“Academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it”

Here’s an interesting challenge to the DUP’s education policy. David Willets has just dropped the policy bombshell on his own party that they no longer support Grammar Schools, or indeed any schools based on academic selection…

Mr Willetts also distanced himself from the traditional Tory belief in academic selection, saying it was “fantasy” to say selection at the age of 11, which takes place in grammar schools, could be fair. He said the Tories could use legislation “left behind” by Tony Blair to push academies further than Gordon Brown, Mr Blair’s likely successor, “would ever dare to do”. Mr Willetts told the CBI: “We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids. “We just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it.”

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  • Garbage.

  • willis

    TW

    Very succinct but ambiguous.

    Does “Garbage” refer to

    (a) Mick’s piece
    (b) Tory policy from today
    (c) Tory policy until today
    (d) DUP policy.

    10 marks

  • bob wilson

    Conservatives in NI Clarify Position on Grammar Schools and Academic Selection in NI
    Wednesday May 16th 2007, 10:41 am
    Filed under: Academic Selection, Education
    The Conservatives today clarified their position in terms of academic selection and grammar schools in Northern Ireland following a statement relating to education in England made by Shadow Secretary of State for Education David Willetts MP.

    The Party’s spokesperson on education in Northern Ireland, Jeffrey Peel, made the following statement:

    “Education is a devolved issue in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland we’re fortunate to have a near uniform system of academic selection across the province. This has proven to be an excellent system to allow children from poorer backgrounds to get the chance of an academic focused education at a grammar school. Statistics show that the system we have here creates much better levels of social mobility that the present system in England.

    “In addition, Northern Ireland has one of the highest stocks of grammar schools in the UK – many of which are among the best performing schools in the UK based on GCSE and A Level results.

    “Our policy is clear. We support the retention of academic selection and the grammar/secondary school system. Our recent Assembly manifesto made that very clear. We believe, however, that an alternative system – probably based on computerised adaptive testing – would be a better means of selecting children suited to an academic curriculum offered by a grammar school.

    “Should the Assembly fail to reach consensus on the issue of a system to replace the 11+ we will argue that Grammar schools should be able to establish their own testing and admissions procedures. However we would encourage them to establish their own centralised testing board to ensure uniformity of entrance examinations should the Department fail to resolve the issue.”

    Shadow Secretary of State for NI, David Lidington MP, also made clear today that he would support the NI selective system. He said today, “Devolution means that different parts of the United Kingdom are free to adopt the policies that work best for their own particular circumstances. I shall continue to speak in favour ending the 11 plus but retaining academic selection as part of the education system in Northern Ireland.”

  • the Emerald Pimpernel

    How TF is an 11 year old supposed to be deciding the rest of his/her life.

    Most of them havent even decided whether they want toys or clothes for birthdays and they are supposed to make life altering choices?

    at 13 or 14 maybe but 11 nope doesnt work

  • willis

    I always knew it was heading this way. The Tories do not care about the proles’ literacy. As long as the Government does not interfere with private education they are happy.

    Private education is on the up. So much for the ruthless application of socialist values.

  • dodrade

    I think this is Cameron’s first serious mistake. The Tory right have put up with all the green stuff and hoodie hugging (I know he never said it but Kirk never said beam me up scotty either) but this will really get their backs up. Lord Tebbit will be the least of their worries.

    What really amazes me is the backing for City Academies which are clearly failing and which a lot of Labour backbenchers would like to see the back of.

    Don’t be surprised if there is a quick u turn on this.

  • willis

    dodrade

    Don’t hold your breath. The big worry the Tories had was that Labour might go in hard and made it difficult for the independent schools. Did it happen? I think not.

    City Academies might be failing but then the whole British State Education System is failing if you believe the Daily Mail.

  • McGrath

    #

    How TF is an 11 year old supposed to be deciding the rest of his/her life.

    Most of them havent even decided whether they want toys or clothes for birthdays and they are supposed to make life altering choices?

    at 13 or 14 maybe but 11 nope doesnt work
    Posted by the Emerald Pimpernel on May 16, 2007 @ 07:14 PM

    Since when has the outcome of an 11+ test been a decision? Anyway…………..

    I have lived in a county were there was no academic filtering. “A” students and “D” students sit in the same classroom. One of the consequences was the syllabus being dumbed down to help the “D” students along, this being caused by teacher performance measured by how many students cleared the hurdle. The knock on effect was to lower the hurdle.

    Pupils of similar academic ability should be taught together, but the environment in which there are taught is equally important.

