My friend Caroline has 10% days whereby she only says 10% of what she is thinking. Being a headteacher of a beleaguered state school, 10% is a generous proportion of the seething rage that currently occupies my mind on all things educational! Rightly, much has been written about the madcap whim of the grammar school folly, a cynical distraction from bumbling Boris, the bedroom tax, fraudulent bankers and the lack of a coherent plan for Brexit and now into the heady mix is a ‘snap election,’ giving opportunities for politicians but frightening for those in the state education sector!
The grammar school debate, such as it is, should really be a non-starter. There is no expert educational evidence that grammar schools are required or that they are part of a coherent educational plan; they weren’t even part of the last Conservative manifesto. State schools have to wait and make do. They are underfunded, have classrooms not fit for purpose and are led by a dictated government curriculum. I believe this debate is a deliberate distraction to ensure that we in state education, and society in general, misplace our justifiable anger at a lack of opportunity on scapegoated individuals. For example, disengaged students are often described as unruly and unmanageable, despite being expected to partake in an academic curriculum that serves only the few. Schools have become too easy a target. They are Ofsted fearful and judged on a daily basis by a sensationalist, instantaneous media that is happy to engage in frivolous debate with recent examples being the scandal of term-time holidays, fashionable haircuts and the so-called provocative length of students’ skirts. The media will not pursue the more complex issues of a 21st century school; a curriculum and school that work for long term inclusivity that is much needed in multicultural Britain. These are difficult topics that require time, debate and perspective, which cannot be provided by easy, glib answers. Hopefully, this will be debated properly in the next seven weeks. However, with a media that prefers ‘Farage’ like, simplistic sound bites, I doubt education will get past Brenda from Bristol’s view that this election is barking! Nevertheless, state schools need to be given answers and transparency is now required. Does the government really want us to become technical colleges? Does it expect us to provide a vocational curriculum stereotypically viewed as suiting the state education child?
Education has joined the easy to knock and vulnerable in society. So called commentators have opinions on ‘benefits Britain’, migrant workers and the scandalous schooling that many children are allegedly receiving. ‘May’s School Revolution’ and ‘The Dawn of the Grammar Schools’ are two recent headlines that keep schools at the centre of the debate without really allowing any meaningful discussion that includes workload, empathy and tolerance. These are all topics that the 21st century school is expected to, and does, deliver upon. This is always going to be the case when we have a class system that maintains the status quo. The white, male majority of journalists are from the elite schools, as are the politicians and business leaders. It therefore benefits, and makes sense, for the Conservative government to further expand the grammar school system. Expansion of the academic elite will further embed this unequal system; the ruling elite will come from the so-called ‘better’ schools whilst politicians will continue to perpetuate skewed narratives of meritocracy, claiming that the comfortable traditions of the past are the education of today. This debate is about the maintenance of the traditional status quo, the top 10% and the ruling elite. Seemingly, the place for state school headteachers is to keep our thoughts to a mere 10% with sadly only 10% of young people viewing this election as representative of and relevant to them.