Friday 9 September 2016

Selection means rejection, inequality, and a lousy curriculum at KS2.

What is emerging from what we might laughingly call Tory 'plans' for schools, is that there will not be a universal 11-plus system in England,  but a much more improvised ad hoc one, whereby anyone or any group who wants to set up a selective school (and fulfils some as yet unspecified criteria) will be able to.

In other words, the government will set up what is in effect a selection competition: schools will compete with each other to get the 'best' pupils - however that is decided, presumably by new tests.

This is to be modified by some kind of commitment that these schools will find (?), get (?), procure (?) poor pupils. One form for this is for a selective school to sponsor a primary school in a 'poor area'. And these new selective schools are to have some kind of income-meter which measures parents' income in order to supposedly guarantee that this doing-well-by-poor-kids system is working.

It doesn't take much imagination to see some problems here:

1. Selection is not inclusion. If you select,  you exclude. Selection is rejection. Some won't get in. Even if all schools were allowed to select, the competition for selection excludes. What's more, instead of schools co-operating - a proven method of school improvement, as demonstrated by Tim Brighouse - schools will compete to exclude: a sure fire way of creating sump schools. It's inbuilt into such a system. Guaranteed.

2. There is a bureaucratic nightmare, open to many abuses if there is in effect a new kind of means test for identifying poor people. People can hide income, can hide changing circumstances, particularly in the new world of self-employment. The system will be 'gamed'. And a new layer of bureaucracy will have to be created to monitor all this. More jobs paid for by the DfE that are not helping children in classrooms. More inspection!

3.  A raft of new tests will appear further enriching the bloated exam and testing system. These test-designers will produce vast volumes of BS about how their tests are valid, reliable, fair etc etc ways of discerning 'ability', 'aptitude', 'intelligence',  but about ten years later, it will be shown conclusively that all they showed was the relative ability for parents to pay for tutors. There is no such thing as a test that can't be coached for.

4. Meanwhile, primary schools will be under even more pressure to make the curriculum match the tests, while the test is designed to select - not to find out what children know. This will involve even more of a distortion of the purpose of education than exists with KS SATs. These tests will be restricted to right/wrong answers, forcing the curriculum to focus even more on right/wrong teaching and learning. What gets squeezed out here are the arts as a whole, plus real enquiry, invention, and interpretation. Anyone concerned about the content of education, should be concerned about these new proposals.

5.  The old 11-plus system made a half-hearted effort to be 'fair' in terms of provision of grammar schools across the country. It didn't succeed. One area might provide as many as 40% places, others as little as 20%. It was uneven. This was recognised as being a major flaw in the system as the theory had been that the 11-plus was an 'objective' assessment of ability and/or intelligence and the system responded to it. In fact, what happened was that the system provided places for just as many as that local authority decided. The number wasn't fixed by those who could perform tasks in a test, but by some bureaucrats in an office deciding how much money they would spend. It was cynical and outrageous. However, if that was bad, the unevenness that will occur with these Tory plans will be huge. There will be some areas with very few selective schools, some with many. There will be very different reasons for this and some researchers and journalists will earn good money and sound 'radical' showing this, as if somehow the system as a whole could be made fairer by providing a few more grammar school places.

6. Unevenness and inequality are written through this whole proposal. There will be many kinds of unevenness and inequality because that's how the inventors of this scheme like it. They pretend they loathe the role of the state in education whilst the state is creating patterns of inequality at the stroke of the pen. Far from removing or lessening inequalities, this whole proposal will give birth to hundreds of local wangling and wrangling over places, income, money per pupil, pupil-staff ratios and so on. The system will have many losers. It turns education into a battleground of competing consumers.  Ultimately, this is because the people behind this plan believe in something very basic: that the best outcomes arise from competition. They are not interested in the best education for all. This is a point of philosophy. They believe that the more you can get human beings to compete with each other, the net result will be better - whether that's in the making of cars, or the 'production' of educated 16 and 18 year olds. This philosophy is what is at the heart of this proposal. The fact that competition always results in failure is, in their book, the point. They want and need failure-people to work for those that succeed. This in their book is the natural order. We haven't progressed from 'the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate'. This business of going out hunting for poor kids to stuff into grammar schools is mix of cosmetics ('hey look what we're doing for the poor, aren't we kind, nice and good people? ') and doing what the system does anyway - which is succeed in providing a route to university and/or well paid jobs  to some kids from poor backgrounds. But their addiction to competition is really an addiction to failure. They need a system that produces failures to feed the low-paid economy they have been working so hard to create since the crash of 2008. This proposal will help them achieve that goal.