Benefits of selective education?

(1000 Posts)
AmberTheCat Wed 19-Feb-14 12:41:31

I'm aware that I've been cluttering up the 11+ tutoring thread with discussions the OP said she didn't want, on the merits or otherwise of grammar schools in principle, so I'll stop doing that and start my own thread!

So, I genuinely don't get why so many people think separating children by ability (or potential, or however you try to do it) at 11 or even younger is a good thing. Why will they benefit more from that than from properly differentiated teaching in a comprehensive school? And what about the children who aren't selected? How does a selective system benefit them?

Genuine questions. I'm strongly in favour of comprehensive education, but would really like to better understand the arguments against.

WooWooOwl Wed 19-Feb-14 13:01:09

This has been done lots of times, but I always find it interesting! After numerous debates on the subject, I don't really think there is any benefit to fully selective systems like there's in Kent and Bucks. Any good points that may exist are outweighed by the bad ones.

But I do firmly believe there is a place for super selective schools that aim to take the top 5-10% over a wide area. These schools succeed and provide a good education that is well suited to the children that attend them, and they don't have the knock on effect of lowering standards at local comprehensives. They are there for families that want to use them and can be easily ignored by those that don't. I think choice in education is a good thing.

dashoflime Wed 19-Feb-14 13:12:32

I don't even think we should call it the "Grammar School Debate." We should call it the "Secondary Modern School Debate" instead, because lets face it Secondary Moderns are where 3/4 of kids went when there were grammar schools.

If we were talking about "Do you support the principles of Secondary Modern Education?" or "Will a Secondary Modern provide an adequate education for my pfb?" then we would come to some different conclusions!

I don't believe that access to knowledge should be gate kept on the basis of performance in a test.

I always like to give the example of my Mum, who is a maths tutor, and the job she had for a while teaching maths to the British Army. People join the Army with all sorts of different abilities and, by the end of training, they all meet a fantastic standard of physical fitness and a good basic standard of literacy and numeracy. Including those who languished in the bottom sets all their school career and were told they couldn't learn.

Why is this possible? Because basically most people are capable of learning most things. They only vary in the time and effort they need to do so. If an institution is willing to devote as much time and effort as is needed- then everyone can learn.

If the Army can do this then any institution can.

The biggest challenge for my Mum, by the way, was getting people over the lack of confidence they had learnt in school.

dashoflime Wed 19-Feb-14 13:16:10

I received an excellent education in a Comprehensive school, but even there- setting by abilities and the assumption that those in the lowest sets could not learn was a huge problem.

I was in top sets for everything except French. First day in the French class- the atmosphere was just totally different. The kids all felt discouraged that they'd been placed there and the teacher had low expectations.

It was then I realised that the school experience I had come to expect only applied to the top 5th of children and the vast majority were effectively written off.

cory Wed 19-Feb-14 13:26:12

I am very happy that we do not have a selective system here. Dd was ill in Yr 6 and would have struggled getting results that would have let her into any selective school. Because she never went through this process she was able to carry on working at her appropriate level and is now doing well in academic subjects at college.

Ds otoh was a late developer. In bottom sets in primary, very low self esteem. If he had failed an 11+ (as he certainly would have done) he would have written himself off then and there. Instead, attending a well managed comprehensive, he has been able to work his way up the sets and gradually discovering talents and interests he didn't know he had. Being surrounded by boys of varying ability has helped to show him that nothing is set in stone.

The solution advocated by many who favour the selective system would be to take somebody like ds and encourage him to take up a vocational course. But ds has absolutely no aptitude for practical things. He'd be a disastrous carpenter or electrician or bricklayer. But with hard work, he might just manage a pen-pushing career.

I find it very odd that the separation between academic and practical is done purely on academic tests. As if it didn't matter if somebody had any talent for their job as an electrician or bricklayer- because it can't possibly matter if we get those things right or not! hmm

dashoflime Wed 19-Feb-14 13:30:04

cory I was barred from doing a childcare GCSE because I was "too academic." As a result my pfb spent his first 3 weeks in bloated discomfort because I didn't realise I was supposed to be burping him blush

Procrastreation Wed 19-Feb-14 13:30:40

The benefit is critical mass.

Spoken with the bitterness of someone who was packed off to uni with single maths A-Level - because my 200 strong comprehensive cohort (in a non grammar area) couldn't muster up 10 children to make up a class of Further Maths.

