’t read the article, so you can criticise this article for my ignorance, if you like. But I don’t think it’ll make any difference to what’s written here. I’m annoyed by the policy, but not surprised. I think Mike published something on his blog a few weeks ago reporting that May was trying to bring back grammar schools. And others have also seen it coming years ago. The author of a book I reviewed a few weeks ago on this blog, which attacked the foundation of the City Academies under Tony Blair, believed that this was all going to lead to the return of grammar schools, as the academy system leads to the separation of the bright, wealthy elite, who can afford to pay, from the poor and less intellectual.

It was also on the cards, given the immense nostalgia there seems to be in this country for grammar schools, if not the 11 plus. That was the exam that decided your future. If you were bright and passed it, you got to go to a grammar school, and could look forward to a middle class, clerical career. If you failed, you went to a secondary modern to be taught a mostly practical education to prepare you for one of the manual trades. A similar system survives in some continental countries, like Germany.

Some people continue to support the system, because the less academically able were nevertheless directed into an area more suitable for their abilities. This might be so, but it was also responsible for creating massive social inequalities. Tony Crosland, one of the founders of the modern comprehensive system, passionately advocated them because of the way the 11 plus discriminated against the poor, and reinforced the British class system. If you were poor, you were far more likely to find yourself failing the exam, and condemned to a life of manual work. There were scientific reports at the time also pointing out that the test itself was unscientific, and that a single exam at that age did not give an accurate picture of a person’s true intelligence.

Even some Tories despised the exclusion of working class pupils from ‘O’ levels. Rhodes Boyson, who was one of Thatcher’s education ministers, described in one interview how he felt it was unfair to discriminate against working class pupils in secondary moderns. They were prevented from taking ‘O’ levels at the time as part of the focus of the secondary moderns on technical and manual trades. He talked about how he led a group of his pupils through the ‘O’ level syllabus and got them to pass the exam, which technically they should not have done. Boyson was a grotty education minister. It was he and Thatcher, who began the process of destroying the Local Education Authorities and trying to take schools out of their control, thus laying the basis for the academy system. But Boyson had at least been a teacher, and had done something radical which genuinely helped working class pupils with this action back in the 1960s.

But nevertheless, there is still this continuing nostalgia for the grammar schools. They were supposed to be better than the comprehensives, which some no doubt were. Many comprehensives were too big, and there was immense harm done to pupils through some of the ‘progressive’ education policies. There were real horror stories in my part of Bristol about Hartcliffe school, which had a reputation for theft, bullying and very low academic standards. But this has changed. The school has been re-organised, and I think standards have improved massively. But the stereotype of the failing, substandard comprehensive, compared to the glittering excellence of grammar schools remains. One of those, who continues to demand their return is a certain Charles Windsor, or as he is better known, Prince Charles. Among his correspondence that became public a year or so ago, to the embarrassment of the government, which had been trying to keep his interference in politics very quiet, were his letters asking for their return.

And now it seems he’s going to get his way. And millions of working and lower middle class children are going to find themselves kept down, by an educational system that deliberately discriminates against them achieving any kind of career above the low paying trades deemed to be their lot by their social superiors. Ultimately, this isn’t about excellence in education. This about reinforcing the traditional British class system, and keeping the lower orders down and away from the middle and upper classes.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 4

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies: A Lesson in Failure

Beckett makes it very clear that academies are a failed policy. They don’t bring the improvements they are touted as bringing, and the scale of their failure is shown by the way that New Labour was determined to change, expand and prop up the system. They were originally intended to improve and turn around failing schools. That has stopped, as they are now the preferred choice for building schools. The ‘city’ part of their names has also been dropped, as that was considered to link them too closely with failing inner city schools. So now they’re just ‘academies’. He states that they are an attack on the 1944 requirement of local authorities to provide education for all children in their areas. Local authorities are now required to ‘commission’ schools, not provide them directly or run them. He also cites a New Labour crib sheet to provide spin doctors with the answer they need for critics of the system, which states that they are to take schools out of the control of Local Education Authorities, which are to be destroyed.