  • jaffa

    I wonder how many people who favour retaining academic selection failed the 11 plus?

    I once had dinner with a very bright guy who’d spent his career with the Scientific Civil Service. He was a technocratic socialist as far as I could tell and quite passionate about education. His argument was that the original inspiration for the Comprehensive School was the English public school, wherein kids with 1st class brains would tear through 5th form and on to A levels while less academic kids would take a more leisurely stroll through lower, middle and upper fifth to give them seven years to obtain ordinary level passes while at the same time developing a bit of vocational skill alongside.

    Somehow this has never been tried, with kids offered a watered down GCSE instead and kicked stright up to vocational classes or into job-start afterwards. I don’t know whether the problem has been political correctness, money or the fact that it would be too traumatic to keep kids back at 15.

    I personally like the original idea. Let kids go through to a 15+ with a general education and check progress in the year before an ordinary diploma. Slow them down if they’re falling behind but don’t teach give them a second rate education to get them out the door. Let everyone finish up High School at 18 with the best education they could get at the most appropriate speed for them.

    On another note if we want to cut down on school runs and humanise attitudes a bit more in this country / these six counties we really ought to get rid of single sex schools first.

  • There is (and always has been) no worse “post-code lottery” than schooling (please don’t confuse “schooling” with “education”).

    Selection does not work. Period.

    Selection at 11+ has to have so many ifs, buts, caveats and gender-allowances built in that it is corruptly artful, not transparent or scientific.

    All tests prove is the ability to pass (or fail) the test. Many tests and examinations have a clear and demonstrable class-bias.

    The tripartite system predicated by the 1944 Act has never been implemented, so we can never know if it would work. It did, however, facilitate the great change in post-war Britain: that of redeploying “blue-collar” children into “white-collar” employment. It totally failed (as every initiative since the early 1900s has done) to improve craft education.

    Willetts deserves credit for starting to accept all the faults of academic selection.

    Now comes the hard bit: how can we exclude parental class as the main determination of a student’s progress and outcome? What that means is that bourgeois parents get what they want (and support selectivity), while the under-class remain precisely that. The comprehensive (which in the 60s was seen by parents frustrated by selection as the next best thing) has unquestionably failed, and not primarily because schools fell short. Nor can anyone seriously propound that local authority control was a redounding success over half-a-century.

    The academies should not be instantly discounted. Many are taking over from schools, in deprived areas, which inevitably abjectly failed to provide the bourgeois schooling which is what gets tested. As funding tails off, we shall see whether they can maintain to be improvements on what went before.

    Finally, do not blame schools for “dumbing down”: that is the result of a sterile testing-regime based on a narrow “National Curriculum”. The best argument for going private is to get out from under this monstrosity.

    It hurts, but Willetts is going in the proper direction. Accordingly, expect “the stupid party” to chop him off at the knees.

  • Bill

    Education exists to advance the Hidden Curriculum.

  • McGrath

    Malcolm:

    “Now comes the hard bit: how can we exclude parental class as the main determination of a student’s progress and outcome? What that means is that bourgeois parents get what they want (and support selectivity), while the under-class remain precisely that. The comprehensive (which in the 60s was seen by parents frustrated by selection as the next best thing) has unquestionably failed, and not primarily because schools fell short. Nor can anyone seriously propound that local authority control was a redounding success over half-a-century.”

    Please give a few examples of this “parental class as the main determination of a student’s progress and outcome”.

    I came from a very meager “class” background, I distinctly remember going to school! The only barrier that existed to me attending the best schools was academic ability. I was bright, I went all the way. Noone said “sorry your a pleb, you cant attend this school”.

    I think there is some confusion over what is essentially parental responsibility and “class”.

    Children with parents who recognize that they are primarily responsibility for their child’s educational performance, those children will perform to there best potential.

    Parents who wont take responsibility for their children and assume that teachers will take care of there children’s education, social skills and even personal hygiene and who are generally too lazy to get involved with their children’s life….well the outcome is obvious.

    Parental responsibility doesn’t map along class lines.

    “Finally, do not blame schools for “dumbing down”: that is the result of a sterile testing-regime based on a narrow “National Curriculum”. The best argument for going private is to get out from under this monstrosity.”

