While our local paper, Southend Echo, have to their credit been recently running a number of stories related to homelessness, where I have an interest, I am pleased to say (probably not quite the right phrase – ed) this is not the only “of concern” issue they have been covering. In its yesterday edition it included a report with the title “End unfair funding of our grammars”, in which I also have an interest. For those who follow my blogs, and because it happens to be one of my passions, education is one subject I have returned to several times. A few years back, I wrote “A Parent’s Guide to the 11+” (the exam children need to pass to get into grammar school).
Back at the beginning of the year when the issue was first flagged, I wrote a blog titled “School funding crisis”, where I aired the concerns raised by our local grammar schools, which are also my concerns. It happens my son is a pupil at one of the grammar schools and as a parent I was asked to back their campaign for more funding. While my request for a better understanding of what the issues are was not answered fully satisfactory, it seemed clear that the grammar schools are being squeezed yet again for funding, and the impact is more than with non grammar schools. Already, there are signs of the schools responding, e.g. my local grammar has just increased the size of its sixth form, which happily for them is oversubscribed, presumably in order to get more money. This would have an untoward effect on what the schools, deemed by Ofsted as excellent, can provide education wise. I did my bit to support the campaign by blogging, contacting my MP and signing a petition (that was later presented to Parliament) and then left it there.
There is a saying “no news is good news” but I feared in this case the opposite was the case. Reading the Echo article, my fears were confirmed and the concerns I raised in my earlier blog therefore remain. Going back to my radical left wing youth, one of my issues was fully comprehensive education (even though I ended up at a grammar school – the same one my son now attends as it happens). The reason was it seemed to be an unfair system which favoured the better off, arbitrarily consigned 11 year olds as either tradesmen or professionals and contributed to class division. With the benefit of years of wisdom, including seeing comprehensive education as not all it was cracked up to be, especially regarding academic standards, my views on selective education is now ambivalent. But unlike those who feel more money should be given to non-selective schools, especially those who serve disadvantaged families, even if at the expense of giving less money to selective schools, which is what we are now seeing, I am now of the view that grammar schools need to be properly funded if they are to continue (and they should be) to offer the high standard of education that they are able to at present.
I was interested to see what the three parties interviewed had to say about the matter, two of which I know quite well. The one I don’t know, the Department of Education, seemed to be saying that while money being given to schools is being reduced, the cut backs are being applied fairly irrespective of the type of school. My guess this is a half truth and another case of perverted logic, and is why it is necessary to study the devil in the detail, which I fear has not been made altogether clear by the grammar schools (my stipulation if they seriously want my help), even though I quite understand that having been cut to the bone, unlike the non grammars, they are now eating into the bone and that is always painful. Regarding the other two parties, David Amess, who presented the earlier petition, continues to his credit to fight the grammar school’s corner, e.g. asking questions in Parliament. Julian Ware-Lane, Sir David’s opponent at the election recently contested, seems to share my early opposition to grammar schools and while adamant comprehensives should not suffer, also affirms that grammar schools should be properly funded (having your cake and eat it – my paraphrase).
Actually, I support both Julian’s and David’s points in this instance and, while I understand that if the government is to continue its austerity program, it has to impact all areas of government spending, I think in the case of funding schools there needs to be enough funding available for them to educate our children to the high standards we rightly expect, and this should apply right across the board, both in the case of grammar and non-grammar schools.