The Return of the 11 Plus

He wonders why the system is being promoted, when it is so obviously a failure. He speculates that, apart from undermining the 1944 education act, it serves another purpose: the return of channelling the less able into vocational education. He notes that before the abolition of the 11 Plus, the educationally able were supposed to go to grammar schools, while the less academically gifted went to technical colleges to learn manual or technical trades. This is coming back, with some academies specialising in GNVQs for their less academically gifted pupils. The private school, which became an academy, meanwhile is definitely retaining GCSEs, and will specialise in languages. So it’s effectively hanging on to its grammar school status, even if it is not, technically, a grammar school any longer.

Beckett states that the return of vocational education and what is effectively the 11 plus is not a policy any socialist party can openly admit to pursuing, and so Blair was bringing it in through the back door of the academies.

What Should Replace Them?

In the last chapter, he discusses what should replace academies. He acknowledges that they were set up to answer a real need – that of failing schools, some of which were in appalling conditions. He argues that there is a need to reform and abolish Local Education Authorities. There are too many of them, and some of them are very small, too small to be effective. Furthermore, less and less power and importance is being given to local authorities anyway, and education is just one of a number of services local councils provide. But he is impressed with how much people care about education, and how much time and energy local people invest in their schools. He therefore argues for the creation of Local Education Councils, whose members are democratically elected, with wide powers over the schools in their areas, and which are outside the stifling tangle of local government regulations. These LECs may choose to approach sponsors, but they would have ultimate control over the schools, not the other way around, as it is now with academies.

My own feeling is that academies are being promoted for much more cynical reasons by the industrial and political elites. They give power to industry, which then gives money to the political parties. It’s another part of the corporatist corruption of politics in Britain and also in America, as many of the companies seeking to set up academies over here, were also involved in setting up charter schools up on the other side of the Pond. Those angling to get a cut of the action in the academy chains include one Rupert Murdoch, through his sideline in educational publishing (don’t laugh).

Academies and Nicky Morgan’s Lies

This mess needs to be cleaned out, and cleaned out now. No new academies are to be built, and I fully agree with Beckett that ways need to be explored to return those that have been to full state control. They are a massive failure. So far 25 academy chains this year have had to be taken over by the state. But you wouldn’t know that from Thick Nicky Morgan’s interview on the Beeb, where she consistently refused to answer his question, and just kept repeating what she’d been told about how unfair it was to keep failing schools open and deny parents the opportunity of seeing their children succeed in an academy. As we’ve seen, this is rubbish. Parent’s ain’t presented with a choice so much as a command: you will get an academy, whether you like it or not.

It’s high time to throw out academies, and the Blairites and Tories with them.

Nick Gibb Spouts Nonsense on Schools: Thatcherite Choice and Bureaucracy

March 29, 2016

This is a bit more to the piece I’ve already put up this evening from UKGovernmentWatch taking apart the specious nonsense spouted on Radio 4 on Friday by the government’s spokesman, Nick Gibb about the plans to turn all schools into academies. Gibb made several assertions, including some autobiographical comments, which indicated that he thought he didn’t have a privileged education, ’cause he only went to a grammar school. This is indeed privileged compared to the rest of us hoi polloi, who went to comprehensives, or to an even older generation, many of whom went to secondary moderns and technical schools during the bad old days of the 11 Plus. But because it wasn’t Eton, or a comparable public school, like those attended by Cameron, Osbo or even ‘Oiky’ Gove, Gibb apparently thinks he’s been educationally short-changed, and is one of us commoners, so to speak. Or at least, that’s how he comes across from the above article.

Gibb’s weird psychology aside, I want here to add a few more points on two specific issues. These are Gibb’s assertion that you couldn’t have two different school systems in the same country, and his assertion that this would cut bureaucracy. Neither of these stand up. The UKGovernmentWatch article as done an excellent job demolishing both of them. However, you can take their attack much further.

