Education & Family

Will more schools select by ability?

Grammar school pupils
Image caption Supporters of grammar schools say they can help improve social mobility but detractors say there is no evidence of this

Heads and parents have given mixed reactions to Prime Minister Theresa May's speech announcing plans for more selective education in England.

Andrew Shilling, of the Sevenoaks Grammar School Campaign, called the proposed removal of the ban on new grammar schools excellent news for parents in the town.

Construction of a school annexe for Weald of Kent school in Sevenoaks is under way after a five-year local campaign.

"Sevenoaks parents can feel very proud of their crucial intervention into the national debate on the return of grammar schools," said Mr Shilling.

In Maidenhead, where "hundreds of children" travel to grammar schools in neighbouring Buckinghamshire, the council said Mrs May's announcement would open up opportunities to expand grammar provision within the borough.

"In the coming months we will work with all schools interested in taking up the opportunities the announcement offers them, including continuing our aspiration for expansion of grammar provision.

"We, along with our growing population, continue to value parents having choice and equal opportunities in education," said Natasha Airey, cabinet member for children's services.

And the Grammar School Heads Association welcomed the suggestion that grammar schools which run multi academy trusts could open up completely new selective schools within those trusts, rather than relying on annexes to existing schools.

However many school and academy leaders were much less enthusiastic.

'Counter-productive'

The Christian ethos education charity Oasis, which runs 47 academies, including 17 secondaries, immediately ruled out the possibility of any of their schools selecting students by ability or faith.

Founder Rev Steve Chalke said he welcomed Mrs May's goal of increasing social mobility, but said "any attempt to sift and separate students at 11 years old can only be counter-productive".

Instead he said Oasis aimed to improve standards "by a ruthless commitment to helping every child reach their potential, regardless of their starting point".

Image copyright Oasis Academies
Image caption Pupils at the 47 academies run by Oasis will not be selected by faith or ability, its founder has announced

Roger Leighton, executive head of trust that runs academies including The Sydney Russell School in Dagenham, Essex, also rejected selection at 11 as a possibility.

"We believe in serving the whole local community and it is a question of getting the best possible results for all students."

Mr Leighton said that Sydney Russell already addressed the issue by having three mini schools catering for children of different abilities on the same site.

"One is effectively a grammar school where bright children get a highly focused academic education. There is no mixed ability teaching."

He thinks this system is ideal and should be more widely adopted because children are able to move between bands.

Proud comprehensives

David Blow, head of The Ashcombe School in Dorking, Surrey, said the school would "absolutely not" be interested in adopting selection.

"We are proud to be a comprehensive school.

"At the top end we get pupils into Oxbridge and medicine but we deliver a quality education to all pupils and believe this is the best way to achieve social mobility."

While Patsy Kane, executive head teacher of two Manchester academies - Levenshulme High School and Whalley Range High School, said the schools were similarly committed to inclusive comprehensive education.

"I think this will be very socially divisive. There is no rationale for it. We need to move to evidence-based practice and this will be a massive distraction to improving standards. We are still in the throes of massive change in the education system and teachers at every level are working really hard. This is the last thing we need."

These views were reflected by the National Association of Head Teachers which called the plan a "risky distraction from the real issues in education", and the Association of School and College Leaders which described it as "education policy set by nostalgia rather than evidence".

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