News of grammar school expansion in Kent has reignited debate about the merits of academic selection. And as the BBC’s Question Time revealed when it visited Portsmouth last week, selection can be a highly-sensitive topic.
The reality is selection occurs all the time. Academies and state secondaries with specialist subject status can select a proportion of their intake on the basis of pupil aptitude.
Most schools operate selection within subjects.
We accept the freedom of colleges and universities to select on the basis of academic performance.
The issue therefore tends to centre around two things: the appropriateness of selecting at 11; and the fear of selection by postcode, as house prices rise in the catchment areas of the best schools.
I consider myself to be the product of different systems.
My father attended a grammar school; my mother, a secondary modern. I received an assisted place in an academically selective school.
I now run a former grammar which retained the 11+.
What most people do not realise is that the intake at PGS is much broader than that of most grammars in Kent, although our value-added scores at GCSE and beyond are usually much stronger than our more selective state counterparts.
Rather than a centralised 11+, we have our own entrance assessments.
We invite every child for an interview; we seek the advice of their current school; we adjust the scores to reflect their age. It is as much a pastoral process as an academic one. Rather than thinking about the child at 11 we imagine where they will be at 25.
Whilst it is true that most of our parents make sacrifices to pay their children’s fees, our bursaries ensure a broader social mix.
Sitting in the Question Time audience, it was apparent the debate about selection suffers from easy stereotyping.
No wonder the government is so keen to avoid it. But the Secretary of State is determined to offer more parental choice, which I welcome.
As a head I’m aware the best schools only remain strong as long as they are being selected by the pupils and parents they serve.