LETTER: Improve schools - don’t divide

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It is my understanding that currently in Crawley, there are four non- selective/comprehensive secondary schools (Oriel, Hazelwick, Thomas Bennett and Ifield Community College), two ‘faith’ schools (Holy Trinity and St Wilfird’s) and one ‘free’ school - The Gatwick School.

If our Prime Minister Theresa May, Education Secetary Justine Greening and county councillor and leader of the Crawley Borough Council Conservative Group Duncan Crow, amongst others, have their way, in a few years time, there will be one or perhaps two selective or ‘grammar’ schools in Crawley. The two faith schools will still exist, though with stricter denominational entry criteria, I am referring to the proposals outlined in the recent Green Paper ‘Schools that work for everyone’.

The Green Paper suggests that about 25% of students will be selected for entry into the grammar school. The remaining 75% who fail the 11 plus test will attend either denominational schools or schools that are not grammar schools. Perhaps, in addition, the government will allow a new grammar school to set up (somewhere) in Crawley. No doubt the schools that are not grammar schools will not be called ‘secondary moderns’ – perhaps ‘non-selective’ - but ‘schools for the unselected’ might be more appropriate. There is a clear implication in its recent Green Paper that only selective schools are considered by the government to be ‘good’ schools. A few questions are not really addressed by the Green Paper:

How will it be decided which will be the grammar school(s)and which not and who will make this decision?

How will the 11 plus test be devised and administered? Will it be a pure ‘natural ability’ (or perhaps more accurately a current attainment) test - if such a thing is possible let alone desirable - or will the children benefitting from private tutoring (paid for by parents) gain an advantage?

Will the test be more favourable to boys or girls or to those with English as their first language or those without special needs? For instance, will adjustments be made to pass marks to ensure that there are an equal number of boys and girls attending the grammar school(s)? I believe this tended to happen in the 1950s and 1960s as girls tended to do better in the 11 plus.

Will it be a single test on a single day? Will the children (and their parents) have forewarning? What about absentees?

Will appeals be allowed? Who will decide them? What criteria will be used to allow an appeal?

Will the non-grammar schools be able to attract and retain highly-motivated qualified teachers?

What effect will this process have on the motivation and subsequent attainment of the majority of children who will fail the 11 plus test and on the cohesion of the Crawley community?

Surely any government committed to the best education for all young people should firstly focus upon pre-school/early years and then upon improving the standard of education in all schools –rather than creating divisions and somehow expecting improvement to be achieved by increasing selection and then expecting these ‘good schools’ to ‘cascade’ their supposed good practice onto the rest where staff will be faced with somehow remotivating the unselected.

I would add that I found that a number of the questions posed in the consultation document impossible to answer as I disagreed with the premise of the question. For instance:

- ‘How should we best support existing grammars to expand?’

- ‘What can we do to support the creation of either wholly or partially new selective schools?’

I write as a former grammar school student with less than rosy memories of my secondary schooldays and (perish the thought that I should claim any expertise!) over 30 years of teaching experience in local secondary schools.

Geraint Thomas

Crawley Borough Council

(Lab, Northgate)

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