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Thursday 15th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Today 15 authorities are still fully selective and 164 grammar schools remain. But they are bad for communities and bad for our children. MELISSA BENN explains what Comprehensive Future is all about

EVERY parent with school age children understands the anxiety and frustration around school admissions.

Why does one school appear to attract all the motivated, or even middle-class families, while another just down the road appears to struggle?

Why do so many parents suddenly find God?

And why, in the 21st century, are children still required to take the 11-plus?

Welcome to the murky world of school admissions, a process supposedly regulated by a code of fairness but, in fact, increasingly unfair and underregulated in this era of ever greater school fragmentation.

Comprehensive Future is a group campaigning for fairer admissions. We believe in high-quality non-selective education, but in order for all children to have access to such schools we have to stop the overt and covert selection that plagues our entire system.

Schools must be made to act fairly in terms of which pupils they take in.

There are two key aspects to our campaign. First, we believe that there is no justification for the continuation of the 11-plus — a test which children must take before puberty, and which will determine the course of their school career and life beyond.

Today 15 authorities are still fully selective and 164 grammar schools remain, operating the same system of admissions as was in place in the postwar world.

The evidence is overwhelming. Tiny numbers of children from poor backgrounds gain entrance to grammars. Entire communities are segregated on class and, often, ethnic lines.

Such a system has no place in the 21st century. It is backward-looking and discriminatory. It does nothing to promote social mobility or equality and runs counter to every single statement made by politicians of all parties about promoting the educational interests of poorer children.

Far from expanding grammar provision, as some in the Tory Party would like to do, it is time to phase out the 11-plus exam and open up the remaining 164 grammars in this country to an all-ability intake. This could be done over a number of years and with minimum disruption.

But the problem of selective admissions goes deeper.

With increasing numbers of schools judged by exam results, schools are under huge pressure to recruit the most able and motivated students.

Often this is through the use of complex faith criteria or the setting aside of specialist places for those who show “aptitude” in certain subjects, or refusing to take “difficult to place” children in “in-year” transfers.

Some schools operate a mix of all these strategies, thus attracting more motivated families, more funds and more enthusiastic teachers.

A recent report by the British Humanist Society has confirmed the near-universal non-compliance with the school admissions code by religiously selective secondaries in England.

Almost 90 per cent of schools asked parents for information that they do not need. This included asking parents to declare their support for the ethos of the school and even asking for applicants’ countries of origin, whether or not they speak English as an additional language, and if they have any medical issues.

A majority of schools were also found not to be sufficiently prioritising looked-after and previously looked-after children.
It is time to act. Please come and join us.

  • Comprehensive Future Conference: Selection — the growing threat takes place on Saturday November 21, 11am-3.30pm. Parker Morris Hall, Abbey Community Centre, 34 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BU. Speakers include Melissa Benn, Fiona Millar, Caroline Lucas MP, Jonathan Simons (Policy Exchange), Becky Allen (Education Datalab), head teachers and parents. To book, visit