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“Critics reject Prime Minister’s ‘expansionist’ grammar school plan”
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“Critics reject Prime Minister’s ‘expansionist’ grammar school plan”

British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing significant opposition in her attempt to reform education policy, writes Mary Adeyi, 24, a Correspondent in London, UK. 

The School Standards and Framework Act (1998) introduced a long-term ban on the general academic selection of pupils across schools in the U.K.

Although there were some exceptions made for “specialist” schools to select a portion of their pupils, opponents argued against the Labour government’s commitment. They argued that ‘specialist schools’ encouraged segregation in education and that middle-class parents would have an advantage in selecting the best schools for their children.

In recent years, a lots of research has been produced to highlight how socioeconomic factors, coupled with school management practices, impact learning. Contradictory research has both indicated that grammar schools (which are academically selective) consistently out-perform non-selective schools and that the attainment of non-selective schools are impacted by grammar schools in the same area.

Very few grammar schools remain in England, however. Out of 3,000 state secondary schools there are only 164 grammar schools remaining in England, and 69 in Northern Ireland. There are no state grammar schools in Wales or Scotland. Although some retain the name ‘grammar school’, they are non-selective and have no special status. The “comprehensive” education system is most common and pupils of all abilities and aptitudes are taught together.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Theresa May has reopened the debate on educational policies in the U.K with the intention of reintroducing grammar schools. May announced that the governments “expansionist” plans will be driven by existing grammar schools. Alongside the Education and Adoption Act 2016, the government will produce new data on how well secondary schools support pupils. The government will use the data to identify “disadvantaged” children from poorer backgrounds that may benefit from the grammar school expansions.

In 2015, two-thirds of students classed as “disadvantaged” in grammar schools achieved A*-C grades in their GCSEs, including English and Mathematics, which is in line and in some cases better than non-disadvantaged peers. This contrasts with non-selective schools, where only 3 per cent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds were performing at the same level or better than grammar school students (Department of Education, School and College Performance (2014-2015).

The evidence appears to suggest that “disadvantaged” students perform better when they are in grammar schools. Grammar schools by definition select children already doing well academically thus much of the current analysis does little to account for the variations between pupils and schools.

Critics have labelled May’s expansionist plans as ‘harmful’ and ‘unfair’. Still, the government has announced a £200m budget over the next four years to expand grammar schools.

Stay tuned.

photo credit: Simon & His Camera via photopin (license)
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About me: Living in London, I am keen to understand the relationship between culture and the city. Using research and group experiences, I aim to bring attention to how urban governance and public spaces impact social inequalities, public health, education and the youth at local, national and international levels.

My interests include history, intersectionality, world politics and global sustainable development.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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