    I concur, the dumbing down mentioned is a typical bureaucratic answer.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: how can we exclude parental class as the main determination of a student’s progress and outcome?
    By giving pupils each other’s exam results, randomly allocated? By having all children conceived by random artificial insemination then having them raised by the state? By increasing the dole for life for school students who get better exam results? By aggressively testing for ability? (Oops, that last one doesn’t give the results you want…)
    OK, go on then – tell us. How will you stop well educated, self-motivated, aspirational parents from getting positively involved in their children’s education, and also from passing on some of those qualities to their children?
    Malcolm Redfellow: bourgeois parents get what they want (and support selectivity)
    Well, it looks like David Cameron’s parents, and now his party, seem willing to abandon selection and just have their children educated privately.

  • noel adams

    Is this DCs clause 4 moment,the changes needed with Labour were not done lightly or by press announcments but by bringing everyone along.
    The policy change is welcome but now the hard part can the front bench bring party members with them.Newsnight reported at tonights 1922 meeting 90% of tory MPs are not best pleased.

  • McGrath @ 11:32 PM/ Reader @ 11:43 PM:

    I think you answer your own points. Since the system is essentially providing for “aspirational” parents, they are the ones who can understand and exploit it. When the under-class is hampered by illiteracy (see Sir Reg at http://u.tv/newsroom/indepth.asp?id=82284&pt=n), they are not able to access the system.

    If you want concrete figures for social-class operating as an active factor for university admission, go to the HESA (but probably most easily seen at http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/specialreport/page/0,,1575152,00.html). Put at its crudest: the tenth privately schooled still take nearly half of Oxbridge places.

    I notice, too, that this discussion is purely concerned with “academic” achievement. Nobody yet challenges my assertion that our greatest long-term failure of all is in craft-and-skills education.

  • willis

    Plenty of robust comment (if not debate) on the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail sites.

    Still there seems to be a misunderstanding about what Willetts said.

    “We just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it.”

    It was not an attack on Grammar Schools but on academic selection. Willetts is no Etonian but a product of state Grammar education.

    Certainly his statement has come at a good time for the debate at Stormont.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: Put at its crudest: the tenth privately schooled still take nearly half of Oxbridge places.
    But that doesn’t apply to students from Northern Ireland, does it? Oxbridge students from here are far more likely to be state educated than those from England. Is that better, or worse?
    Malcolm Redfellow: When the under-class is hampered by illiteracy…
    Illiteracy doesn’t start at 11+, therefore the fix doesn’t start at that age either. In fact, the fix (Enriched Curriculum, Revised Curriculum) may already be in progress. And if it works, it will be in primary schools.

  • Animus

    Here’s a simple question – which parents are more likely to pay for their child to attend a grammar if the results don’t match. Which class of parents pay for their children to be tutored to pass the 11+? The answer to these questions should illustrate how parental class dictates the likelihood of a child passing the 11+.

    While it interesting to note people’s little anecdotes about their meagre backgrounds, it’s not a picture of the whole. With the falling numbers of children, many will have to be educated A and D, side by side. Why not set in place a good comprehensive system which acknowleges that reality, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist?

  • Did anyone see Peter Hain at the Deputy Leader Hustings event on Wednesday evening, claiming that HE abolished the 11+ in Northern Ireland.

    That will be news to Martin McGuinness.

    By the way, I think it is useful to note that the new Tory position will not impact on existing Grammar schools. Willets has simply committed to pursue a policy that will not institutionalise educational partition in future policy for those areas not currently served by Grammar schools.

    If Governments have to ration resources to invest in education, there are better ways to do it than a shameful ‘academic selection’ system which simply serves to convince generation after generation of children that they alone are responsible for their exclusion from equal access to educational opportunity.

  • Leaping lizards! I’m not in a minority-of-one on this one. Slugger never fails to amaze me.

    Reader @ 08:44 AM:
    Illiteracy doesn’t start at 11+: sadly no, too often it is an inherited handicap. Which is why the issues of schooling are insoluble outside a wider social programme. Is any party capable of such vision?

    Willetts is a unique Tory phenomenon: he is actually capable of rational thought. This freakishness ought to be encouraged, so expect him to be suppressed forcibly from here on.

    Let us remember, though, that the final arbiter here (as elsewhere on Tory policy) will be Cameron’s Svengali, the egregious £23,000-a-month Steve Hilton (see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article742934.ece).

