Setting up selective schools in disadvantaged areas would improve area performance and help social mobility, the think tank ResPublica writes. But all evidence shows that although selection may benefit a few, it has a negative effect on the majority.
ResPublica ignores this.
Although ResPublica’s report focuses on just one local authority (LA), Knowsley, it claims its findings have implications in areas where disadvantaged white pupils perform poorly.
What, then, did ResPublica say about Knowsley? It was right to highlight the failure of earlier initiatives to improve the area’s secondary schools. Money was invested in building poorly designed schools – money was then spent putting mistakes right. And it’s correct to say none of Knowsley’s secondary schools are good or better. But Knowsley has just six secondary schools. Two have not been inspected since becoming academies. The four remaining* are showing signs of improvement.
ResPublica was right to highlight London’s success in improving secondary school performance and reducing the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils. But London’s improvement wasn’t based on selection.
The report also cited research from EEF and the NFER which identified qualities found in schools successful in closing the gap (p20 full report). Neither EEF nor NFER recommended selection.
Why, then, is ResPublica including introducing selective schools as a solution to the poor performance of poor white pupils in disadvantaged areas? The answer: there is little or no gap between disadvantaged pupils and advantaged pupils at grammar schools. This is hardly surprising. Disadvantaged pupils in grammar schools would have passed the 11+. Such pupils would have the same ability level as advantaged pupils who also passed. Grammar schools have no gap because there was no gap to start with.
ResPublica urges the government to ensure any new grammars are in disadvantaged areas out-of-reach of middle-class parents. But disadvantaged areas are often in easy travelling distance of advantaged areas. As Toby Young, newly-appointed director of the New Schools Network wrote, ‘Sharp-elbowed middle-class parents will always find a way to game the system’.
Would opening a selective school in Knowsley increase the area’s performance? On paper, the answer would likely be yes. That’s because many of Knowsley’s high-achieving primary pupils attend secondary schools outside Knowsley. A selective school in Knowsley may stop this exodus: area results would rise accordingly. But such a school would have a negative effect on other secondary schools: their green shoots of improvement would likely be blighted by losing more high-achieving pupils than they already do.
Other recommendations include:
1 Additional resources for a ‘Knowsley Challenge’. This would be a welcome corrective to the Knock Knowsley narrative of recent months.
2 A Knowsley sixth form (the remaining one has closed). But it’s suggested this should be a highly selective one. 16 year-olds wanting vocational education must look elsewhere.
3 A ‘Team GB’ approach. Cutting through the soundbite, this means identifying good practice, monitoring its implementation and tracking results.
4 Liverpool City Region should investigate a ‘Northern Premium’ to attract quality teachers into the area. (A similar scheme introduced by Labour to give young teachers with high qualifications a ‘golden handshake’ to work in disadvantaged areas was abolished early in the Coalition years. Perhaps if such schemes weren’t scrapped, they wouldn’t have to be reinvented.)
5 Re-introducing grammar schools: ‘potentially a transformative idea.’
That last claim is wrong.
*APPENDIX: Up-to-date Ofsted judgements of secondary schools in Knowsley
All Saints Catholic High School (June 2016): Requires Improvement overall (up from Inadequate).
Halewood Academy (April 2015): Inadequate. Fourth monitoring inspection June 2016: school ‘has turned the corner and the removal of special measures is now within its grasp’. Halewood was ‘a very different school’ to the one visited in 2015. Teaching had improved substantially but some requires ‘further improvement’ – ‘huge turnover’ of teachers, dependence on temporary staff and poor attendance by a minority of permanent staff contributed to pupils’ disaffection. Nevertheless, attitudes to learning was ‘improving’ because teaching quality was ‘generally so much better’.
Kirkby High School (June 2015): Requires Improvement overall. First and only monitoring inspection November 2015: ‘taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement’. ‘The school receives extensive and highly valued support from the Rowan Learning Trust’.
Lord Derby Academy: No Ofsted inspection since becoming an academy with The Dean Trust in January 2014. Predecessor school, Huyton Arts & Sports Centre for Learning judged Inadequate in November 2012.
St Edmund Arrowsmith Catholic Centre for Learning (January 2015): Requires Improvement. First and only monitoring inspection May 2015: school ‘taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement’.
The Prescot School. No Ofsted inspection since becoming an academy in August 2016 with The Heath Family Trust. Predecessor school also called The Prescot School was judged Requires Improvement in December 2014. No monitoring inspections took place before academy conversion.