Regarding his bizarre claim that you can’t have two different school systems at the same time, this contradicts one of the assertions Maggie made when she started the whole process of school privatisation rolling in the 1980s. Remember when the Blessed Saint of Grantham was telling all and sundry that Conservatism stood for ‘choice’? This was her constant mantra. Unlike the state system, where you had no choice but to use the existing state institution, the Tories stood for private industry, which would give you ‘choice’. It even affected her views on theology. She was a Methodist, and someone once made the mistake of asker her what she thought the essence of Christianity was. Now there are number of ways this could be answered. For Christians, one good one would be ‘God’s redemptive love for humanity, shown by His sacrifice of His son on the Cross’. You could also make a case for ‘forgiveness’ as the highest virtue, coming from God Himself. Others might be ‘God as moral lawgiver’, a definition which would also apply to the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. And there are many others, depending on your view of the religion. Not so Thatcher. She said simply, ‘Choice’. It’s a bizarre statement. Theologically, it’s part of the ‘free will’ argument, which runs that humans aren’t pre-programmed automatons, and are free to chose good or evil. But I don’t think Thatcher meant that. She’d just got so used to answering automatically any question about Tory policy with ‘choice’, that she just used the same answer even in cases where it didn’t really apply.

Now when Thatcher launched the ‘opt-out’ schools, as they were then, this was heralded as yet another piece of Tory choice. Instead of going to a school controlled by the Local Education Authority, you now had a choice of sending your son or daughter to an independently run school. And the supporters of the new schools saw them exactly as providing the public with a great variety of schooling. The new schools were intended to be a different type, which would partly take the place of the old grammar schools.

Now, apparently, thirty years or so later, all that Thatcherite talk about ‘choice’ has been discarded. The aim is exactly the same as it was under Thatcher: the privatisation of the education system. They just don’t want to pretend that there’s any choice about it any more. In their minds, you shouldn’t be able to choose to send your child to a state school. Education must be private, because private enterprise is always better. Even when it isn’t.

Which brings me onto the issue of what happens, when privately-run schools underperform compared to their state equivalents. When that happens, their supporters then whine and moan about how unfair state competition is. This happened thirty years ago when I was at school. The new opt-out schools were supposed to be free to offer teachers new terms and conditions. In fact, they then had a problem attracting staff, for the obvious reason that pay and conditions in the local authority schools were better. And so one of the headmasters, whose school had opted out, or a spokesman for the opt-out schools as a whole, got into the paper moaning about how unfair it was that the state should be able to provide better opportunities to teaching staff, thus penalising the poor independently-run schools. Never mind that, according to that great ideologue of free trade, Adam Smith, that competition was supposed to produce the best quality automatically, and if you couldn’t compete, this was the proper result of market forces. Smith thought that schooling was better when it was provided by private enterprise, as teachers would be keener to get good results. This is undoubtedly where Thatcher and New Labour ultimately got their idea for privatising schools, via Milton Friedman, von Hayek and the rest of the free marketeers. Smith also conceded that where private enterprise was unable to provide a service, such as on the construction of public works, like roads and canals, it should be left to the state. Which means, if you take that part of Smith seriously, that opt-out schools and the Academies have to be abolished, as they can’t compete with state education provided by the local authority.

But the last thing Cameron, Osbo, or New Labour before them want to do, is concede that academies and the privatisation of the school system is a failure. It contradicts everything they’ve been brought up to believe about the superiority of free market capitalism. And worst of all, it won’t give a lucrative industry to their paymasters in big business. Like one Rupert Murdoch.

As for bureaucracy, the academy chains and the firms that run them do, of course, have their own bureaucracies. And one of the problems of taking schools away from local authority control has been the growth of bureaucracy within the schools themselves. As schools were made more responsible for ordering teaching materials and running their own affairs, so the paperwork consequently grew. One complaint I’ve heard from teachers is that they spend too long now on administration, instead of what they joined the profession for: to stand in front of a class and teach. It seems to me that’s why the work of actually teaching a class has been increasingly taken over by teaching assistants, under the supervision of a superior teacher.

So Gibb’s argument defending the government’s policy of privatising education is demonstrably false. It contradicts Thatcher’s policy, as articulated by its supporters in the education system, that it was providing further choice with the addition of a new type of school. And the schools, according to Smith, should be closed down if they can’t compete with state provision. And rather than cutting bureaucracy, they’ve only increased it.

But Gibb, Thicky Nicky, Osbo and Cameron won’t admit that. Not as it means having to admit that private industry isn’t the automatic best solution for everything, ever. And certainly not if it means denying their corporate paymasters a nice slice of state business.