  • The problem with selection is the attitudes it fosters.
    I failed dismally at 11 plus and despite the trauma at the time (feelings of failure, being split from friends, family pressure) I loved high school and am doing the job I always wanted to do. Still crap at maths though.
    A friend was told by our teacher that none of the class would ever make more than a secretary. She is now a fully qualified architect and is currently training to be a doctor. But others in the class accepted this – if a teacher has no faith in you, why bother?
    Visiting grammar pupils called us ‘gypsies’, ‘dirty’ and ‘thick’ when they attended for sports events.
    People would recoil (still do) when I told them where I went to school.
    A friend from a grammar was encouraged to flaunt to others that he and his classmates were in the ‘top 20 per cent’.
    Telling young people that they are better than or worse than others is unhealthy.
    And for the record, some of my former grammar friends, while academically bright, struggle to string together a coherent sentence.

  • Bill

    http://www.wiskit.com/marilyn/birthdays.html

    I hope that links works.

    It was a shibboleth at the UUJ.

    The refined middle-class accepted the incorrect answer because the lecturer was, ugh, a lowly nobody from some insignificant school.

    Anyone spot NI’s problem that is only partly to do with the 11+?

  • Bill

    Apologies.

    It would read better had I pointed out that the demonstrated right answer was given by the lowly nobody from an INSIGNIFICANT school.

    (I wonder why INSIGNIFICANT is capitalised?)

  • Reader

    Bill: I hope that links works.
    It does, but is it the right link? I couldn’t see any of the following words there: “INSIGNIFICANT”, “lecturer”, “refined”, “middle”, “class”, “lowly” or “nobody”. Is there another link that might actually help you to make your point?
    As for you wondering why the word “INSIGNIFICANT” is capitalised – if you don’t know why, then who does?

  • Bill

    Obviously it did not.

    Can you answer the question posed there?

  • Reader

    Bill: Can you answer the question posed there?
    Yes, I did birthdays for a bit of R&R after I used a spreadsheet to solve a similar problem for the chance of accidental conflicts in a 2 byte hash. (50% chance of a hash clash within about 300 tests, in case you are interested). And all without having gone to the Poly, too.

  • McGrath

    Malcolm:

    “I think you answer your own points. Since the system is essentially providing for “aspirational” parents, they are the ones who can understand and exploit it. When the under-class is hampered by illiteracy (see Sir Reg at http://u.tv/newsroom/indepth.asp?id=82284&pt=n), they are not able to access the system.”

    “illiteracy”! So an illiterate parent is not capable of insisting their child attends school regularly, does his homework, behaves himself at school and does the best he can?

    Certainly, all of the children of this “underclass” you mention do not have learning disabilities, so what is the cause achievement problem? “Non-aspirational” parents? If so, should academics selection be ended because of “under class” apathy?


  • [1] Of course illiteracy hampers access to and exploitation of the schooling system, as to any other system.

    [2] And of course there is no absolute equation between learning disability and social disability. However, learning (like most good and bad habits) is caught, not taught: parental example is crucial.

    [3] And of course academic selection should be ended, if only because one of its effects is “failure” (and it doesn’t matter whether the “failure” is named out loud or merely felt subjectively). “Success” in schooling and entry to higher education unlocks the gate to professional careers, better job-security, membership of the local golf-club or whatever social worth one cares to assume — and especially a lifetime of additional earnings. Generations of social “failure” is pretty damn sure to engender apathy, if not downright antagonism. And if that’s not the creation of an excluded, undervalued, demoralised, even despairing under-class …. oh, why do I bother?

    Back to the original issue: if Cameron is seriously talking about minimising the effects of selection, that’s a significant advance in Tory thinking. If in turn it puts pressure on the DUP and UUP who can’t cope with the idea, tough. If it helps SF to move NI schooling forward one whit, on this occasion I’m cheering them on.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: And of course academic selection should be ended, if only because one of its effects is “failure”
    In which case, how do you feel about exams? Should everyone get the same grade?
    I get the impression that you feel that talent cannot rise from an underclass at present. You might even be right. You think that selection is part of the problem, not the solution. You are wrong. Because it’s a social problem, so education can only be a part of the solution. And whatever the flaws of selection by ability, it is still far better than selection by cash, or selection by postcode.

  • Reader @ 09:52 AM

    My feeling about examination? It depends what the examination is measuring. Testing of “knowledge” or “skill” is one thing (hence I want my dentist, mechanic, brain-surgeon or plumber to be “qualified”). “Ability” (your other point) is ambiguous. Because I can spell “cat” or “pistachio” does not make me universally more “able” than someone who can’t (except to be a lexicographer, perhaps): but such is the basis for school testing and the 11+. An “able” student is one who can answer the questions that I, middle-class, university-educated, working-the-system pose: that does not “prove” the intellect of either party.

