Educational Apartheid in Lincolnshire: selective education as a catalyst for driving inequalities

Alan Gurbutt's picture

Alan Gurbutt Sadly, comprehensive schools of the 1950s and 1960s never reached South Lincolnshire. I went to a “red brick” secondary modern school in Louth while my better-off counterparts attended the local grammar school, the history and traditions of which go back to at least 1548, supported by the Church and local guilds. On leaving school in 1976 I was conscious that university wasn’t an option. None of my peers left school to go to university because we didn't have a sixth form, which meant there were limited opportunities to combine O-Levels with CSEs and no opportunity to do A-levels. There were, and, still are, inequalities within that town that are symptomatic of selective education dividing social class. There are still demarcations across housing and income as to which schools serve particular parts of town. It is a popular misconception that secondary modern schools went away. In Lincolnshire we retained this type of secondary school designed for the majority of students – those not in the so-called top 25% ability-range of the 11-plus. To confuse matters still further, most secondary modern schools are now academies, some offer A-levels while others don't; grammar schools offer A-levels but are selective. Lincolnshire does not have a comprehensive education system due to the sporadic nature of its school structures. Secondary modern schools and grammar schools maintain the 11-plus status quo, while academies complicate matters further. Inequality has become so embedded into our culture that no one speaks out. Each year children are divided into sheep and goats at 11-plus for transition into secondary schools and we turn the other cheek. Grammar school supporters try to justify their system so we are faced with unfounded comments, such as “there’s no difference between schools selecting students and setting within schools”. In my opinion, having one’s own children rejected by this system seems like child abuse – it is totalising and brutal. Children’s friendships are torn apart. Rejection at 11-plus hurts everyone around the child. It damages community cohesion. My observations are based on my own experiences, those of my children, their friends, parents and grandparents. I am also speaking out for those teachers whom I know are oppressed by the system. Local context In 2001 I moved to the coastal part of Lincolnshire within the district of East Lindsey, to a seaside village in-between Skegness and Mablethorpe. Our area suffers from 40% child poverty[i] [ii]and multiple inequalities that are exacerbated by selective education. In 2013, in a TES article called, Waiting for a Sea Change[iii] Emma Hadley, executive principal of an academy group in Skegness, estimated that about 30% of students at a primary academy lived in caravans. She explained that the seasonality of employment means that at Skegness Academy (an all-ability school with a sixth form) about half of students in year 11 joined the school after year 7 and 45% were eligible for the pupil premium. School wars or a “Coastal Challenge?” In his rebuttal of the evidence from the Sutton Trust, that showed grammar schools take far fewer children in receipt of free school meals than other state schools[iv], Robert McCartney QC, chairperson of The National Grammar Schools Association (NGSA) said: "Many, many parents from deprived areas, including what is generally called the dependency classes, are essentially not particularly interested in any form of academic education..." It would be ridiculous to say that parents are not interested in education or that schools cannot make up for some surrounding poverty and inequality, but it would be equally crass to give schools the target of overcoming the link between social background and educational achievement and then punish them for failing. In my experience of my own children’s education, schools can and do make a difference, but they can only do so within the limits that political parties are prepared to invest in deprived areas. The language of “low-ability”, “chaotic”, “lacking resilience to accept disappointment” from those who should know better has offset scrutiny and responsibility for every child to be educated free from coercion and stress so that the powers that be can protect the remnants of an outdated education system that supports one child to the detriment of several others under the rhetoric of “parent choice”. The point is that the structure of selective education limits achievement and social integration. Even if parents are aspirational, unless children pass the 11-plus grammar schools don’t want them, which is ironic considering the pressure on school places is likely to move to secondary schools. In light of Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, approving a Kent grammar school’s expansion, Ian Widdows, founder of The National Association of Secondary Modern Schools (NASM) in Schools Week defends the successes of secondary modern schools[v]. However, the point is secondary modern schools are for “failures” and are seen as such. It is common parlance – fail the 11-plus, go to a secondary modern. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room for “coasting schools” (those rated as inadequate) is growing up poor affects child development, being best prepared to learn[vi], and from deduction having the knowledge to pass 11-plus tests, getting good SATs and achieving benchmark GCSEs[vii]. For me, the obvious solution is to end the 11-plus and establish local school partnerships to work at the heart of local culture. Back to reality; the effects of child poverty, the 11-plus and lack of investment in our area have not been addressed. The secondary modern school in Mablethorpe has suffered and 60% of parents have chosen not to send their children to that school, which is now earmarked for closure[viii]. I think school closure might become more commonplace if grammar schools are permitted to become academy sponsors in Multi-academy Trusts and then seek to break away from weaker schools such as in Mablethorpe, which is in a federation with Louth. I strongly feel that if grammar schools are to become sponsors in Multi-academy Trusts that they should be willing to work much more locally to save weaker schools from closure and to prevent children being bussed for miles - we could call this “The Coastal Challenge”. Post 16 Post-16 education also presents a problem on the Lincolnshire coast. Grammar schools provide some of the nearest sixth forms for A-levels but if a pupil fails to get good GCSEs, given our isolated location, they are likely to face a considerable journey and expense to get to a college that might not provide suitable courses. Cuts to the local authority’s budget are likely to be exacerbated by selection. Transport is provided to schools within two Designated Transport Areas, one with free, non-means-tested, transport to grammar schools, the other with concessionary transport to non-selective schools, which is means-tested. To qualify for transport schools must be further than approximately 3 miles from home. But if your child fails the 11-plus and your catchment school happens to be coasting and you have to send them elsewhere you will have to pay, even if the better alternative school is located next to the nearest grammar school. At post-16 better-off students leave grammar school if they don’t get the grades but can afford to drive to college. Meanwhile in light of the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, poorer students have to make do with concessions colleges are still able to offer. In summary, the notion of educational apartheid should not be understated. I think that middle class professionals whose children fail at 11-plus should make common cause with working class and unemployed parents who also have their children fail. Alan Gurbutt is a parent, former school governor (SEN) and member of Comprehensive Future’s steering group, 2015 Notes [i] ‘Stark Child Poverty Figures in Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea Are Revealed’, 2013,, accessed 17 December 2015 [ii] ‘Lincoln, Boston and Skegness Named as Most Deprived Areas in the Country’, Lincolnshire Echo,, 2015, accessed 17 December 2015 [iii] I. Barker, ‘Waiting for a Sea Change’, TES, 29 March 2013,, accessed 18 December 2015. [iv] S. Malik, ‘Free School Meal Pupils Outnumbered 4:1 by Privately Educated at Grammars’, The Guardian, 8 November 2013, sec. Education,, accessed 17 December 2015 [v] ‘Secondary Moderns Must Have a Voice, Too | Schools Week’,, accessed 17 December 2015 [vi] B. Whitener, ‘Income Levels Affect the Structure of a Child’s Brain, NIH-Funded Study Shows’, (23 April 2015), [vii] ‘Narrowing the Gap in Deprived Areas of Lincolnshire’, (2010),, accessed 18 December 2015 [viii] ‘Consultation | Monks’ Dyke Tennyson College’,, accessed 17 December 2015

