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Do we really need grammar schools?

In redefining social and political goals into an educational policy, Prime Minister Theresa May wants to bring back controversial grammar schools, arguing for an ‘element of selection’ to give parents and children wider choice.
On the other hand, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw says that a return to grammar school selection would be an economic disaster, leaving young people without the skills the country needs, and that the grammar schools will fail the poorest children.
This reminds the public argument between Theresa May, then home secretary, and the then education secretary Michael Gove about who is not doing enough to tackle the perceived ‘radicalism’ in schools. The argument resulted in the discredited ‘Prevent’ strategy, imposed on schools by the home secretary!
In this case, Sir Michael Wilshaw makes good sense!
Schools have always and will always belong in society. Therefore, a national system of education must aim at producing citizens who can take their place in society properly equipped to exercise rights and perform duties the same as those of other citizens.
Teaching of the skills and acquiring knowledge to match socio-commercial requirements are far more important than the teaching of a socially constructed and packaged knowledge required to achieve grammar school and selective societal goals, including class divisions.
Many grammars fail to operate within their local context where a mismatch between a child’s everyday life experiences and the grammar school culture results in a social and learning conflict, leading to underachievement.
I remember inspecting a grammar school surrounded by small ‘corner’ shops in a most diverse and run down inner city area that could contribute little to the school life/ population.
Also, the rising free school meal situation due to the government’s adverse benefits policies and austerity measures don’t allow private tutoring for 11-plus entry preparation.
Selecting pupils by academic ability and giving a grammar school education to some is highly unhelpful in narrow the gap of learning by groups of pupils which has remained a long-standing national challenge.
The state school sector already suffers because of the dynamics of the allocating finances to schools and could suffer further because of the drain of high performing pupils and teachers to grammar schools.
Education needs not to have political experimentation through the initiatives like free schools, academies and grammar schools because of a perceived need to protect the social, political and class fabric of our society.
Theresa May, a politician and not an education practitioner, should address why increasing ‘free school meals’ and ‘underachievement’ by groups of pupils in education and beyond rather than using grammar schools strategy to deflect from other burning national issues.
Article by Husain Akhtar, retired Ofsted Additional Inspector of Schools, and researcher Harrow Council for Justice 10/9/2016

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