Given the problems that there are in our education system you would have thought that doing the equivalent of re-inventing the quill pen as the answer to communication problems would not have made it off the drawing board. So much has changed since the post war years of desperate gratitude that something that perhaps makes things better for 10% of the population and worse for 90% should not be made.
The idea of providing high level tuition for the academically brightest is laudable but it does not have to be done in the social ghetto of a Grammar School environment, leave that to the public schools and those prepared to pay. It can be done by streaming within existing schools and groups of schools.
Of the many weaknesses in our education system the inability to switch between courses and types of education at all stages in schools is the worst. The Grammar School concept is not about real choice or social mobility; it disenfranchises hordes of able pupils at 11 based on some arbitrary assessment at a moment in time.
If you want real choice you need to have a large enough cohort to provide the full menu of relevant education and allow pupils at all years to switch back and forth, to mix and match, and to learn in a holistic high quality high tech environment. There also has to be much more emphasis on decent careers advice and pastoral care as opposed to the micky mouse offerings that are all too prevalent.
The answer to educational development lies in looking at the resources available and the effectiveness with which they are used.
School facilities are a public resource and where possible they should double up by being designed properly and being made available to the wider population. Aside from multiplying the investment made in sports and other facilities this has the added advantage of creating a better connection between schools and their surrounding population.
MIT make the content of their engineering degree (arguably the best in the world) available free on-line. Why isn’t school lesson content created by a centre of excellence and driven my modern communications technology? This would free up more time for teachers to get to the nitty gritty with their pupils.
Rather than building more schools it is time to take a detailed look at the amount of unused class room time in a normal day. There is no rule that states that a school day has to be between 9am and 3.30pm. There are some schools that have so much underused resource that if they started operating at 7am and finished at 6pm you could run two school systems in the same premises. What
would you rather do? Invest in teachers or bricks and mortar. It is also time that the significant role of classroom assistants was properly recognised. Value them more and pay them more.
Further Education (FE) Colleges are the destination for those not staying on in 6 th forms and/or not going on to University. They often have to compete with schools hanging onto small 6 th Forms that cannot provide a wide enough offering. Schools keep pupils in their 6 th Forms who find the going tough but would thrive in an FE environment. Schools try to replicate the FE offering in order to keep their numbers above the critical minimum. Sort this out and even more school resource would become available. Schools with 6 th Forms in any given area should consolidate their offering maintaining a wide offering of high standard academically biased teaching.
Boost funding to FE Colleges who are the backbone of skills development for business and industry but who have had Cinderella status when it comes to support. Make them increasingly attractive for those who wish to pursue something other than a purely academic education. Make them the go to places for employers looking for young talent with a well-defined skill set.
There is a rag bag of quality and range of offering throughout the University sector. There is the truly academic and there is the practical. Just as there are Colleges/Schools of Business, Medicine, Music, Art and Agriculture, there needs to be Colleges of Engineering, IT, Media etc. Their status should be about their subject excellence not the social cache of the University in which they are seated. Higher Education (HE) has to be about much more than traditional University Education, it needs to provide celebrated pinnacles of excellence for those who have majored in skills rather than ideas. That can be in specialist Schools or Colleges, or in Universities that set their stall out to escalate the skills of those who have not gone down the purely academic route.
Grammar schools would seek to take those with the most academic potential at 11 and prune out the weakest at the onset of 6 th Form education. In fact, the best 6 th Forms will have been populated by a mix of pupils from all schools and all backgrounds.
Grammar Schools are dogma gone mad.
They don’t begin to tackle the real issues.