Part one: grammar schools and social mobility
Last week we interviewed Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, and asked her opinion regarding the government’s Green Paper.
TSB: “What is your opinion of the government’s grammar school proposal?”
Angela Rayner: “We are going to revert back to a binary system. It is inevitable. It is illogical to think that under the current fragmented system the government is trying to introduce, that we are somehow not going to end up with this system of ‘you are good enough’, ‘you are not good enough’ and ‘you are considered manageable in this environment’.
This is exclusive not inclusive.
When I speak to charities that I advocate on behalf of parents and young people with disabilities, this is not what they want. They have got serious concerns about it – in fact, I think the UK government is up against the UN council in March regarding some of these issues, and it will be interesting to see the findings of that, because they are not doing enough. They are failing young people miserably.
They have no solutions to the problems that we are currently facing, they just create more problems that are just a distraction to the chronic issues that are being raised all the time. There are no parents at the moment that would say they are particularly content with the current system. Even if you are a parent and your child has been selected to go to a grammar school in a selective area, most parents turn around to me and say, “I am forced to doing this, because this is the system. It makes my child feel bad, it makes me feel bad, but I don’t know what else I can do, as I want my child to have a good education and this is the only way I can provide that for my child”, and this is heart breaking to listen to the stories of what parents and children are going through at the moment. This is the government’s fault, and no one is listening.”
TSB: “Why do you think proposals for new grammar schools have been put forward?”
Angela Rayner: “Theresa May went to a grammar school and she thinks it is the best thing since sliced bread, and her 1922 committee chair think this also. She needed this committee to get the votes she needed to become leader of the Conservative party; this is my cynical view anyway.
There is no evidence to suggest that this is why you would do it. And if you look at how the announcement was made, it was because someone had leaked a paper as they were walking into number 10. Did she come to the house when I raised it as an urgent question? No. She went to the 1922 committee to explain what was going to happen next.
So, I am rather cynical as to her reasons why she is doing this. I think she is just throwing red meat to her backbenchers, and secretly she thinks this can be quite a good thing, because I think she thinks that there are children that will never do as good. I think she has this old-fashioned view that people used to have – that children will never be as good as others and, therefore, we have to separate them. But, we know from the evidence that syphoning children off at the age of 11 into failure or academically rigorous is completely wrong.
We all learn at different rates. You could be absolutely brilliant at maths and really chronic at something else. It is just the way the mind works. Actually, we should be making every school a good school, ensuring children are celebrated for all of their talents, and that includes arts, culture, technical and vocational, as well as academic. We shouldn’t be making children feel failures at the age of 11, and deciding their whole life path trajectory on the back of that.
I have many people contact me – highly successful people – that were told at the age of 11 they were not good enough to go to a grammar school. That is unacceptable. We should never do that. That is exactly what Theresa May is doing with the grammar school proposal. I think she is doing this from her own personal experience and portraying that instead of actually going through that process and looking at the evidence.”
TSB: “What is your opinion on the lack of mention of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the Green Paper?”
Angela Rayner: “I have a child who is eight who has a statement of educational needs, and I know what it is like being a parent in that system. It is horrendous, you have to fight for everything.
I’ve had many parents email me about the devastation that they think their children are being weeded out of the academy system; that they will be shifted around, and told “we can’t provide”.
Now when services are being cut, and budgets are stretched, it doesn’t take a quantum leap to see that that could raise concern even further, to make sure every child gets the best opportunities they can. That’s just not happening.
I have visited many schools since becoming Shadow Education Secretary, and I’ve seen and been told that they’ve actually had to try and buy in themselves, things like speech and language therapists because without that the children are not able to come to school, and to learn and have access to the curriculum.
So, their budgets are already overstretched, and they are having to provide services that they already should be provided by the health service and by the DfE.
It makes a mockery of Theresa May’s announcement that she wants to focus in those areas; when that is just not happening. Children are waiting months to get access to school councillors, or to go to their GP, to get access to services already. It’s a chronic problem.
And in all that time, young people are not getting the education they want, and teachers are unable to deal with this in the classroom. It is impossible for a teacher to deal with all those needs. The services should be provided, and they are being cut.
The government’s answer to that is a Green Paper that doesn’t mention SEND.
Their eyes are off the ball. They are too busy on their pet projects, they are completely missing what the crisis is in front of us.“
TSB: “How do you think the proposals will affect social mobility?”
Angela Rayner: “I think we are going to revert back to the days where children say, “I passed my 11 plus, but I couldn’t take on the place because my mum couldn’t afford the school uniform”. I mean, we are going backwards!
Let’s look at what is happening in the UK. Where do we have the best schools? Where is the attainment gap at its lowest? London – through the London Challenge. And how many grammar schools do we have in London? None. Not one.
So, there is a lesson in there. London schools are the most inclusive, culturally, and in every other aspect. London is the most multi-cultural, and has some of the most challenging and some of the brightest pupils. And yet for every child, the attainment gap is much less in London. Whereas in Kent, this is a completely different situation. London has improved so much, and this is because the DfE has worked with schools. It’s not rocket science. It’s about quality and you know if you put the quality teaching within our schools you will see the results. If you tell children that, you know, they might not be brilliant experts at everything, but they will be fantastic if they try! They might not be good at one thing, but they could be good at others. Keep trying different ways and encourage them. Young people can do it!
I was told all my life that I wasn’t good enough, but you know what, I am here. So, I clearly wasn’t that bad! But they made a really bad judgement on me. Academically I didn’t do well, I was told all my life that I wasn’t going to do well, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to move away from that. The government needs to start investing, and making sure we can attract the best teachers in all of our schools, and the most post-graduates. Let’s get the best! Let’s do what Singapore does! They are at the top of the PISA tables, and a lot of this is down to leadership.
As a government, every child has to be important to you. Whether they have SEND, are gifted and talented, what background they are from – rich, poor, middle-class, this does not matter. They absolutely have to reach their potential, why? Because that is what the government’s job is!
*The views represented in this article are not the views of TheSchoolBus