Grammar schools and private schools thrive on the poor quality of general secondary provision. Michael Fordham pointed out in a recent post that they are offering things that many parents want, and which they do not believe they will find in their local comprehensive: high standards of behaviour and high academic expectations, combined with traditional school structures (prefects, prize giving, and so on).
Non-selective secondary schools could also offer these things, and an increasing number of them are aiming to do so. But until it becomes the norm, there will still be a high demand for grammar schools, and, particularly where there are no grammars, a healthy market for private education.
It was refreshing that Fordham was looking at things from the parents’ point of view, instead of remaining in the arena of ideological generalizations about social mobility. Parents are right to seek schools with high expectations for their children. I commend the efforts and sacrifices of those who go to great lengths to place their children in an ordered environment where they will be able to focus on studying. Who would not want such a thing for their child?
Whilst I believe that selection at eleven should be abolished, I don’t think this should be done until non-selective schools have proven that they can provide the kind of education that so many caring parents naturally want for their child.
A factor which Fordham did not mention, and which severely hampers any move towards abolishing selection, is staffing. Ever since comprehensive education was hijacked by progressive ideology in the seventies, most non-selective secondary schools have been pretty unpleasant places to work. Teachers who just want to teach have often left them to work in selective or private schools, or never gone near them after the horrifying experience of their PGCE placement. A colleague of mine in an independent school once described his decision to avoid working in state education. It was during one of his PGCE placements. A group of boys had kicked a ball out of the playground in his direction, and he passed it back to them. In response, one of the boys shouted ‘F*** off, you c***’ He concluded that this was not the place for him.
All over the London transport network there are notices about how seriously they take abuse of their staff. But how seriously do schools take such abuse? When schools fail to maintain even the most basic standards of human decency, should we be surprised that they struggle to recruit and retain good teachers? And I’m not talking about tough inner city schools here. The levels of rudeness and abuse I experienced as an NQT were shocking, and that was in a wealthy suburban area in the home counties.
If we want to see an end to educational segregation, non-selective state schools must establish an ordered, civilised environment in which everyone is expected to study serious academic material. Until that happens, all of the talk of equal opportunities is just so much hot air.