Tuesday, 24 January 2017

New Year, Old Story - Grammar Schools and the New Funding Formula

After a Thick of It-esque cock-up last year, in which a piece of paper floating the idea of allowing more grammar schools to be created was photographed outside No. 10, Justine Greening MP, the current Education Secretary and one-time Szemalikowski-lackey, is pushing ahead with plans to roll out new and expanded grammar schools despite fierce opposition.

Under the new plans, it suggests repealing the 1998 law that stopped the creation of new grammar schools in England. The proposals would see the existing one-hundred and sixty three grammar schools still active in England allowed to expand, new ones created, and existing non-selective schools able to change their status.

Whilst the purported benefits of grammar schools are a better education for those children of a higher level of academic performance, as well as the prospect of engaged students who are there to learn for teachers, there are many reasons to think any further pursuit of the expansion of the grammar system might be problematic. First, grammar schools select their pupils at age eleven with testing, an age at which it is hard to gauge the future academic prowess and interests of a student. To this end, an emphasis is put on academia, and so success is measured by academic success and a path to university, which is not necessarily a measure of success for everyone; those who wish to diversify into the arts or trade industries may see a fruitful apprenticeship or conservatoire as the pinnacle of their careers. This academic orientation puts emphasis on the core subjects, and away from the arts and humanities, areas that students - intelligent students to that end - may want to pursue further down in their education.

Justine "PR Machine" Greening, left. 
There is also the loss to other comprehensive schools. Those that do not get into a grammar may see themselves as a failure. Those that do get in are then not capable of possibly achieving just as much academically at the comprehensive, but without the benefit of a more diverse school environment, thus not influencing it themselves. Equally, if teachers want to work at grammars over comprehensives, then good teachers are being taken away from students that may need their skills. Whilst grammars are designed to better the possibilities of brighter students, and meritocracy in education should be a welcome thing, they only open a divide between students. It is not inconceivable to have that same meritocracy all in one school: what is to say that money that would go into grammars could not be re-appropriated to form ability-based classes with great teachers within the schools we already have?

As well as all these concerns, Greening faces difficulty in getting any policy through a Commons vote; it has been reported that at least a dozen Conservative MPs are disgruntled with the plans and likely to rebel. Equally, both previous Tory Education Secretaries - Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove, the man that spine forgot - have shown hesitancy to endorse the policy.

The grammar schools policy is just another in the latest barrage of policy changes coming from the DfE. Last December the Trash reported on the move to renegotiate the current funding formula that would take money away from inner city schools like Hampstead. The new funding formula, which is to be introduced in 2018-19, will address "unfair" regional differences in funding, with 10,000 schools being granted budget increases of up to 3% in the first year and 5% in the second. However, similar numbers of schools will have their budgets cut significantly. For a large secondary school in London, a 1.5% cut could be equivalent to a £150,000 budget reduction.

Whether it be less funding, the expansion of grammar schools or any other change to the education system, it is hard to deny that it is becoming increasingly difficult for state school education as we know it to thrive.

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