Cambridgeshire County Councillors reject calls to oppose re-introduction of grammar schools by just one vote

Cllr Peter Downes

Cllr Peter Downes - Credit: Archant

County councillors gave their backing – but by the narrowest of margins- to the reintroduction of grammar schools into Cambridgeshire.

Cllr Gordon Gillick

Cllr Gordon Gillick - Credit: Archant

A motion opposed to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for grammar schools was narrowly defeated.

Councillor Peter Downes proposed writing to Prime Minister Theresa May to point out that grammar school selection at 11 does not raise academic standards for the majority of children and is “counter productive in terms of pupils’ personal morale and well-being”.

Cllr Downes urged his fellow councillors not to talk about their personal experience to “justify a policy issue”.

He said expert research showed grammar schools do not help improve social mobility, or raise standards, nor do they improve standards for everybody.

Cllr Jocelynne Scutt

Cllr Jocelynne Scutt - Credit: Archant

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Cllr Downes pointed to Buckinghamshire, where there are 163 grammar schools.

He said: “Buckinghamshire has one of the worst gaps between the high and low attainers.”

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Pressure was needed to ensure the government to shelve the idea he said, and instead the focus should be on better teacher provision and reducing the gap between the wealthiest and poorest and improved funding mechanisms.

Councillors were split over the motion with Councillor Anna Bailey stating categorically she could not support it. She pointed out the government’s proposals were not just about selection at aged 11, but there were opportunities at 14 and 16 to join the grammar school.

“That means it takes into account late developers,” she said, adding the proposals also ensure at least 25 per cent of pupils going to the new grammar schools come from deprived backgrounds.

Councillor Jocelynne Scutt said every child deserves a good school no matter their background.

Grammar schools, she said, do not provide that and were divisive.

“There’s no doubt the policy the current Prime Minister seeks to re-introduce will not serve every child.

“The 11 plus system doesn’t actually find the children who are the best, it finds the children who are actually able to do well in the 11 plus,” she added.

Councillor Paul Bullen said schools should cater for the hopes, desires and abilities of all children and that may not always be academic. He believed grammar schools should be part of the mix of education on offer.

Councillor Ian Manning argued selection is bad, it is a “cut off point” and he felt having an opportunity to join a grammar school at 14 and 16 as well as 11 would not help.

He said pupils not making the cut at 11 would fall behind and by the time they reached 14 and 16 would be further behind still.

He said keeping children of high ability with those less able actually helped the lower achievers to improve, but did not hold the higher achievers back.

“All schools should be good schools. The way to make all good schools is not to keep fiddling with the system but to actually invest in the system,” said Cllr Manning.

Councillor Lorna Dupre said that wealthier children will always do well whatever the system because their parents will put large amounts of money into their education. She said bringing up the standards of all comprehensive schools in the county to the level of the very best was what was needed.

Councillor Gordon Gillick said schools should not only cater for the academically minded but also those whose talents lie in practical subjects. He said there was too much emphasise on the academic.

Cllr Downes summed up urging his fellow councillors to not to support the re-introduction of selective schools in Cambridgeshire and instead to support the principal of children going to their local school and achieving their potential.

However his motion was lost by one vote with members voting 26 in support and 27 against - there were three abstentions.

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