BBC Radio 4 “More or Less” look at grammar schools

The Radio 4 More or Less statistical analysis programme looked at the evidence on the effect of Grammar schools today. You can find the original programme at More or Less: Behind the Stats but we’ve trimmed the content down to only include the relevant part of the programme for you.

Surely we can change our mind later?

No U Turn

Let’s suppose RBWM goes ahead with a new grammar school and our worst fears are proven true; our good comprehensives become poor performing secondary moderns and the attainment gap widens. Well so what? Setting aside (for a moment) the thousands of children whose education will have been ruined, surely we can correct the mistake and convert the new grammar school into a comprehensive?

Well no, actually the people of Maidenhead will pretty much powerless to recover the situation.

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Survey of Key Stage 2 Level 5 Children – what about everyone else?


We became aware today that RBWM have now decided to seek the views of parents whose children achieved level 5 and above at KS2 in 2014 and 2015 regarding why they chose not to send their children to a grammar school. The announcement of this came in a press release posted on their web site dated 21/03/2016.

We are disappointed that £220,000 of taxpayers money has already been earmarked for a satellite to Buckinghamshire’s Sir William Borlase Grammar School in Maidenhead and it is clear from this survey that RBWM do not have any clear evidence of demand.

We are also disappointed that the survey is only of those parents whose children achieved level 5 and therefore, by its nature, excludes the vast majority of school children in Maidenhead, much as the grammar school itself will.

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To have and to have not

In a recent BBC Radio 4 World at One interview, Councillor Bicknell told us that opposition to a grammar school in Maidenhead is about the “haves and have nots ; it’s the old jealousy argument. Other people say that a grammar school provides more choice in education. Councillor Burbage says that some children leave Maidenhead and travel to Buckinghamshire or Reading grammar schools , so we already have selective education in Maidenhead anyway. These seem to be the 3 principle arguments why we are being told that we should return to a system of selective education that was seen to have failed 30 years ago, and which the vast majority of the other countries in the world do not use.

Our opposition to the return of grammar schools starts with one very simple fact: 11 is much too young to subject children to an exam which is likely to have a significant impact on them, which is likely to last for the rest of their lives. From that simple statement run many streams.

We do not argue that children should never be assessed as to what education is suitable for them. We do not argue that students should not be streamed according to their present rate of progress at secondary school. We do not argue that children who work harder or have greater academic ability should have the opportunity to progress faster in academic terms than those who don’t. We argue that all children should have the opportunity to progress at the best speed that they can at all times in their school career and dividing them into separate schools at the age of 11, will not do that. There is not the slightest implication of jealousy in that argument, which applies equally to children of all backgrounds; so much for the ‘haves and have nots’.

We’ve already looked at the issue of choice in our article “What about parental choice?” and put that issue to bed. It simply doesn’t hold water as a valid argument.

So, what about the issue of de facto selection already existing in RBWM? The number of children who cross out of this local authority boundary to Buckinghamshire grammar schools amount to perhaps 7 children per age group per RBWM comprehensive school. If a new 1000 student grammar school was built, the whole top academic class will be shorn from each comprehensive in Maidenhead. This is a wholly different matter to 7 being shorn from the age group; the effect on our existing schools will be catastrophic. We’re not pretending that the existing situation is ideal but we cannot overturn Buckinghamshire’s policy of selective education; that’s a matter for the people of Buckinghamshire. We would love all of the children of Maidenhead to want to attend our great local comprehensives and RBWM should be doing everything that they can to promote and improve our local schools rather than funding a Buckinghamshire school to undermine our own schools.

What about parental choice?

One of the justifications that council leaders in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead make for pursuing their grammar school policy is that they are increasing parental choice. They make this claim because of the number of parents that “opt” to send their children across our border into Buckinghamshire, Reading and Slough to attend grammar schools there.

Is it a choice?

Let’s start by examining the concept of choice in relation to grammar schools.

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A Grammar school in Maidenhead? Why not?

Why do we want a grammar school?

As the parent of two school age children, who will be moving to their secondary education from September 2019, I am very apprehensive about the proposals to bring a grammar school to Maidenhead.

Other parents say “But why? Why should you worry? It will just make things easier for people whose children are going to go to a grammar school – it wont change anything for the rest of the children.”

I wish I could have that confidence. But I don’t. Why don’t I? Well, maybe because I loosely work in the field of education; maybe because I grew up in an area that didn’t have selective education, or maybe because I have spent a lot of time recently researching the possible impact of a grammar school on our neighbourhood.

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What is the real driver for RBWM’s Satellite Grammar project?

Maidenhead bridge at sunset

Maidenhead, Berkshire has a population of 86,000 is situated on the River Thames and sits west of London between the M40 to the north and M4 to the south.

There are around 10,000 young people attending state schools in the town aged between the ages of 4 and 18 years plus a number in the independent sector and a smaller number who attend schools outside of the Royal Borough in adjacent education authorities.

As a result of the proximity of Buckinghamshire schools just across the Thames from Maidenhead (in Burnham, Slough, Marlow and Wycombe) there has been a long-standing reciprocal arrangement with the Bucks education bodies that Maidenhead pupils can sit the 11-plus exam and be offered places at Bucks Grammars, whilst Maidenhead’s Comprehensive schools accommodate Bucks pupils whose parents prefer to see them in a comprehensive a few miles away rather than in a Secondary Modern closer to home. Anyone who has ever travelled the Maidenhead to Marlow branch line in the mornings or early evenings will be well aware of the mass migration of young people across county borders in pursuit of the optimum education experience as chosen by their parents. And this arrangement seems to work for those in Maidenhead who aspire to selective education and many in Bucks who want to escape it.

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BBC World At One coverage of the Maidenhead Grammar issue

Today’s BBC Radio 4 World at One programme discussed Maidenhead’s potential new grammar school, interviewing Councillor Phillip Bicknell, Comprehensive Future campaigner Fiona Millar and Chair of the National Grammar School Association Robert McCartney QC.

Interestingly, Robert McCartney QC states very clearly that he believes that there is a strong case that the Weald of Kent grammar school annex breaches the rules on the creation of new Grammar schools. If he is right then this could make things very difficult for RBWM.

You can find the full version of the programme on iplayer (it will be available there for the next 29 days), but we’ve edited it down to just the section of the programme that covers this issue. You can listen to it by clicking the play button below.

Poor consultation creates flimsy mandates in RBWM

Consultation dictionary entry

The town of Maidenhead in Berkshire has a population of 86,000. The Parliamentary constituency is listed as having 74,000 eligible voters. There are around 10,000 young people attending state schools in the town aged between 4 and 18 years plus a number in the independent sector and a smaller number who attend schools outside of the Royal Borough in adjacent education authorities. Yet, only 165 Maidenhead residents completed a council run consultation on the future of secondary education in the Borough in late 2014 and of them only 107 indicated they were in favour of investigating other options for providing more secondary school places.

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Timeline of events

We thought that it would be useful to document the series of events that led to the creation of Excellent Education For Everyone, covering each action that the council took on this journey as well as bringing together references to any support or opposition that they received. We will update this over the course of the coming months so you can check back here any time for the latest situation. Some of the information presented here has been made available to us through Freedom of Information requests whilst other documents are on public web sites. Wherever possible we have provided links to copies of original documentation so that you can see the evidence for yourselves.

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