Sunday, November 04, 2007

Eleven Plus... Three?

Some people may claim I took part in a form of child abuse yesterday morning. I invigilated at an 11+ exam. Ironic, as I generally oppose selective education despite working at a grammar school.

It is not quite as simple as that however. I think that education should be tailored to the individual pupil. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) should be educated in environments that are targeted to these needs. I am a firm believer that disruptive pupils would benefit from special schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with behavioural problems, where they cannot disrupt the majority of students who are not disruptive. Similarly, in my opinion students with above average intelligence should go to schools staffed by teachers who are experts in dealing with academically gifted children where they will benefit from the competition with other similar students.

My problem is that 11 is not a good age to do this. Children develop at different rates and the 11+ is prejudiced against late developers. Not to mention pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At 11, we just end up with an educational apartheid where intelligent middle-class students end up in well-staffed, well-funded grammar schools and those who aren't as intelligent or come from the wrong background have to hope they can get into a decent less discerning school. It may not be the case any more that failure to get into grammar school means you are destined for a life of low-paid manual labour, but the reality is that you are a lot more likely to get into a top university if you go to a grammar school. Indeed, most of the relatively low proportion of students who get into Oxbridge from state school actually come from grammar schools, where they are used to coaching pupils in the Oxbridge admissions process (which is different from that of other universities). It is possible for those who failed to get into a grammar school at eleven to get a place at the sixth form later on but most students do not even consider this option and in any case the places are few.

My solution? Adopt the American model of elementary school, middle school and high school. Selection at 14 is a lot more sensible than selection at 11. By that stage it is pretty obvious whether a student is academically oriented or more suited to vocational qualifications. In practice, even under the comprehensive system, streaming is rife after 14 as teachers decide whether the student in a certain class should sit the higher or middle tier examination papers, determining the maximum grade a student can get at GCSE. The Government plan for diplomas could even fit quite well into this situation, although it is really designed for a comprehensive school model.

We are not there yet however. Yesterday I saw a room full of young students who had the hopes and dreams of their parents on their shoulders. And the background of the parents would be a major factor in whether those hopes and dreams came through.

Why not let those eleven-year olds keep their innocence for a few more years? They are too young to be victims of a socially divided national joke of a discredited education system.


Louis said...

Just checking if I can post a comment to this.

A teacher opposing selections pretty much agrees with everything I say.

JRD168 said...

I'll try this again Louis. You might also be interested in the debate I've been having at:

If you fancy backing me up? Serves me right I suppose for visiting Tory websites, but selection does wind me up!

Louis said...

I would back you up JRD, but I honestly don't know what else I can add to your arguments. The last time I was on a Tory blog I ended up being racially abused for opposing Enoch Powell (not by a Tory admittedly). Nice bunch, the right.

Incidentally, what do you think of the idea of selection at 14 as proposed in the post? I envisage the student choosing either a vocational or academic route (with the help of the teachers and parents), and KS3 results and/ or teachers reports could be used to send the student to a school particularly tailored to his abilities. Would a left-winger like yourself still oppose this on selective grounds or see it as an acceptable compromise (I am not trying to catch you out, just genuinely interested in seeing what people think)?

JRD168 said...

Hi Louis,

I'd be a little wary still of selection at 14 if by that you mean separate schools. The problem is that we in Britain are not very good at vocational education, it's generally seen as second best. Schools offering a vocational education, and pupils following it would still be at risk of being labelled failures.

I'd prefer to see pupils following the best curriculum for their needs at 14-19 generally within the same establishments - with provision for work experience or college placements where necessary.

I'm hopeful that the new diplomas recently announced by Ed Balls will go some way towards this. Hopefully they will see some more "parity of esteem" between vocational and academic education, and allow pupils to stay in the same system.

This should avoid some of the problems caused in the current system. All qualifications would be equally valid, and schools would not need to be labelled.

I try and be practical because there are some failures within our current system. Probably not as many as some on the right would suggest though!

Louis said...

I agree that we have failed massively providing vocational training in this country largely as a result of the class snobbery which pervades our culture. However, I get the impression this may reverse in future as the graduate premium diminishes

I think separate schools could work between 14-19. I remember when I was at school there were students who were not interested in being there and were not suited to academic qualifications. The teachers did not know what to do with them and the parents could not have cared less. Taking them into a vocational environment in a area they would be interested in would be to everyone's benefit. Also, I feel the only way to claw back the disproportionate number of places taken by Public schools in Oxbridge and our redbrick Universities is to congregate our brightest and best working and middle class student into schools equipped to deal with their intellect and the resources to understand the Oxbridge applications process. If this was successful, it could lead to the end (or at least a reduction) in fee-paying education, which I think you would agree would certainly benefit equality of opportunity.

And all without being perceived to be attacking the middle-class.

In theory anyway...

JRD168 said...

It's a thought Louis, and I don't fully discount it. I'd just be very wary of schools offering the vocational alternative being judged as second best.

Also, where do the kids who are not particularly academic, nor practically minded go? The equivalent of the secondary modern?

I see your logic, but I think pupils should be best dealt with within one school. The current Gifted and Talented programme is a start, and is due to expand shortly, so maybe that could be used to address some of your ideas about challenging and providing for the most able.

I think that I'm swearing an oath of silence on education now though!

Louis said...

Not at all. The middle tier of students could be educated in the equivalent of comprehensives, providing both vocational and academic courses. There should also be room for students to change schools if they perform better than expected.

Comprehensive education is not really about educating students of different abilities together. It is more about providing equality of opportunity for students and not writing them off at an inappropriate age as under the previous tripartite system (and practically under the current system). That does not mean at all that courses and even schools should not be able to tailor the education to the child. There just needs to be room to manoeuvre if the child shows more potential later on.

JRD168 said...

Again I see the point. I will still be worried about those who were neither one thing or t'other though being left in some middle ground.

I also worry about where the technical or vocational schools would come from. The tripartite system tried after the 1944 Education Act failed at least partly because there were never enough technical schools (also because the 11+ is a nonsense!)

I'd much rather the same options be available in one place, or alternativly a consortium of schools/ colleges. This would allow for streaming, and movement between options where necessary.

That is most definitly my last word on this!

raj said...

oh that was a great and very fine to look over that ..