The defence of academic selection is, at it’s heart, a very simple thing. The fundamental reality is that pupils must be selected into schools somehow. This is an unavoidable fact, despite parties doing their best to avoid it – keen observers would note the striking curiousity of the Liberal Democrats attacking academic selection without putting forwards their own system for selection.
Policy makers can only really pick the system that works the best, while working to mitigate the negatives. It is not possible to create a perfect system – good policy makers should avoid utopianism like the plague.
Once you have those two facts in mind, it becomes rather obvious why academic selection is a must. Whilst not perfect, it is better than other systems.
Critics of grammar schools argue that the selection system is gamed by the middle class who can afford tutoring, resulting in the schools becoming economically exclusive. This is misguided for a number of reasons, but primarily it doesn’t recognise that our current system is already immensely economically exclusive.
Ofsted rankings for comprehensive schools are almost entirely aligned with the socio-economic make up of the cohort. To access the best comprehensive schools, parents have to shell out thousands on living in the catchment areas, and must benefit from a bit of potluck along with that. Department of Education figures show that to live near a good school (not even an outstanding school), parents have to pay an £18,600 premium on their house price – far more expensive than some private tutoring.
No matter the selection system, the organised middle class will do anything to get into the best schools, policy makers cannot change that and nor should they seek to. What’s more important is that the schools themselves often bend the rules to bring in the middle classes, knowing they are more likely to perform better and less likely to disengage.
The current comprehensive system is riddled with burning injustices. For example, schools selecting their students based on their aptitude with a musical instrument (perfectly legal, and fully permitted by Blair’s selection reforms), knowing that music lessons must have cost the family money, and where the family has money their children are more likely to perform better. Additionally, there is uncomfortable evidence that schools engage in stealth selection by pricing out the disadvantaged. Reports that schools have sought to bump up the prices of school uniforms, to filter out those who can’t afford them, is a scandal.
Selection is already happening, and to some extent it always will, that’s the reality. Academic selection may have it’s flaws, but how can we possibly justify selection by house price, by violin lessons or by the silk on a child’s blazer as being superior? If the critics are serious in their accusations of Grammar Schools being economically exclusive, then they must also recognise the immense injustices in the alleged comprehensive system, and they must put forward their own system for selection – not just criticise on the sidelines.
This article was written by BrexitGlory, Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions.
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