What grammar schools mean for SEND
Over the weekend the Telegraph revealed that Theresa May is planning to lift the 20-year ban on grammar schools, imposed under the halcyon days of Tony Blair’s 1997 government.
The move is predicted to be announced at the Conservative party conference in October.
Since its reveal, first floated by new Education Secretary Justine Greening, there has been a backlash against what has been described as a selective and unfair process of having children take an exam to determine whether or not they are academically suitable for admission to a certain school.
Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee has raised concerns, especially that there are ‘issues about social mobility, in particular white working-class young people’, continuing by saying that he thinks that ‘the creaming off of the best is actually detrimental to the interests of most’.
So why then are the government claiming that grammar schools actually increase social mobility?
Theresa May, who was grammar educated herself, would claim that grammars allow naturally gifted learners to excel beyond expectations, despite disadvantaged backgrounds.
However, there are serious concerns about the effect of grammar schools on the attainment of SEND learners.
In my previous blog I mentioned how SEND attainment is being forgotten in schools, and that attainment of SEND learners is severely impacted from an early age, which snowballs by the time learners get to Key Stage 4.
I used statistics from RAISEonline and OFSTED to show that only one in five SEND learners attain the same five GCSE’s A*-C that learners without SEND will.
But this effect starts from a much earlier age. Where the gap first appears at Key Stages 1 and 2 it only widens and increases until that gap becomes a yawning chasm at Key Stage 4.
This is just one reason why the introduction of grammar schools, whose admission is based on a purely selective academic exam taken at Key Stage 3, will have yet again a greater impact on SEND learners.
Evidence has shown that the 11-plus is not only irrelevant and intrinsically unfair, but also that there is an ingrained class bias that favours middle-class families; families who can afford extra tuition for their children; families who are more likely to keep a stable home life or engage with their child’s schooling at home. A report from the government released this year showed that the impact of free school meal (FSM) status (a common proxy for poverty or deprivation) on grammar school entrance is well known.
Just 2.6 per cent of FSM children were known to be at grammars in 2015, compared to 14.9 per cent across all school types.
Statistics from the Growing Up in Ireland report show that prevalence of SEND is far higher in children from working-class backgrounds than their middle-class counterparts. The report showed that SEND prevalence rates rise from just under 10 per cent of boys from professional backgrounds, to 24 per cent from semi and unskilled manual groups, and 30 per cent among the occupation unknown group.
As unfair as this advantage of middle-class families over those from lower socio-economic backgrounds is, it is a natural unfairness that lies in the very nature of the grammar school system. However far more insidious is the unnatural and purposeful exclusion of SEND learners from schools to inflate exam results.
We know that SEND learners are already getting short shrift in less selective schools, with reports from earlier in the year warning that academies might be turning away SEND pupils to artificially increase good exam results.
Academies themselves ought not to be selective about their pupil intake, but for grammar schools who are inherently selective SEND learners are going to find themselves out in the cold once again.
That same government report has shown that grammar schools are far less likely to take on SEND pupils, with just 0.1 per cent of statemented pupils in Grammar schools (compared to 2.4 per cent in secondary modern) and 4.2 per cent of SEND pupils without statements (compared to 13.5 per cent at secondary moderns).
The report itself admits to the reader that many types of SEND are likely to impact a pupil’s ability to pass an entrance exam – so why are we still allowing such an exclusionary practice?
If the government are intent on lifting the ban on grammar schools as part of their legacy for social mobility, they will be known as the government of contradictions and the government that presides over a rise in the prevalence of social iniquity: the burden of which will be disproportionately on those with SEND.