Sunday 21 May 2017

2017 General Election: Tories pay for Grammar Schools by cutting funding to Comprehensives

There are many Tory policies that make me shake my head in disbelief that anybody would vote for them and I expect that are quite a few who make their cross despite their better judgement. They stand in the polling station, pencil in hand, running through that last minute checklist in their heads as they select the Conservative candidate .................. they pause momentarily as they are unsure about Tory plans for education, specifically the grammar school philosophy but then make their mark with more confidence as they remember this quote from Theresa May:
Link to BBC fact check of this statement

The reality is however very different

That statement is disingenuous as the issue of performance of poor grammar school pupils when compared with their better off school chums is not really the issue. What is of more significance is that Tories are cutting funding to other schools at the same time as funding for Grammar schools is being increased. There is already an inbuilt bias favouring grammar school pupils as study after study shows that academically gifted poorer children (identified as eligible for free school meals) face significant hurdles in getting a place in a grammar school. This paper produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (in collaboration with Cambridge University) is a detailed analysis of the available evidence as detailed here:

The Tories have no idea how to improve the chances of poorer children gaining a place at a grammar school. The IFS study did not try to enter into the debate about impoverished homes leading to impoverished life chances as there is some considerable evidence that a poor background impacts on the educational attainment of all age groups.

Then there is the unfairness of selecting at the age of eleven as is shown by the following chart which shows the pass and failure rate of the 11+ selection procedure. Children develop at different rates and it has been known for many years that a comprehensive system offers flexibility for pupils who could be termed as late developers and those that excel in some subjects but not in others:

The above chart is taken from a report by the Sutton Trust/Durham University which analyses the evidence for and against grammar school education. The fact that over 20% of children tested at the age of eleven end up in the wrong school, as subsequently realised when their academic performance is once again tested at 16 is very worrying. Further, in the executive summary this is compounded by this:
Most of these analyses suggest that pupils in grammar schools do a little better than similar pupils in other schools, with the difference somewhere between zero and three-quarters of a GCSE grade per subject.

It would appear that Theresa May has not factored in the available evidence for her belief in the expansion of grammar school education providing better opportunities for poorer children. The evidence in fact shows the exact opposite. So from an ill-informed position Tories come up with an education policy that will not benefit the poor and will in fact do real harm to the 11% who are wrongly given a place in a grammar school.

How is all this ill-judged policy being funded?

The simple answer is from cuts to all other state schools. For example:

This chart produced by BelperStuff from data gleaned from!/
The Tory government is expecting schools to save an annual £3 billion from their budgets by 2020 with consequences to local areas such as Belper listed above. In the same period funding for grammar schools is being increased as, in the Autumn 2016 budget the Tories pledged an annual £50 extra for the existing 164 grammar schools (for the 4 years up to 2020/21) and in 2017 added a further £320 million to increase the number of grammar schools. The temptation for a cash strapped comprehensive school to become a grammar and thus have access to this pot of £520 million is apparent. It's the same inducement that was used to entice schools to become academies. Thinkingeo of it another way the annual cuts to Belper schools supply the increased funding to 3 and a bit grammar schools.

Additional funding cuts to free school meals

The 2017 Tory manifesto also contains a commitment to cut free school meals (FSM) to, (as is shown here in this Guardian article) "900,000 children of struggling families". This will purportedly cut a further £650 million from school funding. The cynical amongst you might already have noticed that performance comparison data of poor children relies upon FSM statistics and if students are denied free school meals then that data is harder to gather and collate. There are echoes of the 1960's debate here as the main evidence for the retention of grammar schools was supplied by a character named Sir Cyril Burt who was ultimately found to have falsified his data (the debate is still ongoing). 50 years on and there is no need of false data, you just get rid of all data. Who needs facts. 

What next?

It seems clear that if the Tories are re-elected into Westminster there will be a mad rush to revert to a selective education system that was decisively condemned in the 1960's and there being no modern evidence that grammar schools are any better than the comprehensive system. We now have a Conservative controlled county county so there can be little doubt that Derbyshire school pupils and teachers are not only at risk from government funding cuts but also from the real risk of the re-introduction of selective schools. Funding cuts lead to teachers losing their jobs, increased class sizes, less equipment and a curtailment of many school activities.

If you are tempted to vote Tory on the 8th of June then please follow up the links posted in this blog to learn some facts about education in preference to the ill-informed comments of Theresa May. If the references so far given are not enough then you can look here at this research briefing from the House of Commons Library dated March 2017. Or ......... you might like to view the PM question time from September 2016 when Jeremy Corbyn put the Tory position on grammar schools into perspective:

Here is the link

Labour pledges to increase funding for schools ----- not cut it.

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