Schoolzone blog: Secondary moderns on the rise

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6 Nov 2014

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Update on this post (10 Nov 2014): Tories launch campaign to allow more grammar schools. Interestingly, Conservative Voice (for it is they) claim that it will increase social mobility. I just checked the pupil premium numbers at our nearest grammar school here in Cheltenham - there are are just eight among almost 1,000 students. How does that help social mobility?

How do you feel about working in a secondary modern? It's a term not widely used any more, because schools prefer to think of themselves as comprehensives. But if there's a grammar school competing for your students, that's what you are. And if you are in this position, it looks as if there will be even more of your local top performing 11 year olds going somewhere else in future.

I say this because, despite the fact that the law in England prevents the opening of new grammar schools - a law supported and actively upheld by Michael Gove - his academisation strategy has had the effect that, since academies now control their own admissions, existing grammars can expand without any consultation with local schools. The new academy in Maidenhead is being trumpeted as the first new one in a decade, since the last government's School Standards and Framework Act put a stop to them. But there's nothing to stop existing academies expanding willy nilly, so selective ones can become more selective if they choose, or less, in order to expand their numbers.

That's what's happening in Schoolzone's home town of Cheltenham, if rumours are to be believed. A local grammar academy seems set to expand its numbers without any consultation, leaving heads of local comprehensives annoyed and frustrated. Before academies, a democratically elected local body (the council) would have consulted and controlled such a process, but now these schools can do as they please - and appear to be doing so.

This is an issue that simply won't go away, despite the legislation designed to prevent it. Parents like the sound of grammar schools, because they do well in league tables (of course) and in Ofsted inspections (why wouldn't they?), so parents think they are a good thing if there's a chance their children going to one, whereas parents who don't think that, aren't aware that local comprehensives are weakened as a result of grammars being nearby, so have no objection to them. Hence the status quo.

Local authorities around the country are faced with a shortfall in school places in the next few years, and grammar schools, like ours and the one in Maidenhead, appear to be using this as justification to expand. This is a reasonable position on the face of it, but these schools mentioned are jumping the gun, by expanding ahead of demand and not working as part of a coordinated approach across all schools, which is what's needed.

The only way to expand a grammar school is by reducing the entrance requirements, which means that a greater concentration of students come from areas closer to the school, since higher proportions of these children apply. That has an exponential effect on numbers: a 10% increase in size means that nearby local schools will lose more than an additional 10% of students.

So, whether you fancy working in a secondary modern or not, if you have a local grammar school, you might find yourself doing so anyway.





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