Monday, March 12, 2007

Harible dishonesty

Johan Hari might dislike grammar schools, but he doesn't need to be dishonest about them:

Compare Kent and Grampian. Kent has the most socially stratified playgrounds in Britain, where a rich kid only ever sees a poor kid from the window of his parent's car on the way to his socially-selected school. The result? The children at the top get excellent results. The rest endure the worst schools in Britain. Schools in Kent are twice as likely to be judged to be failing and to be placed in special measures, and the Audit Commission says they are a disaster. Grampian, by contrast, has the most mixed schools in the country, with almost everybody sending their child to the local (real) comprehensive. The result? Adjusting for intake they have some of the best overall marks, and no schools in special measures. Class division leads to dire results; class mixing lifts up everyone.
Scotland has a different and more effective education system than England, with classics taught routinely in ordinary comprehensives, academic rigour that surpasses England and a higher per capita spend. It's a false comparison. Moreover, the whole point about grammar schools was that they were intended to be socially mixed, selected on ability alone. The Direct Grant served a similar purpose. Neither were intended to reflect society as a whole, but rather to provide an entry to an academic education for any child with the potential to benefit from it. They gave a route to success to a generation of Labour politicians.

Selection by social class is a bad thing, either way: forced egalitarianism or social elitism. Selection by ability is a very good thing. Bring back grammar schools.

But Hari continues:
The only alternative to selection by house price mooted by the right - the return of grammar schools - has been long since discredited. Far from helping poor children as their defenders claim, Sir Cyril Taylor's research recently showed that fewer than 1 percent of the children at our remaining 164 grammar schools are on free school meals, compared to 17 percent nationwide. That's not a hand-up for poor kids, it's a slap-down.
Grammar schools select by ability, ability is hereditary (complex though that equation is), ability tends to lead to affluence, affluence leads to non-free school meals. To suggest that grammar schools should show an exact match for social distributions in the wider society is fatuous. They select by ability, not social class. They should be entirely blind to social class.

We depend for the success of our society on excellence, not equality of outcome. We're being overtaken by countries like India that enjoy far more rigorous educational standards in some schools, but have far greater social inequality. Children from UK schools would have to be treated as remedial if they went to good Indian schools. The comprehensive era has ushered in an age of less, not more, social mobility. If everyone goes to an equally bad school, then the kids with supportive parents do better. You can't avoid it. Let the ladder down again: reintroduce grammar schools.

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