    Example (from an actual “intelligence test”, circa 1954): what is the next term in this sequence? — V1, E7, G5, E8, G6 ? Got it? So what does your “ability” there prove?

    Another example (from a multiple-choice US Air Force officer selection test): what color [sic] is a banana? Brown? Yellow? Green? Blue? [Not obvious: the answer will show ethnic and class bias. The Puerto Rican labourer may only see unripe bananas. The Bronx slum-dweller only over-ripe ones.]

    All of this is peripheral to the issue this thread origianlly posed: are the Tories right to ameliorate the sheep-and-goats basis of secondary schooling? And: how does this affect party attitudes in NI?

    Your punch-line: whatever the flaws of selection by ability, it is still far better than selection by cash, or selection by postcode has validity. However, it ignores the main issue: is schooling something to be rationed? Back in the post-war 1940s/1950s our society had to select for reasons of resources. Why does that apply today? Why not have open choice? And, for the third time in this thread, how do we open up vocational and skills training — the greatest failure of our system?

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: The Puerto Rican labourer may only see unripe bananas.
    I (too?) have read Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”. But for what it’s worth, when I sat the 11+ nearly 4 decades ago, the questions were mostly logical reasoning, not general knowledge. Now my children are going through the system, it is Maths, English and Science – all taught at school. But if you want selection to be done better – and I agree it can be and should be – then help.
    As for the rationing aspect – strangely enough, the majority of parents, even those who never took an interest in their children’s education before, still allow them to be entered for the 11+. (It’s a bit bleedin’ late, then). But given that most parents see the prospect of their children being Bank Managers or Doctors as a desirable gamble – how can ‘open choice’ (by parents!) work for the benefit of children? If anything, selection is a humane corrective to the unreasonable expectations of some parents, who would only see their hopes for little Thuggo and Thicko dashed, and will see wee Spanners and Sparks frustrated and misdirected.

  • jaffa

    I passed my 11+ but I’m still smarting from a simile question which asked “as hard as…” and offered rock and nails as choices.

    The answer was Nails. Nails FFS? What Ulster 11 year old knows that?!

    Clearly culturally biased.

    And if after..ALL THESE YEARS!..I’m that traumatised by the indescribable cruelty and unfairness of it all what must the effect be on people who don’t pass?!

    I understand Martin McGuinness failed. Reduced to murderous rage and lifelong shoulder chippery.

    Anyway I think that was a content and not a reasoning question.

    Sniff.

  • Reader

    jaffa: Anyway I think that was a content and not a reasoning question.
    My kids got pages of similes, metaphors, collective nouns and everything else back from school to learn. I think I recall getting that sort of preparation too. That’s an English language question, these days. Complain to your teacher about not being prepped for the test.
    The logic tests I remember from long ago were “Jimmy sits on the left of Johnny, the man in the red jacket sits to the right of the man in the blue hat. Who is eating the salad sandwich?”

  • jaffa

    “Complain to your teacher about not being prepped for the test.”

    You’re right! I will! Closure!

    Now..if I can just find out where he’s buried..

  • Reader @ 01:41 PM

    Let’s start with an obvious assumption: 11 is too early to determine any child’s future prospects.

    But if you want selection to be done better – and I agree it can be and should be – then help.

    How do you think I spent four decades of my life?

    You still avoid the essential assumption (which, by some abstruse process has even reached Willetts and Cameron): why select?

    Is not a better process to offer opportunities, encourage, and counsel?

    Example (since this thread is heavy with sob stories), based on a real case, Student A has done well up to the pre-exam year. Suddenly she is struggling in a top-set Maths class which is gender-biased (i.e. mainly boys). What’s to do? We support her, and cope with her immediate understanding problems (that’s what committed teachers do in lunchtimes, breaks, and after school). She passes (with a Grade B) and suddenly conceives a desire to do A-level Maths. A frisson of horror through the Maths teachers. We talk to her and her parents. She decides against Maths, opts for Economics, History and English (as I recall). Result: three “A”s and a walk-in to most Universities. Was that “selection”?

    And can that be done everywhere? Yes: that’s what is behind the notion of the “individual learning plan”, so trendy and à la mode. Can it be achieved? Yes: with parental involvement. Will that happen? Err … well, probably maybe; but more likely if we have the Blairs/Browns, Willetts, and (heaven help me!) MacAonghusai rooting, staffing and financing for it.

    But, for the fourth time, what do we do for the student who wants to develop craft skills rather than academic achievement?