Church of England to finance City Academies
David Willetts has now declared that the grammar system is failing to help children from poor backgrounds achieve academic success. Setting aside that this may have something to do with the fact that the remaining grammars are only in those affluent areas where eloquent Conservative Party supporters argued persuasively for their retention decades ago, the conclusion hinges solely upon the statistics for the number of children claiming free school meals. Note that it is ‘claiming’; not those ‘entitled to’. For all manner of issues of ‘pride’, especially among some low-income minority-ethnic households, there is a considerable disparity between these two figures. Mr Willetts is therefore wrong to depend upon their reliability, and ought to examine more reliable data. His aim, however, is to make it much easier for new suppliers to enter the market and for there to be new models of schools. This is considerable progress.
While City Academies have achieved very mixed results under Mr Balir, under Conservative development they could offer smaller class sizes, an adaptable curriculum, and permit teachers and heads to experiment and innovate. Labour's education failure could indeed be turned around into a Conservative success, but not by adhering to outdated socialist educational dogma.
In fulfilment of its commitment to social justice, most notably during the 18th century, the Church of England has announced that it is to open 100 academy schools. They will be state funded but privately run by the newly-founded Church of England Academies Services Ltd, and will operate mainly in deprived areas. They will have a Christian ethos, but will be open to children of all faiths or none. The church already runs five academies and more than 200 other secondary schools, and has said it is ‘committed to providing good schools for the poorest. We're not looking for a short-term rise in exam results or for trophy schools, but for long-term improvement’.
Cranmer thinks it is wrong to be hung up on nomenclature and ‘outdated’ terminology. He has always supported grammar schools, but is committed to the principle of selection rather than to the label. City academies profess to rule out ‘arbitrary selection’ and promise a long-overdue emphasis on excellence. They may not have delivered, but, most importantly, specialist academies do perpetuate the principle of selection because they are permitted to select a percentage of their students by aptitude. Cranmer is unsure of the distinction between aptitude and ability, indeed, they appear to amount to the same thing. This being the case, amidst the reality that no party was ever going to re-introduce the grammar system, City Academies are quite possibly worth developing. They are not glorified comprehensives; they have an autonomy and an ethos that make them quite distinct.
Education reform must reassert the undeniable reality that bright children taught alongside other bright children do better. The Conservative Party asserts that setting and streaming achieve this. But Cranmer would like the party to consider something else - ‘vertical tutoring’. This has the capacity to create a ‘grammar stream’ within each school. These students are not then limited and held back by their age (as presently in the horizontal streaming system operating in most schools), but the vertical system would see, for example, the most able Year 9s being taught alongside Year 11s, and so on. It would even be possible for very able to skip entire years, perhaps entering school in (say) Year 8, or sitting increasingly-easy GCSEs in Year 9 or 10, and A-levels much earlier. Such a system is truly meritocratic. It manifestly stretches the brightest, and ends the absurdly simplistic age-discrimination; indeed, it would return English education to a golden era when it was possible to enter university in one’s early teens. And what could be wrong with that?