UKsounding Wed 19-Feb-14 13:38:55

"Why is this possible? Because basically most people are capable of learning most things. They only vary in the time and effort they need to do so. If an institution is willing to devote as much time and effort as is needed- then everyone can learn. "

I agree to a point, but the STUDENT has to want to learn also - you can drag a horse to water, but you can't make it drink etc. In many secondary classrooms there is a resistance culture where the norm is to reject education and learning as uncool and middle-class and energy is devoted to being obstructive and destructive. Unfortunately it only takes two in a classroom to derail learning of all, and saps the enthusiasm of any decent teacher.
Once upon a time, kids could enter a trade at 14 and see for themselves why it was important to learn trigonometry etc. while there was still time and they were at technical college a portion of the week. Now teachers are being inundated with demands to produce "authentic learning experiences" in the classroom and kids are warehoused there for longer and longer and come out LESS fit for the workplace and to support themselves and make a productive life.
I am not saying that all kids, or even most kids, should leave full-time formal education at 14. However, we have to recognize that school classrooms are only one place to get an education. The army is an excellent example of an alternative institution where education used to be delivered. The UK used to have strong adult education systems and they have been broken down.
Not only are most people capable of learning most things, but they are capable of learning them over their entire lives. HOWEVER, people only learn effectively when they see a purpose for it. Blaming schools is unfair because they are being used as a way of shielding kids from finding out what they want and need to learn, and then we wonder why kids don't learn in schools...

dashoflime Wed 19-Feb-14 13:45:51

UK That is a fair point. The Army recruits wanted to learn because it was a requirement of their chosen profession.

What I was getting at is that if testing is supposed to indicate which kids "can" learn or "would benefit from" a certain education- then its based on a false premise as is shown by many people's subsequent performance in adult education.

Many people's self image has been damaged by that false premise and actually becomes a barrier to learning all by itself.

funnyossity Wed 19-Feb-14 13:46:54

Pro - I didn't know Further Maths existed until I got to university.

It could be worse folks: I am in Scotland and in some areas now you only get to study 5 subjects at the GCSE-equivalent levels , in my local high school it's 6, whoopee!

dashoflime Wed 19-Feb-14 13:51:15

I didn't know further maths existed till just now!

C0smos Wed 19-Feb-14 13:53:26

I used to live in Bucks, I have very strong memories of my older brother coming home in floods of tears having failed his 12+. He was distraught and felt he was a failure - he was 12!! No kid should be written off at that age.
My parents moved us both to an out of county comp which was perfect for us. My brother now has a degree, a ton of specialist IT qualifications and a good job. I wonder if he would have done so well at the local secondary school.
So no I don't agree with grammar schools.

LaVolcan Wed 19-Feb-14 13:55:37

Realistically though, it's not been possible to enter a trade at 14 since the War because the school leaving age was raised to 15 in the late 1940s.

I agree with dashoflime, it should be called the Secondary Modern debate. Why should a child who is not particularly academic, but conscientious and prepared to learn not be offered the chance to achieve to the best of their ability? Why should it be automatically assumed that they are more suited for vocational work?

However,the majority of places don't have grammar schools, and it doesn't appear to be much of a topic for debate at all. For them the debate is, how do I get my child into a good comprehensive, or how do we get the best for our child out of the local school?

Don't assume that all grammar schools were good either. My grammar school wouldn't have known what the Further Maths syllabus looked like, never mind bothering to teach it.

Impatientismymiddlename Wed 19-Feb-14 14:03:14

I didn't know further maths existed till just now!

That is what makes some people yearn to have a selective education for their children. All of the selective schools nearby where I live (indies and state grammars) have their top sets automatically preparing for and taking further maths, the same doesn't apply in all the non selective schools.

TalkinPeace Wed 19-Feb-14 14:04:59

and my naice private selective gels school was barely big enough to muster up an A level maths class, let alone further maths hmm

I'm so looking forward to DD being one of 120 kids studying Further Maths at A level and one of nearly 900 doing the main Maths AS and A2 level.

LaVolcan Wed 19-Feb-14 14:11:03

I don't know where you live Impatient but my son took Further Maths at his comprehensive, but then we are not in a grammar area.