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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 22/12/2015 - 07:41

I don't want grammars to close. I want them to open their doors to ALL pupils. They are taxpayer-funded schools and should therefore accept children of ALL taxpayers.

mistemina's picture
Tue, 22/12/2015 - 11:49

Happy Christmas to you and yours Alan.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 10:06

Thanks John.

In Lincolnshire, we should continue to challenge the gap between free school meal students at KS4 and the rest. We both know the national gap is 27.6% and Lincolnshire’s gap is 30.6%. This is not good enough. If the 11-plus continues it is unlikely schools will be able to collaborate for school improvement. Grammar schools should open their doors to all children. Until this happens we need to keep asking the obvious:

Why hasn't the secondary gap closed yet?

Why hasn't the Government invested in deprived areas to aid cognitive development?

Why don't large numbers of disadvantaged students go to grammar schools (cop-out argument for unclaimed free school meals acknowledged)?

How does the existence of grammar schools in deprived areas make it difficult for nearby secondary modern schools to meet government floor targets?

Why are coasting schools being earmarked for closure rather than grammar schools supporting them?

Will the Government abolish the 11-plus?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 16:00

Alan - I absolutely agree with everything in your post and in your previous comment.

You also make another very important point about children's potential. It is not limited by CATs, IQ, SATs scores or anything else, so I hate schools banging on about, 'ensuring our pupils reach their potential'.

That is not to say that all people can achieve anything 'if they try hard enough or want it enough' - the 'Masterchef' fallacy (it makes good TV for that genre of programmes).

I can strum a few chords on a guitar but that is the absolute limit of my personal musical attainment (I can't sing in tune - they made me mime at school). No amount of yearning or striving would make much difference. There is clearly such a thing as talent, and lack of it. But hitherto unrecognised talents can be developed, with 'develop' being the key word. The examples that always come to mind for me are Michael Faraday - a lab technician who laid down the foundations for Einstein's brilliant development of relativity theory and of course Einstein himself, a dyslexic self-taught patent clerk, who developed his ideas through 'thought experiments'. These are what we now call 'metacognition', a key feature of the pedagogic approaches that I explain and advocate in, 'Learning Matters'.

I also believe that your Lincolnshire coastal secondary modern schools are not in principle limited by the low mean CATs scores of their intakes. All communities contain potentially exceptional people if their schools are allowed to prioritise individual development rather than try to ensure that a certain proportion of kids jump the latest 'floor target' hurdle. It is this, league tables and our marketisation ideology, which are so destructive and limiting.

Good for you and all others that are fighting similar systems in Buckinghamshire and Kent.

You have plenty of allies and supporters, but when oh when will our political leaders climb on board?

