Friday, December 23, 2005

Selection in education

A few blogs have been talking selection policis for schools recently, and, as a former grammar school kid living in an area that still uses grammar schools, I thought I'd give an opinion. It may surprise the flag wavers in favour of them to know that I think they're a bloody stupid idea. Meaders has the right idea;Dead Men Left: "Destroy every fucking grammar school in the country":
This missing 75% is rather strange: where are all those former secondary modern pupils demanding a return to selection? If, as the meritocrats claim, the 11-plus is so clearly a superior system, why are not more of these (doubtless) happy, contented failures, secure in their particular places, beseeching the government to deliver more grammar schools?
Grammar schools give a false perception of success. They select at 11, and get good results at 16. Those results look good, of course, because the kids they've got in there are judged, by one form of measure, to be smarter, so naturally they'll do 'well'. At least, at academic subjects. They also create a false view that only academic success is important; I'm pretty good academically (lazy bastard, but pretty good), but absolutely useless when it comes to, for example, fixing a car.

Students at a grammar are filtered towards academia, thou shalt attend University. Even if its innapropriate or you'd be better at a more practical skill. Those that 'fail' their 11+ are encouraged, and expected, to go on to those 'vocational' courses, even if they would actually be better served on an academic course. I got worse GCSE results than my younger sister two years later, but she 'failed' her 11+. My school pushed me to A levels, and then on to a crappy degree (despite being obviously wrong for me at the time, it was good for their statistics you see; they don't record first term drop outs, only that you got a place at university). Her school pushed her to train to be a secretary. Naturally, she's worked hard, and now earns much more than I, despite the incomplete education, but she is now hitting a glass ceiling wherein lack of a degree is causing her problems. Grammar schools fail people. Secondary moderns fail people. One size fits all comprehensives fail people if they insist on mixed ability classes.

I'm always bothered when people push for parental 'choice' in education. If you live in an area such as I do, you don't really have much choice, there are a small number of local schools. Add in selection, then the choice is even less, you go where you're accepted. What's wrong with the idea that all schools should be good schools?

What's wrong with the idea that someone good at maths may be poor at English, and therefore streaming and ability sets worked by subject may be a necessary tool?

Why do we value the academic over the mechanic, the lawyer over the plumber? And why do people seek to constantly bring back a system that palpably isn't good for anyone involved except those that are academic and pass the 11+?


Ken said...

The thing is though, we have an education system where both academic and vocational qualifications are devalued because we are always trying to equate the two. A vocational "A-Level" in tourism, according to UCAS, is supposedly the equivalent of two academic A-Levels. That's total bullshit, and most people realise this. It doesn't stop those results being used to skew government university targets, though. Trying to equate the two levels doesn't work. We need stand-alone standards for academic and vocational qualification. Are grammar schools necessary for this? No. But they are better than what we have, for sure.

And the current system sucks because it really is selection by wealth.

MatGB said...

Not sure treating all vocational stuff as equivalence is right, but it's not always wrong; I did an Access course for example, 3 a-levels equivalence, but it's designed for mature students to go to university off the back of.

Besides, they are stand alones, but UCAS gives them some kind of equivalence. The problem at that end is all 'university' education being lumped together into a system essentially designed for academic stuff with different courses tried to fit in but not part of the design.

But the big problem with selection at 11 is 11-16 education, not 16+, where you've normally got multiple sixth form/college options anyway (I considered switching schools for A-levels for example). At that level, grammar schools would make things worse than the current mess, which is mostly problematic because it's anarchic and pot luck combined with ability to buy your way into the right area.

Anonymous said...

A vocational "A-Level" in tourism, according to UCAS, is supposedly the equivalent of two academic A-Levels. That's total bullshit, and most people realise this.

The main thing, I think, is the appropriateness of the comparison - going for a course or job in tourism and the vocational thing probably is worth two less specific A levels for a jon in that area.