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.
Children need to pass an exam in order to attend a grammar school; you cannot choose to attend such a school unless you can first pass this exam. This exam is supposed to be a clear guide to the academic ability of the child and claims to be “tutor proof” but the evidence from Buckinghamshire shows that it is anything but. For example, if you look at the primary education breakdown of children that passed the Buckinghamshire 11+ exam for September 2016 entry you find that 60% come from private schools whilst only 22% are state educated (the remaining 18% come from schools outside of Buckinghamshire). Buckinghamshire’s state primary schools are not allowed to tutor their children for the 11+ exam whilst private primary schools in the county are free to do as they please and do tutor them specifically on sitting the exam. I can think of little better demonstration of the fact that the exam is not tutor proof than this.
What about everyone else?
What about the parents of pupils in Maidenhead that would not pass the 11+ exam were there to be a new grammar school in Maidenhead? It is likely that something in the order of 80 – 85% of the total year group population of Maidenhead will not pass the exam. So, what about the choices left to them? They won’t have any. They cannot choose to send their children to a local comprehensive school because the presence of the grammar school in Maidenhead will have transformed those into Secondary Moderns. They cannot choose to send their children across the border to Comprehensive schools in neighboring Local Authorities because there are none, only Secondary Moderns and in any case, why should we support the introduction of a grammar school in Maidenhead to reduce school travel time for a small percentage of children that choose to go out borough if this forces the majority of children to travel out of borough to find a Comprehensive education.
Choice? What choice?
So the introduction of a grammar has only one effect on choice; it removes the choice of at least 80% of children and their parents to select a local comprehensive school.