Fight racist and elitist selective education

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Since 2007 every school has had to submit its census twice a year.  This information identifies free school meal eligibility, ethnicity (numbers of EAL pupils – English as an additional language) and Special Educa­tional Needs. The numbers determine how much funding the government gives to each school.

This year the Department for Edu­cation has requested additional information, the nationality and country of birth of pupils to be confirmed by presentation of the child’s passport. This information is due to be sent to Department of Education on 6 Oct­ober and schools have to check nationality status every term.

Parents can, before this date, declare that they want to opt-out and refuse to give this information to schools. If they have already given this information before this date, they can instruct schools not to send this information to central government as it will end up in the hands of immigration enforcement. All schools, nurseries and child-minders should be giving parents an option to opt out from providing this additional information. School letters should have the option ‘I do not wish to provide this information’ and also state that ‘there is no requirement for the school to see your passport or birth certificate’.

Some schools and nurseries in Hackney already collected this information in July and the result was the deportation of up to 50 schoolchildren. It is vital that no parents comply so that there is a united front against this ruling. There is a good leaflet advising parents of their right to opt out at schoolsabc.net/resources which provides a template letter for parents to send to their school or nursery. Solid­arity of all parents/carers can succeed against this piece of state racism.

Room at the top

New Prime Minister Theresa May, like Tony ‘education, education, education’ Blair, has made the issue of schooling her personal policy breakout. She has tried to mark out her territory, separating her administration from that of ‘posh-boy’ Cameron, with the attention-seeking claim that she will create in this country ‘a great meritocracy’. Giving schools the right to select the academically best children at the age of 11 would, says May, increase social mobility for children from poorer backgrounds and that is her aim. She proposes to allow all schools to apply to become grammar schools, and to expand enrolment at existing grammar schools. May will be opposed by many of her own Conservative MPs, the House of Lords, and most educational ‘experts’. Former Conservative Educa­tion Secretary Nicky Morgan says that the idea of reintroducing grammars risks ‘actively undermining six years of progressive education reform’. But May has lifted the lid on the existing reality and says, ‘the truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and it’s by house price; selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.’ She is correct in this but to reinforce the entitlement of a few bright working class children to privileged schooling is not the answer to growing poverty and educational disadvantage.

A brief history of the grammar school

Although there are old grammar school foundations, the modern grammar schools have their origins in the 1944 Education Act which, for the first time, brought free state secondary education to millions of children in England and Wales. The 11+ exam sifted pupils into grammar, technical or secondary modern, leading to ap­proximately 10% of children attending grammar schools, 10% technical schools and 80% secondary modern schools. The introduction of the comprehensive secondary school, taking in all pupils of all abilities from the local area, was a fighting programme for the left in the 1960s and was largely achieved except in a handful of counties. Significantly it was Mar­garet Thatcher who, as Education Secretary, transferred more grammar schools into the comprehensive system than any other minister. This was necessary to modernise the system into a more streamlined, competitive model. A massive increase in qualified, skilled workers was demanded of state education and the old secondary modern schools, leading 14-year- olds straight into work, no longer suited.

Selection at 11: the globalisers and the nationalists

By promoting grammar schools, May is clearly demarcating herself from Cameron. He and the majority of the Conservative cabinet were content to leave the private schools untouched to educate the 7% of pupils who go on to lucrative careers via Oxford and Cambridge, in the armed forces, the judiciary, journalism, the financial sector and even, it seems, the entertainment business. For the mass of children new, marketised schooling, run by hedge funds and private interests, now known as multiacademy trusts or MATS, was the way forward in a globalised world where education businesses thrive. But May plans for a return to the traditional pathway to success for bright working class children – the grammar school. Of course, this implies a massive criticism of all the changes that have been made to the education system by recent governments. They are not working, they are failing pupils and parents and they have led to widespread corruption and diversion of school funding (see FRFI 252). Most importantly, the last budget means an 8% cut in real terms per pupil, with schools having to lose up to £80,000 a year. Teaching posts are being cut and class sizes are rising, with 30 pupils in reception as standard. May has no intention of properly funding state education but she has taken the precaution of promising a certain section of the better-off working class that they will be protected from the worst conditions. The revival of selection at 11 and the expansion of the grammar schools signify a return to traditional values and offer a safety net in times of austerity and cuts for a privileged few.

Susan Davidson and Susan Rose