Ending rejection: news from Labour Party Conference

Spoke last night at full and very lively fringe meeting at Labour Party conference on the importance of ending selection or, as we in Comprehensive Future call it, rejection at 11 plus.The other speakers were Vanessa Everett, the head of both a comprehensive school and a small secondary modern in Kent, and Aaron Porter, Vice President of the NUS. Everett’s speech was powerful testimony to the damage that the eleven plus can do to children; she told many disturbing stories of young children weeping, waking in the night, withdrawing and even turning to alcohol as the immediate result of failure or fear of failure of this test but also of the longer term impact of demoralisation and low self esteem. Siblings are often set against siblings with one passing and the other failing.

It made me realise once again how lucky I and my three brothers were to be sent to the same local school, a short walk from our home. Not only did it mean that we knew each other’s friends and teachers, people we talk about to this day, but we were not divided at a young age, according to our assumed interests, intelligence or capabilities. It was only later in our school career that we began to make different choices and go our separate ways. But I am convinced that sharing a common schooling to the age of 18 was a very important part of our experience as a family, a solid building block in our lives.

One member of the audience found the discussion ‘too emotive’; another young woman defended her grammar school education in a poor area. But generally the meeting was united in powerful feelings of revulsion at the continuation of the eleven plus in fifteen local education authorities, that is twenty percent of the country. That 164 grammar schools should remain after twelve years of a Labour government notionally committed to ending selection is very disappointing.

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A tough conference call

The party conference season is as much a fixture in the national autumn calendar as the new school term and Guy Fawkes night. It briefly takes the spotlight off Parliament and the TV studios and for a few heady days illuminates both top and bottom of the political parties that claim the right to govern us.

This year’s conferences will be of particular importance as they are the last before a General Election and there are no prizes for guessing what the big questions at each of these events will be.

Read the rest of Melissa Benn’s latest Opinion piece in Public Finance here.

Answering Conor Ryan on the academies

Read Melissa Benn’s blog post answer, on the Public Finance website, to a piece by Conor Ryan, former adviser to Tony Blair and David Blunkett, concerning the academies:

In his last PF blog, Conor Ryan suggests that union opposition to academies is based largely on uncertainty about performance; oh, and just a smidgen of carping self-interest and general negativity.

But might much unease about these so-called shiny new schools stem instead from a firm belief in certain principles plus a wish to see all schools, and not just a chosen few, prosper?

Yes, some academies, such as Mossbourne in Hackney, have performed very well in this year’s GCSEs. But, as Ryan acknowledges, others are seriously struggling. Either way, this is a programme that has attracted significantly higher funding, and national political backing, than other equivalent schools.

Many community schools do just as well as the new academies and could do far better still with similar resources and – arguably even more important – the confidence of government. They would all benefit from a measure of operational autonomy enjoyed by the academies, particularly in regard to provision of the curriculum.

( read rest of post here)

The grammar conundrum

We are at a strange crossroads on selective education in this country. At no time have the main political parties been more united that selection should play no part in any future development of English schools. Yet neither party has concrete proposals for how they might eliminate selection in the many places it still exists.

Read the rest of today’s Guardian article, and Guardian readers’ comments on the piece, here.