Government plans to expand selective education are facing fierce opposition in the Tory heartland of Surrey where more than 60 secondary school headteachers have written a letter of protest to the prime minister and her education secretary.
All 64 headteachers of Surrey’s state-maintained secondary schools – including academies, free schools, community schools and faith-based schools – signed the letter to Theresa May and Justine Greening expressing their “vehement opposition” to more grammar schools, attacking the 'nostalgic and unrealstic' proposal to expand selective education.
David Lee, Parliamentary Candidate for East Surrey commented, “as someone who went to one of these Surrey comprehensive schools I know that this selection does not make things better. In fact, I know I would not have passed an 11+ exam but because of my comprehensive education, I was able to go to university. Selective education works for the 20% who are selected, the remaining 80% are then left to languish. It is political cynicism of the worst order playing politics with children’s education.”
The heads’ letter was also sent to each of the county’s 11 Conservative MPs and warns that increasing the number of grammar schools will lead to greater segregation and fragmentation of the education system.
“We are writing to voice our deeply held, vehement opposition to the government’s proposals to create a selective, segregated, two-tier, state-funded system of education,” the letter states. “At its best, the government’s selective school proposals represent further confusion and fragmentation of England’s education policy.
“At its worst this policy is predicated on a nostalgic and unrealistic vision of society, the debate around which deflects attention from the real issues facing schools today.” Those issues, the letter says, include funding cuts, an escalating teacher recruitment crisis, and the pressures of introducing new GCSE qualifications.
The letter is significant because the county has a fully comprehensive school system in which 95% of secondary pupils attend schools that are rated either good or outstanding by schools watchdog Ofsted, compared with 85% in neighbouring Kent, which still has grammars.
The government is currently consulting on its proposals to reverse Tony Blair’s 1998 ban on new grammar schools to enable expansion of selective education in the face of determined opposition from Labour, education experts and a number of its own MPs, including another former education secretary, Nicky Morgan. Gove recently backtracked on his earlier opposition to expansion of selective schools.
May believes expanding selection will create more good school places and open up opportunities for children from poorer backgrounds. Opponents of grammar schools claim they are socially divisive, bad for social mobility and disproportionately educate children from better-off families, leaving others to a second-class education. The government consultation is due to close next month and will be published in the spring.
Ron Searle, headteacher of the Warwick School, a comprehensive in Redhill, Surrey, and one of the signatories to the letter, said: “I’ve worked in selective local authorities and I’ve worked in comprehensives and my view would be very strongly that comprehensives are a great way of bringing people from across all social strata together, and we demonstrate in Surrey that we do a very good job for young people across the board.”