Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Tories and secondary moderns/grammar schools

David Willetts is going to announce the Tories won't return to the 11+. He's clearly been reading the same research as I have, namely the Bristol university study, which I posted on here. The findings of that study were (read the post linked to for more details) that overall attainment was slightly higher in a secondary modern/grammar system [1], but the distribution of results was much less equal (basically the gains were at the top end) and for those in the secondary moderns, worse than it would have been in comprehensives. It also found that poor but bright children did very well if they got into gramamrs, but very few did, even when their test results were as good as children from richer families [2]. It didn't go into the reasons for this but they are not hard to imagine.

This is being represented as a big shift in policy, but it isn't really. 17 years of Tory government did little to return to a secondary modern/grammar system, and although Mrs Thatcher prevented some secondary moderns/grammar schools from closing, and her position had clearly shifted from the 1970s when she was Education Secretary, she was (and presumably remains) an opponent of the 11+[3].

Update: Stephen Pollard enters the fray into today's Daily Mail, with his customary grasp of the issues, claiming that the Assisted Places scheme was what allowed children from poorer families to attend grammar schools.

[1] The cry of "bring back the grammars" rarely is accompanied by one of "bring back the secondary moderns", despite the fact that (if similar to the old system) 80% of children end up going to the secondary moderns.
[2] Advocates of grammar schools on the left tend to argue that this could be got around, but given the hullaboo in the Daily Mail etc about 'social engineering' when universities tried to change their admissions systems, I'm sceptical.
[3] She's very clear on this point in her autobiography.