'Fair Banding': A Totalitarian Proposal to Disguise Failing Schools?

On 1 October 2005,  The Times  reported that the government is planning to offer parents wider choice of secondary schools. This will be done by 'banding' children according to their performance in a new 11-plus exam, after which groups of specialist schools will offer places according to parental preference. The offers, however, would be skewed to ensure all schools take a similar proportion of children from up to nine ability bands. Eventually, it is planned that all secondary schools will be compelled to take an equal proportion of pupils from each  ability band in order to ensure that every school has a truly 'comprehensive'  intake. 

The Times described the proposed new test as 'the first nationwide system of admission exams since the demise of the 11-plus.'  It is intended to 'prevent wealthy middle class families monopolising the best secondary schools by buying houses within the catchment area'.

These plans for what is euphemistically termed 'fair banding' are supported by Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Sir Cyril rejected claims that this was a new form of selection, saying:  'How can this be selection when the purpose is to ensure a comprehensive [ie all-ability] intake?'  (Woolly thinking, Sir Cyril!  Of course, it's selection, whether it's the top ability band, the bottom band, or all bands that are selected.)

Observations and comment:

If true – and it probably is – this middle or 'third way' solution to 'problems' caused by parental choice will reduce choice for most families. Following a series of Parliamentary Questions concerning the performance of the brightest pupils in different types of school, ministers and their supporters have been forced to acknowledge some uncomfortable realities: when the performance of the brightest pupils in independent, selective (grammar) and comprehensive schools is compared, each year over 16,000 bright youngsters in comprehensive schools fail to achieve their full potential, or the top grade exam results they deserve. Using questionable research by Professor David Jesson (which ignores the difference between exam results in 'hard' academic subjects and 'softer' subjects), Sir Cyril has responded by suggesting that this failure to reach full potential occurs because many comprehensive schools have less than 20 very bright pupils – the excuse being that, unless they have more than 20 bright pupils, such schools cannot offer bright pupils the opportunity to excel.

However:

These complicated proposals are an attempt to satisfy 'progressive' socialists who fear high-achieving schools; and education ministers who seek to disguise their failures. Yet if all young people are to be offered equal opportunities, the fundamental requirement is for more good schools, including more grammar schools. At present, that is the responsibility of the politicians who insist on controlling the system. But why should the requirements of politicians over-ride the requirements and aspirations of individual families and their children?        

/Campaign for Real Education, 12 October 2005

 

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