This is the response of the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH) to the green paper ‘Schools that work for everyone’ published on 12 September 2016.
The paper deals with matters to do with independent schools, universities, selective schools and faith schools. It is not simply about selective education. NAVSH has an interest in all of these areas in relation to a Virtual School Heads statutory role: Promoting the educational achievement of children in care. The main focus of this response however, relates to the proposal to increase the number of selective schools.
The government’s aspiration to enable more young people to achieve even better is clearly to be welcomed. However, it has long been evident that structural change is not the means to that end; what makes the difference is high quality teaching and learning, backed up by high parental expectations. NAVSH is passionate about improving outcomes for children in care and VSH provide the parental expectation that is so often missing.
In the paper there would appear to be a pre-supposition that selective education makes the greatest difference to those students who for reasons of parental income or other social disadvantage are struggling to improve their prospects.
The Education Policy Institute has this year looked at the impact of academic selection in grammar schools on attainment and social mobility in England, using data from the school Performance Tables, the School Census and the Department for Education’s National Pupil Database.
Pupils who are eligible for free school meals are notably under-represented in grammar schools, with only 2.5 per cent of grammar school pupils entitled to these free meals, compared with 13.2 per cent in all state funded secondary schools. We do not currently have the exact statistics for the numbers of children in our care nationally who attend a selective school, but we know from the evidence of VSH, in those areas that have selective schools, that the numbers are disproportionally small.
We are concerned that, even allowing for a ‘quota system’ children in care, with all the disadvantages and trauma they will have encountered, will not meet the admission criteria to attend a selective school except in rare, exceptional, circumstances.
This under-inclusion of poorer children in grammar schools is unsurprising. EPI research indicates that around 40 per cent of the gap in attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils emerges before children start attending school, and by the time the ‘11 Plus’ entry exam (or equivalent) is taken, 60 per cent of the large disadvantaged attainment gap – equivalent to almost 10 months of learning by this stage – has emerged. Therefore, it is simply less likely that poorer children will attain highly in tests taken at age 11, compared with pupils from more affluent family backgrounds. In 2014 48% of children in care achieved a level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics compared to 79 for ‘the rest’ whilst in 2015 52% of children in care achieved a level 4 in reading writing and mathematics compared to 80% for ‘the rest’ These figures relate to over two and a half thousand children. Percentages are much reduced in 2016 due to the new curriculum and assessment measures.
A significant question then emerges: How will a coherent, high quality and viable non-selective system for the approx. 80% of young people, be maintained? This 80% will include the vast majority of the children in our care? Will some of these schools be less viable and struggle to recruit the best teachers?
There are also a number of aspects of the proposals which give concern in terms of admission to selective schools and the ability of the local authority, or Virtual School Head to be able to ensure that all children, including those in care have proportionate access to places. It is unclear how admission arrangements would enable admission into selective schools outside of the ‘normal’ admissions rounds –midyear for example. Within the present system VSH cannot direct the admission of a child in care into an academy and delays can be unreasonable. Are there plans to publish new admissions guidance?
Research from the Rees Centre, Universities of Oxford and Bristol on the ‘Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England’ highlighted the significance of both care and placement stability. They also stated in their recommendations that ‘Local Authorities should be supported to identify and place pupils in higher performing schools.
NAVSH has reservations about the proposal in the green paper to increase the numbers of selective schools. We are concerned about the potentially negative impact on non –selective schools and therefore on the quality of teaching and learning. We remain unconvinced that the proposal will raise standards throughout England for children in care.
We are interested to find out more about any proposed quotas and how this might work for children in care.
NAVSH would welcome the opportunity to participate in any further planned consultation on the proposal and the implication arising for children in care.
Alan Clifton | NAVSH Chair