I was interested to read an article on the BBC website making the point that fewer than half of all grammar schools in the country use free-school-meals as part of their admissions process.
We hear lots of talk of the social mobility impact of grammar schools, but at the most local grammar school to Swindon fewer than 4% of pupils receive free-school-meals. This compares to the Swindon average of 36% of pupils. Will those pupils from more advantaged backgrounds in Swindon, who have parents who can fund additional tutors and all of the preparation for the 11-plus, find that it is easier to gain places than those pupils who receive free-school-meals?
Is there really any evidence that grammar schools will make a huge difference to the lives of pupils? In their post-war heyday, there was a long and sustained rise in the economy and the expansion of the job market to create many more professional level jobs which arguably had a much greater impact on social mobility than grammar schools.
I'm really concerned that all of the talk so far has been about grammar schools, and very little about what will become the equivalent of the secondary moderns, the schools that house around 80% of pupils. No-one has spoken about how a grammar school scheme would be imposed on Swindon. Currently we have 11 secondary schools. I assume that either 2 or 3 would become grammar schools, whilst the others would become secondary moderns.
Who decides which schools become grammar schools? Is it the Department of Education, now that they have removed decision making from the Local Authority? What local knowledge and expertise do they bring to the table?
Will Highworth Warneford become a grammar? What happens to the pupils of Highworth who don't get a place? Who pays for the pupils to travel into Swindon to another school. What impact will there be on traffic in the town as less children go to their local secondary school and need to be driven or bussed to their school.
Who decides which schools will become the new secondary moderns? Will they receive less funding than the grammars, or find it harder to recruit quality staff.
There are a huge amount of unanswered questions with this policy. Until we really understand what having grammar schools would mean for Swindon, and what the implications of introducing a two-tier education system would be on the town and the futures of its children, we should be very careful what we wish for.