For every grammar school in a given area, there will, by design or default, be three or four secondary modern schools. The nature of the system means that 20-30% of children will be able to go to the grammar school while 70-80% go to a secondary modern school.
Mrs May tell us that “grammar schools are hugely popular with parents” (9th Sept 2016) but has anyone asked parents if they’d like their children to go to a secondary modern?
“We know they [Grammar Schools] are good for the pupils that attend them. Indeed, the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero for children in selective schools. And we know that they want to expand.
“They provide a stretching education for the most academically able, regardless of their background, and they deliver outstanding results.
“In fact, 99 per cent of existing selective schools are rated Good or Outstanding – and 80 per cent are Outstanding, compared with just 20 per cent of state schools overall.”
And that’s just dandy. But what about the other 80% of our children? If only 20% of state schools are outstanding, shouldn’t the focus of our attention be on them?
Secondary Moderns get less money than Grammars: schools receive more money for VI form students than they do for students in years 7-11, so grammar schools where most of the students stay on post-16 are already better off financially than Secondary Moderns who can struggle to recruit enough students to make courses viable.
Mrs May tells us that there will be no return to a ‘a binary system, as we had in the past with secondary moderns’ (actually, it was a tripartite system which also included Secondary Technical Schools) – which suggests she recognises that such a binary system is not a good thing. And she emphasises this, “there will be no return to secondary moderns”. How will this binary system be avoided? By “supporting the most diverse school system we have ever had in our country.”
This is where the logical non-sequitur happens.
The diversity referred to is about who runs the school. The ‘secondary modernness’ of a school is defined by its intake – and the binary-ness of the system is in whether a school is selective or not. It doesn’t matter whether the school is called a comprehensive, an upper school, a faith school, a free school, a university sponsored school, whatever. If there is a grammar school in the area selecting the most academically able students, the other schools are, de facto, secondary moderns.
So, let’s stop buying into the grammar school nostalgia-for-the-1950s, which quietly ignores the Secondary Modern experience. Names are important, so let’s stop talking about the “reintroduction of Grammar Schools” and talk instead about the “imposition of Secondary Modern status on non-selective schools.”