We are in an area with a lot of independent schools (which don't necessarily get better results). Although they cream off some of the academic children they by no means take them all, so there are some very able children in the comprehensives who on the whole seem well catered for. My children have both left school, but when we had problems it was often due to individual teachers or timetable clashes restricting options, not the fact that the schools were comprehensive.

duchesse Wed 19-Feb-14 14:12:46

I've no idea, but I am intrigued that none of my older children passed the 11+, yet all three waltzed into our local selective independents, emerging with mostly A*s at GCSE (the girls, anyway- boy child got mostly As) and a healthy range of extra-curriculars under their belt.

Also very amused by the fact that the grammar that turned down DD2 (8 A*s, 3As last summer), is shortly to pay her money to perform in their school concert because they cannot muster a single player of her instrument.

Very anecdotal but, basically, that is what my children gained from selective education that would have them. Very few of the things they are interested in were available at the nearest comprehensive (music, ten tors, triple sciences (although they've since restarted that because they had to, classical Latin & Greek, physics A level, etc...)

WooWooOwl Wed 19-Feb-14 14:14:20

The point about calling it a 'secondary modern' debate is a fair one, but many areas that have grammar schools do not have secondary moderns. They have comprehensives.

This debate, whatever you want to call it, too often gets bogged down by posters talking about different things depending on whether they live in a fully selective area or they have a super selective nearby.

They two types of selective state schools are very different, and have a very different effect.

Martorana Wed 19-Feb-14 14:16:04

The benefit of a grammar/secondary modern combo over a properly set comprehensive school? Simple.

At a comprehensive, "grammar" parents have to worry about their children catching "thick" from the lower sets.

<disclaimer. There might be a case for super selective grammar schools- and they don't have a significant impact on the schools the rest of the children go to. I think they are a bad idea because I think school is about mor than academics, and super bright children need to mix with less and differently bright ones in order to grow up well rounded individuals. But there is a case to be made for them>

creamteas Wed 19-Feb-14 14:16:38

All of the selective schools nearby where I live (indies and state grammars) have their top sets automatically preparing for and taking further maths, the same doesn't apply in all the non selective schools

All this proves is that the selective schools are taking pupils with higher maths ability....

I live in an area with no selective schools, and you can take Further Maths at all of the comps.

If any subject has insufficient numbers in any particular school, they combine the classes with a neighbouring school to make it possible.

LaVolcan Wed 19-Feb-14 14:20:17

and my naice private selective gels school was barely big enough to muster up an A level maths class, let alone further maths hmm

I think this is a different issue, TalkinPeace - this is due to girls being educated to marry rather than have careers. So we were educated to be accomplished, but something 'tough' like Further Maths wasn't necessary. My grammar school taught 'physics with chemistry' as one O level, but then taught them as separate subjects for A level. No surprise that with only half the preparation necessary the few who took these subjects failed or scraped an E. And as for aspiring to medicine, forget it because a) you wouldn't get the grade and b) girls didn't do medicine, but physiotherapy or speech therapy i.e. allied professions were OK. Yup, we were taught to know our place.

I believe that they used to rig the results of the old 11+, so that girls had to do better to pass. I feel that the promotion of better opportunities for girls has been one of the big successes of comprehensive education.

TalkinPeace Wed 19-Feb-14 14:21:34

WooWooOwl
A significant number of the 164 grammar schools in the UK are in the counties where the other schools are Secondary Moderns
39 in Kent, 19 in Buckinghamshire, 15 in Lincolnshire
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_grammar_schools_in_England
And if you look at the map, most of the country is blissfully safe from them.

Schools that select by religion are a much nastier issue
as its the parents' religion rather than the childs

But in much of the UK, the only selection is by wallet grin

TalkinPeace Wed 19-Feb-14 14:24:10

Lavolcan
we were indeed being educated to be married off
but also there were only 40 per year in the 6th form.
NO school that small has the economies of scale needed for the current exam market.

The college DD will go to is at the other end of the scale (1500 per year group) but offers facilities even private schools watch closely.

dashoflime Wed 19-Feb-14 14:24:21

Impatient I fully understand why parents want a selective education for their children.

I think OP was opening up a wider debate- whether its a good thing for society or children generally

WooWooOwl Wed 19-Feb-14 14:25:09

I know Talkin. smile

I have just found myself on here too many times defending grammar schools to people that I'd probably agree with if I lived in their area!

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