Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #2: Bring Back Selection

April 24, 2007

This is the option that I most often hear from teachers. If our schools are hell-holes how about we get the good kids out of them? Under selection the most able twenty percent of the population were chosen at 11 to get an academic education in grammar schools while the majority went to secondary moderns. Modern advocates of selection will vary the formula: different percentages; new ideas about what secondary moderns should be like; changes in the age of selection, but the basic idea remains the same. Education is wasted on the swinish multitudes, reserve it for the elite.

Of course the teachers who suggest this aren’t volunteering to teach in the secondary moderns, nor are they volunteering to send their own children to them. They have simply given up on saving the education system, and instead wish to save a small part of it.

The reason I don’t accept this is a solution is because the majority of schools will remain pretty much the same as ever. The only difference is they will have lost some of their brightest students and most academically qualified staff. That clearly does not sound like a solution for most people, and while I have quite a lot of sympathy for how the brightest do lose out in the current system, I can’t think of any other public service where people would seriously suggest providing a decent quality of service to only a small elite. Imagine suggesting the police should concentrate their resources on investigating burglaries affecting the people who had most to steal. Or if the National Health Service declared that the best medicine should be provided only for those who were the best examples of physical fitness.

Rejecting the possibility of providing a worthwhile education for all is an idea that I genuinely believe would only be accepted in a society as class bound as England.


  1. I agree that a binary division based on a one shot exam at 11 is not the way to go. But how about: Parents select schools and schools select children at say the age of 13 via test, interview and school record.

    Basically there would be a market for schools – some more academic and others more vocational. No school would be obliged to take the behaviourally challenged. Infact the market would provide schools for this subgroup.

  2. “In fact the market would provide schools for this subgroup.”


  3. “In fact the market would provide schools for this subgroup.”


    Cells with busy work.

  4. “Cells with busy work.”

    I didn’t ask what would the schools do, I asked how the market would provide it.

  5. For a fee someone is always willing to provide a service. In this case baby sitting bad kids.

  6. People who say “bring back selection” obviously aren’t aware that in some parts of the country it never went away. Mostly in the south-east of England, but anyway. I’ve not visited the grammar schools, but living on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border, I’ve been able during my training year to experience both systems: my main school is a comprehensive, my second school is a secondary. There are many other differences between them, but the main one would be that, overall, behaviour is better at the secondary. Like I said, many other differences, and in fact the secondary apparently used to have a lot of behaviour problems – a number of staff at the comprehensive have asked me what I’ve found out about how they’ve managed to turn the school around, and really it comes down to “a diferent style of management, and everyone on the staff being consistent in their approach, whether or not they agree with the details of the school’s systems”.

    Anyway, that’d be my tuppence on this topic.

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