Jeremy Corbyn and Lucy Powell are you reading this? Please read your copy of my book that I sent you, (alongside of course 'The Truth about our Schools' by Janet Downs et al).

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 16:24

Thank you for your kind comments Roger. We are on the same page. A good school for every child, in the broadest sense (not saying there are any bad ones).

I have your book on Kindle. I will ask if I can add it to the Comprehensive Future website under books?

Have a good Christmas.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 17:25

There has been a lot interest in my book this month, but it needs all the help and publicity it can get if it, and our ideas generally, are to get the traction and debate they need.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Tue, 22/12/2015 - 09:00

Absolutely Janet, I don't want any school to close.

If Lincolnshire is great then the grammar schools in Louth and Alford, the Church and the CC will help to save the Mablethorpe school from closing :

Petition presented to Lincolnshire County Council - Latest News - Tennyson School Lives :

Peace and good will to all Lincolnshire's children, their teachers and parents.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 12:54

As I have pointed out many times on LSN and elsewhere the gap is an illusion caused my confusing correlations and causations. See

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 12:58

'Coasting Schools' are so poorly defined as for the concept to be meaningless. It is just another weapon used by the DfE in its ideological campaign to academise (ie privatise the education system).


Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 12:59

I mean 'caused by', not 'caused my' - sorry.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Wed, 23/12/2015 - 15:23

I understand what you are saying about educational underperformance not being rooted in social inequality but in the quality of schooling, that CATs are a better predictor of cognitive ability than SATs. I am not opposed to your research, quite the contrary, it brings a breath of fresh air to the arbitrary statistics of FSM, which are now forcing grammar schools into a corner for asking for missing claimants. It's a pity that's all they have to wriggle out of.

Based on your research and my observations on the Lincolnshire coast, can we agree that there are at least two gaps - cognitive and structural? Surely the structure of schools in terms of fair admissions, teacher pay and conditions, funding, etc, and, the researching and developing of pedagogy, self-esteem, attitudes to expectations are of equal importance to cognitive development?

We both seem to acknowledge that there is no fixed potential. Obviously, IQ tests can't measure potential. What they can measure lies within the constants of standardised education.

For the lay person, a histogram in a digital camera (pretty similar to an asymptotic distribution/bell curve) can only measure 5 stops of light, but we know light extends beyond human vision, likewise, the capacity to be human, to have empathy, to love and to seek solutions to world problems extends beyond schooling to the test.

I think marketisation, and, the 11-plus foster the wrong kind of expectations and performative language towards different ability groups of children. This is truly awful, as people's assumptions affect their life chances beyond the school gates. Schools need to do much more to drop the myth that grammar schools are for winners and other schools for failures. The 'keep them mean, keep them keen' mindset of austerity is a toxic mix for aspirations. This is the point I was try to get across, much disappointment exists external to school.

I still don't think it is fair that weaker coastal schools, such as in Mablethorpe may have to be cast adrift from a federation so that the remaining school can join a grammar school sponsored MAT. Grammar schools should step up to the plate and open their doors to all children.

mistemina's picture
Mon, 21/12/2015 - 15:36

Hi Alan,
Commiserations from Buckinghamshire. We too have inequality embedded into our culture.
Our reasons are, we are a strong Tory County (this is not a political point). The local Tories have radicalised themselves into believing that opposing selection is a 'vote loser'.
This is a of course a self-deluding excuse for the propagation of elitism.
It would not surprise me if your County Leaders are similarly blinded.
Warm sympathies from Bucks,

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Mon, 21/12/2015 - 22:26

I am sorry to hear about the situation in Buckinghamshire - it is always the children who suffer.

Point taken about party politics but the unholy clamour for grammar school places means it's also a curate's egg that Thatcher closed most grammar schools.

Middle class parents in the the 1960s and 1970s resented the 11-plus could place their children in secondary modern schools for failures. In my home town of Louth the 11-plus was brought back after the General Election of 1997, subsequent to the town using the 14-plus, However, in my experience, transfer to grammar school in Year 9 for my peers did not happen. There is no evidence that parents' views have changed. John Major's offer of a grammar school in every town did not go well. No parent wants their child to be rejected in their most formative years. Of the 161 grammar schools that remain, Labour has, and, still is, leaving it to local parents to decide. Which parents? Decide what - close grammar schools or end the 11-plus? I don't want schools to close. I want an end to educational apartheid that blights Lincolnshire's communities.

As Campaigns Co-ordinator for Lincolnshire for Comprehensive Future I am looking forward to helping parents in 2016.

Good luck in Bucks, and Happy Christmas.


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 22/12/2015 - 08:35

Basildon Council gives master lesson in how democracy works in debate over requesting a grammar to open an annexe in Basildon. The debate was restricted to the majority opinion that the annexe should go ahead. A councillor opposing the motion wasn't allowed to speak.

mistemina's picture
Tue, 22/12/2015 - 11:48

Thank you Janet, I see someone has been 'exploding' the grammar school myths perpetuated in the local newspaper's comments section.

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