River Wissey Lovell Fuller


July 2001

Selective Secondary Schools

Education in this country has suffered a good deal of criticism in recent times; too few teachers with resultant large class sizes, difficulties in recruiting suitable students for teacher training, poor standard of teacher training, teachers that cannot perform tasks in simple arithmetic, inadequate resources, too much bureaucracy and government interference - all receive mention as contributory causes. Whilst there does seem to have been some improvement in nursery and primary schools, to date we have not seen much in the way of change for the better in secondary education.

The Government Green Paper "Building on Success" sets out their ideas for the future. Despite what was said at the 1997 election a large number of grammar schools will remain in England with some form of selection and among the proposals for change in secondary education is the establishment of more 'specialist schools', in addition to or, perhaps, as alternatives to the 'bog standard' comprehensive. Schools specialising in business studies, or in science and engineering, for example, are proposed alongside other possible specialisms, with a promise of appropriate funding. There are some clear advantages in this approach, such schools would probably generate a more clearly defined purpose with the associated possibility of better motivation of the pupils, but will these schools be available to just a fortunate few? Such schools are bound to require more funding per student and, if these schools are to be appropriately funded, does that mean that the 'bog standard' schools will be less well funded? Furthermore specialist schools, if successful in their aims, will probably generate competition for places which must imply some form of selection. Will such schools, combined with the retained grammar schools, lead inevitably to two tiers of secondary education?

It will be rather disappointing if the principle of comprehensive education for all is to be abandoned in favour of some selection at an early age, but perhaps the comprehensives have not served us as well as they might. Nevertheless comprehensives will continue to provide secondary education for the majority and must not be allowed to become second rate.

Included within the Green Paper is a proposed increase in the number of 'faith' schools to be funded by the state, and this is one aspect to which I object strongly. Religious schools are potentially dangerous and divisive, one only has to look at Northern Ireland. Religious differences have been responsible for almost as much strife in the world as ethnic differences. If we are going to have more state funding of religious schools now that Britain is becoming more multicultural, then we will inevitably have state funded Muslim, Hindu and Jewish schools which will all help to emphasise ethnic as well as religious differences, they will slow the integration of immigrants into the community and will have the potential for sectarian strife in the future.

I believe it is wrong to encourage indoctrination at an age when pupils are too young to be discriminating. I believe that, as is the case in the USA, the state should not fund religious education. I quote from the constitution of Washington State: "All schools maintained wholly or in part by public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence." In my view that is how it should be, unfortunately almost one third of schools in Britain are associated with a church.

Many people may regret the abandonment of the comprehensive ideal, but, if there is to be more selection for state funded schools, it is important that the selection should be on the basis of a fair system. Selection for some church schools is based on the child's parent's religious leanings and the regularity of their attendance at church. I do not consider the religious inclination of one's parents a suitable criteria for selection to a state funded school. We would not dream of selecting children according to their parent's views on Europe, or on economic theory, we would not accept Tory schools and Labour schools. Why do we accept the concept of Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Jewish and other religious schools?

Ron Watts

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