Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Comprehensive Schools

The announcement today by David Willets marks another u-turn in Conservative education in abandoning support for grammar schools. Only at the last election the Conservatives were planning to support the introduction of more grammar schools in England. I actually welcome their revised view on the issue though like most Conservative U-turns you do have to have to be slightly sceptical given their record and contradictory statements on the issue.

Although just over 160 grammar schools exist in England and over 40 of those are in the county of Kent, in certain areas clear evidence exists that they distort the results of neighbouring schools. While at one point, some children from lower socio-economic backgrounds got into grammar schools, in recent years they've become more and more middle class magnets, indeed I've heard of examples of pupils going to grammar schools who live over 20 miles away. In the ever more competitive environment in which we live, it's not enough to pass the 11-plus; it is those who score the highest marks who get a place regardless of where they live. Many students at grammar schools have parents who've paid for extra tuition to get them through the 11-plus or sent them to private schools, the present make up of grammar schools are not a wide cross-section of the community and are biased towards the middle class.

Although I recognise that comprehensive schools have not been complete successes in every part of the country but most especially in areas of deprivation, in most instances they've increased the opportunities available to children and the vast majority have been successful. What is crucially important is that standards are driven up in comprehensive schools that produce poor results and which ultimately will affect the life chances of many of the students who attend those schools.

This is why I believe the Labour Government was right to introduce the academy programme; I believe this will drive up attainment in those schools where results and standards are low. In my own area of Pollards Hill, I see the difference that the Harris Academy has made to the local area in bringing about a new ethos at the school, but also increasing the opportunities available to students in an area of low educational attainment. What is important is that students from all abilities are accepted and that everyone has the chance to achieve their full potential at school, selection has not and never will be the answer to achieving better overall results in our education system.


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