100 Tory MPs back scrapping the ban on new grammar schools – KEN’s response

convoiceThe Telegraph recently reported that Conservative Voice, a Tory activist group, will formally  campaign to allow new grammar schools. This open letter is a response to their campaign.

Dear Conservative Voice,

The Kent Education Network is a community campaign group seeking to end the divisive eleven plus system in our county. On hearing the news that you wish to change the law and bring back grammar schools we wanted to point out the problems of academic selection in Kent.

Kent is a fully selective county, with more than 15,000 ten year olds judged by the eleven plus every year. Around 33,000 children attend Kent grammar schools while 86,000 children attend ‘high schools.’ High schools are not comprehensive schools as you would find in other areas, they do not teach pupils of all abilities, they are effectively secondary modern schools. Just 2,000 disadvantaged children gain places in Kent selective schools while more than 23,000 disadvantaged pupils attend the high schools. Kent County Council recently commissioned a committee to look at the problems of social mobility in grammar schools. We find it odd that your group wishes to expand this form of schooling when the largest selective local authority admits grammar schools are rarely an option for disadvantaged children. We don’t know of any other council that needs to review social mobility problems caused by its own school admission policy.

There seems to be no research, and no evidence, involved in your wish to expand grammar schools. We would invite MPs who support this campaign to visit Kent to see for themselves how a two tier education system really works. We would point out the advertising on local buses promoting prep schools by boasting of 93% eleven plus pass rates. We would suggest a trip to a Saturday morning eleven-plus tutoring centre, to understand that paying for coaching is commonplace. We would like MPs to tour one of our many ‘inadequate’ secondary moderns, with limited academic subjects offered at sixth form, and teacher recruitment problems caused by teachers choosing to teach at grammar schools.

We would suggest MPs talk to Kent primary school heads and ask them how accurate they think the eleven plus is at judging our children. We would suggest MPs seek the views of parents of dyslexic children, or children for whom English is not a first language, who believe children have less chance of an eleven plus pass. We would advise MPs to speak to Kent County Council, to query how fair the system is when an appeals process gives 7% of grammar school places to children who do not even reach the pass mark. We would ask MPs to meet one of our county’s school appeals advisors, to find out about their £1,000 fee for representing a child in their grammar school appeal case. We would suggest MPs talk to Kent children, too. Our children learn perfectly well in mixed ability primary schools, but then they are told they must be taught in separate buildings for secondary school.

Any call for more grammar schools should be backed up with facts, not nostalgia that grammars were a good thing, or, “I went to one, it worked for me.” Kent, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire all operate an eleven plus system, and show worse results for disadvantaged children, and no clear results advantage overall.

The recent White Paper promised the government would hold schools to account for ensuring each child reaches their full potential. We support this aim. There is rigorous testing in schools already, so an eleven-plus is unnecessary. If any school is fails to educate their most able children to their full potential then the problem lies with the individual school, not the system of education.

In Kent children’s potential is too often wasted because we assume a a two hour multiple choice test is an accurate judge of our county’s ten year olds. Department for Education statistics show there are more bright disadvantaged children in Kent high schools than there are in Kent grammar schools, yet one in four of those high schools is rated by Ofsted as requires improvement on inadequate.

Perhaps the 100 MPs who support grammar schools would like to undertake one final research task? They could each take an eleven plus test and let us know their scores. The 28 with the highest points could sit in a different building from the rest, and the lower scoring 72 might learn how it feels to be judged lesser than their peers. They might even wonder if it’s right that their worth is based on a number, a simple statistic, that takes no account of hard work, interests, ambition or any character strengths that make us who we are, and influence learning too.

Kent is stuck with the awful eleven plus, but we hope no more children will ever be subjected to this old fashioned, unscientific judgement. Dividing children with a test is no way to create ‘one nation Britain’ it creates a rift in our schools. It’s a backward step that aims to please parents but unthinkingly harms children.


Joanne Bartley, KEN chair
Dr.Michael Collins, Lecturer University of Kent, education researcher
Alan Bainbridge, Senior Lecturer, School of Childhood and Education Sciences, Canterbury Christ Church University
Jim Parish, grandad, KEN press officer
Amy Haslam, 16, high school pupil
with the support of KEN members.

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