Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Grammar Question

One of my hobby horses, the grammar / comprehensive argument, is in the news once more.

Advocates of the grammar school system maintain it gives brighter pupils the chance to advance quicker than if they were in a comprehensive and gives brighter, poor pupils a chance of academic advancement and social mobility. Advocates of the comprehensive school system maintain grammars disadvantage children from lower income families as they represent only 9%, as opposed to a third in comprehensives..

It's an indisputable fact, supported by study after study, that children's attitude to education (among many  other things, such as religion, attitude to work and politics) is, in the vast majority of cases, assimilated from their parents. The main reason lower income families are on lower incomes is due to the fact they are not sufficiently educated in the first place to get higher paying jobs. The odds are stacked against pupils from poor backgrounds and the brighter ones do have to struggle.

While the champions of comprehensives use statistics showing lower income families are less well represented in the grammar system - which is what you'd expect where selection is on the basis of ability - grammar advocates show that brighter pupils perform less well in comprehensive schools than in grammars.

The effect of the one-size-fits-all Comprehensive system is to raise the academic achievement of some less well performing pupils while holding back some of the brighter pupils. It moveseveryone to the centre with fewer outliers. Excellence is sacrificed to homogeneity. 

Why, for God's sake, can't there be room for both systems running side by side? One-size-fits-all is an ideological position and ideology is not a good basis for progress. What is so intrinsically wrong with selection by performance when we do it in every other walk of life, from the job interview to breeding animals and vegetables? It shouldn't be just comprehensives or just grammars, but both.

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