GOVERNMENT plans to expand the grammar-school system are “contrary to the notion of the common good”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
He was leading a debate on education and society, in the House of Lords, last Friday. “The academic selective approach to education, which prioritises separation as a necessary precondition for the nurture of excellence, makes a statement about the purpose of education that is contrary to the notion of the common good,” Archbishop Welby said.
“An approach that neglects those of lesser ability, or, because of a misguided notion of ‘levelling out’, does not give the fullest opportunity to those of highest ability, or does not enable all to develop a sense of community and mutuality, of love in action, and of the fullness and abundance of life, will ultimately fail.”
During the General Election campaign, in June, the Conservatives promised to create a “new generation” of grammar schools. The policy was shelved when the party failed to gain a majority, though the Queen’s speech indicated that the Government would “look at all options” for opening new schools.
The Prime Minister told MPs in April, however, that the Government would offer up to £50 million a year to support the expansion of existing “good” or “outstanding” grammar schools, on the understanding that they select pupils of all backgrounds, and fairly (News, 13 April).
“The children of privilege are continuing to inherit privilege,” Archbishop Welby said. He praised comprehensive schools, which he said had advanced the inclusion of children with disabilities or special educational needs.
Comprehensive education was a “welcome step towards an education that seeks the fullest and most abundant possible life for each human being, regardless of their ability — one which draws the best out of every person, and leads them out into life.”
The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who is the lead bishop for education in the House of Lords, agreed: “We must seek out those in need, and use education provision to fuel and enable aspiration so that we can ensure that no member of our society is hampered by their background.”
But the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the Daily Mail on Saturday: “The evidence is that grammar schools are a great way for underprivileged children to escape poverty. It is well known that they provide social mobility for the underprivileged.”
The former Labour cabinet minister Lord Adonis also called for the Archbishop to head an independent inquiry into the “outrageous” pay of university vice-chancellors, which, he said, was “the best course to recommend limits on top pay in universities and governance reforms”.
Archbishop Welby said that he would “reflect” on Lord Adonis’s remarks.
PAStrict: the ultra-orthodox Jewish Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, in Stamford Hill in North LondonOfsted lambasts failing schools
HIGHLY conservative faith schools in England that persistently fail to promote or “actively undermine” fundamental British values must be investigated, the latest annual report from Ofsted says.
The report, published on Wednesday by the chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, found that, overall, 90 per cent of primary schools and 79 per cent of secondary schools were rated as good or outstanding in the past year. Ms Spielman was concerned, however, about a small group of schools that had consistently failed to improve, including 130 who had underperformed for up to the past decade.
Of particular concern are highly conservative Christian, Jewish, or Muslim schools, the report says, some of which “seek to isolate young people from the mainstream, do not prepare them for life in Britain or, worse, actively undermine fundamental British values. Within state education, there are schools spreading beliefs that are widely shared within the community that the school serves but that clash with British values or equalities law.”
This has contributed to a “sharp decline” in the performance of the roughly 300 independent faith schools in the UK in the past three years, the report says, almost half of which were judged as being below good.
More than a quarter (26 per cent) were rated inadequate, although there was some variation between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian schools.
Of the 140 Muslim schools, six per cent were classed as outstanding, and 28 per cent as inadequate. Of the 60 Jewish schools, just two per cent were outstanding, compared with 38 per cent inadequate. Of the 110 Christian schools, 14 per cent were outstanding, and 18 per cent inadequate.
Poor leadership is the main failing, the report says, although some premises were found to be “unsafe, even squalid”; and in others, safeguarding checks were not in place. “Perhaps more significantly,” it says, “in a handful of schools, inspectors found instances of sexist and sectarian literature.”
The situation was exacerbated by the fact that, in extreme cases, children were being educated illegally in unregistered settings, which included a handful of children’s homes, but mostly faith schools. “Current legislation is inadequate to tackle unregistered schools. It limits our powers to tackle them and allows institutions to exploit loopholes about definitions of education,” the report states.
The chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said that the findings came as no surprise. “It is inevitable that those faith groups that wish to prevent their pupils from mixing with other children are also at odds with some of the values of wider society. Their schools are deliberately being used to isolate children from social trends, gender equality, and sexual ethics that are intrinsic to modern Britain.”
The Accord Coalition, launched in 2008, is a group of religious and non-religious organisations campaigning to make state-funded schools open to all, regardless of the religious or non-religious beliefs of the pupils or their families.
Speaking to education and social care professionals in Westminster on Wednesday, Ms Spielman said that the areas of concern identified in the report were “some of the last remaining barriers” to providing equal education opportunities for everyone, regardless of background.
“Tackling them will not be easy. But the prize of doing so could be great — a country that is both caring and bold, innovative but unified, aspirational and at the same time fair.”