Friday, 9 September 2016

Grammar schools... love them or loathe them, they're not the answer

Back to school brings with it some familiar, depressing news...

Yes, that. And in the first week back.

But there's worse. Because you can get rid of the little critters that populate primary school heads (that's the heads of primary-age children, not the Headteachers of such establishments, although for all I know...)

If only you could rid the world of politicians with such ease. Because education is once again a political battleground. The proposal to allow new grammar schools predictably divides opinion on ideological lines. In the blue corner, those who favour even more tests (the deeply flawed 11+) and a restructuring of secondary education while in the red corner, a depressing allegiance to the failed one-size-fits all philosophy of the last fifty years.

In the row over the proposal to permit more grammar schools something rather important seems to have been overlooked. Neither side in the for- and anti- debate seems to acknowledge that all children are different, learn differently, excel in different ways and make progress in often widely different rates. Or that what we know about how children - and the rest of us - learn has changed beyond all recognition in the last fifty years.

Unfortunately, the current factory model makes no allowances for the quantum leaps made in our understanding of learning. Schools, as presently structured, with teachers before (often unreasonably large) classes just don't cut the mustard with our brains, and what we know of how they work.

Now for a a bit of controversy. Selection - academic, skills-based, aptitude-determined - is a good thing. Yes. I'm a product of comprehensive education, and - as a teacher - have taught in both the selective and non-selective sectors. Tailoring what we, the schools, do to meet the needs of the individual is most definitely the way forward. Teaching them in traditional classes in the traditional way is not.

No school, as we know them, anywhere in the world is able adequately to adapt to this fundamental and urgent challenge. Technology has given us a fabulous opportunity to do something really radical with the education system. The research already exists and the methods have been tried and tested.

If only someone had the guts the put that on the political agenda.

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