Ever since RBWM council first proposed the idea of opening a grammar school in Maidenhead, Theresa May’s stance on the subject has been that “good schools should be allowed to expand”. With her more recent moves to change the legislation that prevents the creation of new grammar schools she has gone one step further and now says that the law should not prevent good schools from opening. So what have we learnt from this? Clearly Theresa May thinks good schools are good and we should have more good schools and what is wrong with that.
But what exactly is a good school and how do we know that a new school will be a good school?
Taken in the context of Theresa May’s crusade to resurrect Grammar Schools and consign our excellent Comprehensives to conversion to Secondary Moderns, we must surmise from her statements that her view is that grammar schools are inherently good. Of course, if this were the case, then there would be no grammar schools with an Ofsted rating less than good and the sad fact is this this isn’t the case. Both Boston and Poole grammar schools are currently rated Requires Improvement and five other grammar schools have previously had this rating. Chatham grammar school for boys has previously suffered the ignominy of being placed in special measures.
But even for those grammar schools that are rated good, is it enough to simply consider their Ofsted rating or even simply to consider the exam results that they achieve?
Take the very thorny issue of airport expansion for example; if Heathrow Airport were given an Ofsted style inspection, most likely it would be rated good. Looked at purely from the perspective of how it serves its users (as a school Ofsted report would), its hard to find many points on which you could criticise it.
So, if Heathrow is a good airport for those that use it, surely allowing it to expand is a no brainer?
Well, of course, it is really not that simple. We can’t just look at this from the perspective of the airport users, we need to consider the airport’s impact on the community that it lives within and the environmental impact that it makes on its surroundings. Once we consider these factors the question really does get a great deal more troublesome and it is on these factors that RBWM and other local councils have based their commitment to fight any expansion of Heathrow through the courts.
So, if it makes sense to consider the environmental and community impact of an airport when considering its suitability for expansion, why shouldn’t it make sense to apply similar criteria to a school when it looks to expand or, indeed be created in the first place?
Countless studies on the effect of selective schools have shown that whilst the children that attend them are generally well served, the 80% of children that do not make it into a grammar school within that community have their educational outcomes substantially negatively affected. There can be no doubt that the existence of a grammar school within a community seriously hampers the life chances of the majority of those children living within its surrounding community.
On this basis alone, no grammar school should be considered good unless its neighbouring schools are universally ranked as good schools and can produce results comparable to that of a good Comprehensive. But, stripped of their more able pupils, Secondary Moderns will always find it hard to compete with a Comprehensive making the case for Grammar Schools impossible to support.