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No to Secondary Moderns!

September 23, 2016 1:59 PM
By Cllr John Marriott - Lincoln, Sleaford and North Hykeham

John MarriottAll but five years of my 34 year career were spent in comprehensive schools. Even though some may have argued that my specialism, modern foreign languages, would have been better pursued in a more selective system, I made a conscious choice and have no regrets.

I still feel that it is wrong to select children at 11 to pursue different paths and was conscious of the general feeling amongst my contemporaries at primary school that failure at the 11 plus was indeed failure.

We can see what happens when you select here in Lincolnshire. No matter how you tart them up, no matter what you call them, County Secondary's, Academies, High Schools, the schools that educate those who failed the 11 plus struggle to compete with the grammar schools in the eyes of many parents, students and, indeed, many in the teaching service. They find it harder to recruit specialists and struggle for exam success.

When I arrived in Lincoln in 1977 Greater Lincoln was a comprehensive island in a sea of selection. The system had had some teething problems, especially in the old City Borough, where Middle Schools had been introduced in 1973; but, by the end of the decade, with most schools operating at 11 to 18, success, as reflected by exam results alone, was delivering in a way that the old system never did.

By the end of the 1980s, with the introduction of Grant Maintained Schools and the National Curriculum, not forgetting the new GCSE, things changed rapidly. Indeed, all but one of Greater Lincoln's comprehensives successfully applied for GM status, and benefitted from a massive injection of cash, which, in my opinion, was not always wisely spent.

But still that wasn't enough for our elected representatives. In 1992 the Conservative administration, that had been in power ever since Lincolnshire CC was formed in 1974, decided, presumably for electoral advantage the following year, to turn the only school over which it had authority in Greater Lincoln into a Grammar School. The reaction from the other schools in the area was swift, namely by fielding 'No to Secondary Moderns' candidates in many Greater Lincoln seats in the 1993 County Council elections, which probably contributed towards the only time that the Conservatives have so far been in opposition at County Hall in the history of this authority. Greater Lincoln remained 'comprehensive' under the new Lib/Lab ruling group.

However, largely thanks to the bending of the rules established by the last Labour government, which nobody at the time saw fit to challenge, even Greater Lincoln now has a de facto grammar school in its midst, which is able to cherry pick the best students from a far wider area than its competitors. So much for a level playing field!

So it may be too late for Lincolnshire to change. But I would urge Mrs May to reconsider her position. Perhaps it's time for her to place this idea into the reject files, as the previous government did with the plans to sell off the National Forests or reform the NHS. And, while she's there, she might like to pick up the Tomlinson Report on Vocational Education and the Lyons Report on Local Government as well and have another read).

As former Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, recently said, let's get the current reforms to work first, and that should include a review of the vocational element of the schools' curriculum instead of this slavish adherence to five 'good' GCSE's and a recognition that not every student needs to go to university to have a successful career. A wholesale return to selection at 11 is not the answer.