Why revive zombie grammars, Mr Hinds? Look at the success story in your backyard

The new education secretary, Damian Hinds, seems to be keeping his head down. Probably sensible since there are only two things people want to know at the moment: will there be more money, and is the zombie grammar school policy about to lurch out of the grave again? The Guardian reports.

On the latter point I have a suggestion. He should look at a short pamphlet called A Tale of Two Counties published 18 months ago by King’s College London. I have to declare an interest as this publication was partly sponsored by Comprehensive Future, of which I am a member, and authored by the academic Nuala Burgess, one of its supporters.

Nevertheless, its argument should interest Hinds since it follows the fortunes of Hampshire, where he is a constituency MP, and Buckinghamshire, just on the other side of the M4.

These two Tory-led counties have relatively affluent populations and a low percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals compared with national figures. There the similarity ends.

At one of the most critical junctures in English education – Circular 10/65, which 50 years ago requested local education authorities to start reorganising along comprehensive lines – these two leafy rural counties chose very different paths.

Hampshire, like the majority of English local authorities, welcomed the opportunity to get rid of the pernicious grammar school/secondary modern divide, and converted all secondary moderns to comprehensives and grammar schools to sixth form colleges. A lesson in how this allegedly impossible task could be done by a future reforming government. Buckinghamshire, meanwhile, with a few other recalcitrant authorities, dragged its heels and managed to retain its fully selective status after the 1970 election, by which time the pressure for change had eased.

Hampshire schools are generally inclusive and representative of their communities, whereas schools in Buckinghamshire are divided on ability, social background and often ethnic lines. The biggest BME group in the county, Pakistani children, fails the 11-plus in disproportionately large numbers.

And the outcome of this interesting social and educational experiment? You can barely put an exam paper between the two counties. Ofsted inspection results are almost identical. And, even though Buckinghamshire is a net importer of more able pupils via its grammar schools, outcomes for 16- and 18-year-olds aren’t dissimilar. Both authorities trump the national average, though neither can match the much narrower gaps in attainment between the best and worst-off children in the more deprived, also non-selective inner London boroughs.

Read the full article Why revive zombie grammars, Mr Hinds? Look at the success story in your backyard

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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