Angry about the Tory Grammar school proposals? Write to the Prime Minister. Some strong arguments from Roy Pearce, Wirksworth teacher and headteacher, should help you to put your case.
Having written at great length to Patrick McLoughlin MP, I felt that the PM, whose bad idea it was, should not escape – the more letters she gets the better. So I have reduced and redrafted and included some other items down to one side of A4, sent by post to 10 Downing Street.
I have been told I am wasting my time, but passion drove my keyboard and I believe in parliamentary democracy.
Your support would be welcome.
I shall continue to campaign, encouraged by support from many who understand the issues. As ever Roy
Dear Mrs May,
I have already written to my MP, your colleague Sir Patrick McLoughlin, but I want you to know personally of my deep concern that your policy to expand grammar school intake is mistaken, even though you see the plan as an agent of social mobility. The Chief Inspector understands schools and he has spoken of a profoundly retrograde step: ‘tosh and nonsense ‘ he says. He knows the evidence that selection drags down the performance of those left behind. Ask David Willets. Your proposals, though well intentioned, will damage the opportunities of so many ordinary children.
I see you as a stern invigilator of evidence in any policy you adopt. Sadly your advisers have produced no academic research in support of your proposals. Bluntly there is none. I began my career as a grammar school teacher, That vivid experience changed my mind and my professional life as I became convinced that a selective system was unnecessary for the most able and damaged badly those not selected, inevitably a large majority of our children. I read the research and was persuaded.
Having taught in two successful comprehensive schools, in one as headteacher, I know, from experience, that academically able children will flourish and less privileged students can thrive, be uplifted and proud of their achievements. Nobody in the Derbyshire Dales wants to move from balanced and successful comprehensive schools to secondary modern schools - for that is what they will be for most of our children. Remove the top twenty per cent of our students and you take out those who set an academic standard, the leaders in sport and the arts and the contributors to so many school activities. We would lose aspirational parents and able teachers. The non-selective schools will be weakened by the establishment of grammar schools, especially those already struggling in city areas. Parent choice is a slogan of falsity; the grammar school not parents chooses and rejects. Don’t tell me grammars are popular with parents. Margaret Thatcher found 80% of parents in Finchley favoured the comprehensive system; she dissolved more grammar schools than anyone. Your responsibility as prime minister is to care for all our children, not to set aside eighty percent of them.
The London experience shows what can be done to raise standards of achievement by comprehensive schools with committed staff, an ambitious spirit and support and co-operation between schools. I wish you would congratulate teachers on the great improvement in our school standards nationally in recent years. Why do politicians always claim success for government policy and particularly another re-organisation, when it arises truly through massively hard work in individual classrooms, rarely acknowledged? The key is to work positively with parents; establish the triangle of trust between parents, teachers and the individual student, all working actively together to achieve the best they can.
If you want to improve the performance of those who struggle in school – and I believe you do – invest your money with children and parents in the early years. There is strong evidence to support that as a positive proposal, which will deliver real progress in our schools. We know that from key stage 1 some children with difficulties will already be well behind their peers from early deprivation of speech and language skills – and they never close that gap. These are the youngsters who will be the disillusioned teenagers, switching off, depressed after years of school failure. They should be your action-today priority. It would make real difference to an easily ignored social group, which is failing in the system at present. Ask your department for the evidence for a practical grassroots policy.
I have written to each prime minister since James Callaghan. Now I see my grandchildren happy and successful in a comprehensive school. I am passionate for education. Every child deserves a good school. Yes, we must do better but, sadly, your ideas are misguided and will not bring the social mobility you seek. I can take you to five homes in half a mile of the comprehensive school in Wirksworh where a youngster, first generation into higher education, has gained, not only a first degree, but also a PhD. That is mobility; delivered by a community comprehensive school.
In summary: no changes without evidence. I beg you please, please change your policy thrust.
Roy Pearce, aged eighty, proud with two comprehensive educated and successful sons and two happy and hardworking grandchildren at their all-ability comprehensive school.