London, UK (ViaNews) – Highly selective schools are failing to take responsibility when pupils fail to meet their potential by excluding them from A level courses.

Some of Britain’s Grammar Schools are coming under fire for removing pupils from exam studies when their progress indicates that they may not attain grades considered appropriate for a selective school.

However, parents and education groups argue they are not taking into account that their initial selection process means that young people need to make only average progress to be in line for achieving such grades. Where that progress is not made, some responsibility, they argue, must lie with the school.

Sutton Grammar School. Lower school pupils. Photo by: Grempletonian.
Sutton Grammar School. Lower school pupils. Photo by: Grempletonian CC BY-SA 4.0.

The concern has hit the public eye once again following the decision of a high performing Grammar School head to stand down after the school’s decision to exclude some pupils. These students were banned from continuing with their courses because of their progress. The ruling met with stern opposition from some parents.

Aydin Onac, the headteacher of St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington, London, has decided to step down at Christmas. The school told parents that the decision was due to ‘personal reasons’.

However, the school was facing legal action over the decision to remove some pupils from their courses, before it back-tracked and allowed the pupils back into school. The Head’s decision to resign met sympathy from the school’s acting head, but some parents were pleased with the outcome.

‘The school can now move on,’ said one, while the chair of the school’s parents’ association described Mr Onac’s decision as ‘a first step to it (the situation at the school) being put right.’ A parents’ association is not usually a body organised to represented parents in schools, that responsibility normally lies with the Governing body, although the Government’s decision to encourage secondary schools to become Academy’s has muddied these waters in recent years.

St Olave’s achieved a 96% pass rate at B or above in A levels last year, which is well in excess of national averages, and towards the upper end of selective school results. However, no details of how many pupils were stopped from participating in their exam courses are available.

It is not an unusual practice for Grammar Schools to take the second level of selection for pupils after GCSE. In Buckinghamshire, which operates a system of selection throughout the County, many schools expect a certain level of attainment at GCSE for into Sixth Form.

The Royal Latin School, for example, states that scores of at least Grade 6 in English Language and Maths are needed, plus an average across the best eight GCSE results of between a 5 and a 6. Given that only a tiny proportion of candidates pass the entry examination for the school in Year 7, achieving such grades should be straightforward. Many parents feel that Grammars should be looking hard at their own teaching and pastoral support where pupils fail to meet these relatively low minimum standards.

On the other hand, Grammar Schools tend to be heavily oversubscribed, with class sizes far higher than most non-selective schools. Despite claims that the 11+ tests for the schools are ‘non-coachable’, providers’ own studies indicate that a substantial difference to test scores can be achieved through long-term coaching. A score so gained could be evidence of good coaching rather than high academic ability.

Some schools specifically prepare their pupils for entry to Grammars, while others off little help. Tuition by specialist coaches is highly prevalent in areas of the country which run Grammar Schools.

Although it has been fifty years since the last new Grammar School opened, the Conservative Government promised to back the growth of selective education before the last election, although its pledge took a backseat as other priorities grew in importance.

Nevertheless, Tonbridge Weald of Kent Grammar School found a loophole in legislation and opened an ‘annexe’ in Sevenoaks, which is ten miles away, in September. The all-girls ‘annexe’ drew severe opposition from many in the area, with the Kent Education Network describing the development as ‘wrong’.

The defence used for selective education is that it promotes social mobility. The Sevenoaks annex includes between one and two percent of its students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The arguments against Grammars are that the schools attract the strongest students with the most advantaged backgrounds and many of the more academic teachers. The consequence for those who fail at 11 is limited options at schools which, because they do not have a strong academic profile of pupils, are often judged poorly by OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education).


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