Headteachers slam grammar school plans as ‘chaotic and confusing’

Rob Corbett, head of Ifield Community College
Rob Corbett, head of Ifield Community College

The government’s plans to launch a new wave of grammar schools have been described as “chaotic and confusing” by one headteacher.

On September 12, education secretary Justine Greening unveiled proposals for what the government called “a 21st century school system that works for everyone”.

Julian Grant, head of Sackville School

Julian Grant, head of Sackville School

They included the introduction of grammar schools – which have the power to pick and choose the students they admit.

Rob Corbett, head of Ifield Community College, was among the many teachers to oppose the plans, feeling they represented a step backwards for education.

Mr Corbett said: “In my view the question is not ‘do parents want grammar schools?’ it is ‘do parents want secondary modern schools?’ because the creation of grammars causes the creation of secondary moderns be necessity.

“Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, has been very critical of this proposal suggesting it would take the education system back decades, and I must agree.”

A student’s educational progress can develop at different rates; to make significant decisions about one’s future educational prospects at the age of 11 carries risks

Martin Brown and Julian Grant, Heads of Imberhorne School and Sackville School

His views were shared by Martin Brown and Julian Grant, heads of Imberhorne and Sackville schools, in East Grinstead, respectively.

In a joint statement, they said: “The idea that schools should once again be selective, dividing student communities, as they would need to at an early age, does not feel as though it is moving education forwards.”

The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) described Ms Greening’s proposals as “elitist” and warned grammar schools would lead to a drop in educational standards.

A poll of 2,500 of its members, saw 82 per cent of those who responded opposing grammar schools.

Martin Brown (headteacher) Imberhorne School, East Grinstead. Pic Steve Robards  SR1621978 SUS-160718-170520001

Martin Brown (headteacher) Imberhorne School, East Grinstead. Pic Steve Robards SR1621978 SUS-160718-170520001

General secretary, Russell Hobby, said: “Increasing the number of grammar schools will lower standards and restrict opportunity. We cannot afford such an elitist policy in the 21st century – as many students as possible need a high-quality academic education. This is a terrible distraction from the issues that matter most.”

Among those issue are an ongoing lack of suitable funding for the country’s schools as well as a teacher recruitment shortfall school leaders have long feared has reached crisis point.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We don’t need more selection in the education system. What schools desperately need is enough teachers and enough funding, both of which are in critically short supply.

“The government should focus on these issues rather than obsessing about an education policy plucked from the 1950s. Our job is to work together to ensure the education system supports all young people to achieve.”

Mr Corbett called for educational experts rather than politicians to be given control of the way the country’s children were taught.

He said: “The saddest element of all is that we have a succession of politicians who are designing the state education system around their own experience – Michael Gove wanted schools like the independents and Theresa May wants Grammars – without any coherent, strategic long-term view of what we want education to look like in five, 10 or 20 years.

“It must surely be time for the education of our children to be planned by a group of knowledgeable educational expects with the cross-party support from parliament.

“For this group to form a binding long-term strategy and oversee it’s success must be a better way forward than for the current incumbent in power to turn everything upside down every five years, creating a chaotic and confusing system which frustrates those of us whose children attend school.”

Mr Grant and Mr Brown added their voices to those who felt creaming off the top performing youngsters at the end of primary school to attend grammar school was not the way forward.

They said: “A student’s educational progress can develop at different rates; to make significant decisions about one’s future educational prospects at the age of 11 carries risks. Many young people develop later, grow in confidence and then make exceptional progress. The flexibility that comprehensive schools have allows for such fluctuations.”

They added: “Education should be about building students’ confidence and self-belief, focussing on how they learn and what they can achieve. 21st century learners need to have resilience, be creative and be flexible. Working with others in a variety of ways prepares our young people for the world of work. The idea that schools should once again be selective, dividing student communities, as they would need to an at early age, does not feel as though it is moving education forwards.

“Great comprehensive schools provide the very best teaching and learning, catering for students of all abilities whilst mirroring the diversity that exists in the wider community. We believe such experience properly prepares students to be responsible citizens who make the most of the opportunities they have.”

Presenting her proposals, Ms Greening said education lay “at the heart” of the government’s ambition to “build a true meritocracy in Britain”.

She added: “We want to make more good school places available in more areas, ensuring we give every child an excellent education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. I would urge everyone to look at the detail in the consultation document and join that debate.”

The consultation ends on December 12. To take part, log on to consult.education.gov.uk .

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