The Education Act 1998 prevents any new grammar schools from being opened in England. However, existing schools are allowed to expand to meet the increasing demand. News of the recently opened ‘satellite’ school for the Weald of Kent Girls’ Grammar School, nine miles away from the original school, has caused the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to defend the expansion of grammar schools and deny any change in the Government’s policy to selective schooling.
One advantage of grammar schools according to London Mayor, Boris Johnson, is that they are a great mobiliser which could help the ‘brightest children from poor homes’. The selective process of picking children of a high intelligence to be given a better quality of education has been a long standing tradition in the UK.
On the other hand, critics say that wealthier children are more likely to receive a place at grammar schools because their parents can pay for tutoring. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, stated that grammar schools are ‘stuffed full of middle-class kids’. Some argue that the grammar school system has moved away from being an opportunity for children with potential from lower income backgrounds to a contest between middle-class parents.
Selective state schools tend to produce strong exam results. The Weald of Kent Grammar School is one of the top performing schools in the country, with 99% of its students achieving five A*-C grades in GCSE exams in 2014, and 98% of sixth form students achieving at least three A-Levels at grades A*-E.
Grammar schools often have a lot invested in them and therefore have good facilities. There have been many studies suggesting that facilities play a fundamental role in a child’s learning; good quality textbooks being a key example.
Grammar schools offer many advantages to children who are able to sit and pass the 11+ exams. They provide some children a unique opportunity for a better education and lead to good exam results. However, the critics will continue to argue that 11 years old is too young to categorise children according to ability and intelligence and that investment into all mainstream schools is a more positive way forward.
Following this recent news of expansion to grammar schools, no doubt the debate will continue.