Selective Education policies are those which allow schools to select pupils on the basis of academic ability or other criteria. The classic example of a selective education policy was the 1944 Education Act which introduced the 11 plus test and pupils were selected on ability – those who passed were selected for grammar schools, those who failed went to secondary moderns.
The opposite of selective education is comprehensive education – where schools just take in any students, irrespective of criteria, however, factors such as ‘selection by mortgage’ means selection goes on by other means in a comprehensive system.
This post explores how the issue of selection applies to the following policies:
- The 1944 Education Act/ Tripartite system
- The 1988 Education Act
- Selection since 1988
- Independent schools and selection.
It asks two questions:
- How do schools select pupils? (ability, aptitude, faith, catchment area, covert selection and social class)
- What are the effects of selection on equality of educational opportunity? (basically selection seems to benefit the middle classes)
Students might like to review policies on education before reading this post.
The 1944 Education Act
The 1944 Education act is a good example of a policy which selected students for different types of school by ability
The 1944 Education Act established three types of secondary school – Grammar, Technical and Secondary Modern. The three schools provided different types of education –
Grammar schools provided an academic education – all students would be entered for the new ‘O’ levels at age 15. 15 -20% of pupils attended grammar schools.
Technical schools provided a more vocational education – only about 5% of schools were technicals and they eventually faded out.
Secondary Moderns provided a more basic education, and pupils were not expected to sit exams. 80% of pupils attended these schools.
It was thought at the time that pupils had a certain level of ability which was fixed at age 11, and so a special Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) test was designed to select which type of school different abilities of student would go into. Those who passed the 11+ went to grammar schools, those who failed went to secondary moderns.
Criticisms of the 1944 Education Act
– Pupil’s ‘intelligence level’ was not fixed at 11, ‘late developers’ missed out on the opportunity to get into a grammar school and sit exams.
– Those who attended secondary moderns were effectively labelled as failures.
– The system led to the reproduction of class inequality – typically middle class students passed the 11+ and went to grammar schools, got qualifications and higher paid jobs, and vice-versa for the working classes.
Introduced in 1965 Comprehensive Schools meant the he abolition of the 11+, and the end of grammar schools and secondary Moderns.
In 1965 the 11+ and the three types of school above were abolished, and so selection by ability at the age of 11 was effectively abolished too – grammar schools and secondary moderns were replaced by ‘comprehensive schools” – which means there is ‘one of type’ of school for all pupils, and these schools are not allowed to select by ability – they are forbidden from doing so by ‘The Schools Admissions Code’
Today, although many schools are called ‘Academies’ or ‘Free Schools’ or ‘Faith Schools’, they are all effectively comprehensives, and so do not select on the basis of ability.
Selection Policies since the 1988 Education Act
The 1988 Education Act introduced open enrolment – in which parents are allowed to apply for a place in any school in any area. A a result the best schools become over-subscribed, which means popular schools have to have policies in place to select students. The Schools Admissions Code states that schools cannot select on the basis of social class, but covert selection means that they often do just this!
Selection policies in oversubscribed schools
If a school is oversubscribed then pupils are selected on the basis of certain criteria, whicih much comply with the School Admission Code. The following are the most commonly used criteria for selecting students:
1. Selection by Catchment Area – the closer a student lives to the school, the more likely they are to get into the school.
2. Sibling Policies – those with brother’s and sisters who already attend the school are more likely to get a place
3. Selection by Faith – this only applies to faith schools – faith schools may select a proportion (but not all) of their pupils on the basis of religious belief and the commitment of their parents (how often they attend church for example).
4. Selection By Aptitude – where pupils are selected on the basis of their ‘aptitude’ in certain subjects. Most schools today are ‘Specialist schools’ – which means they ‘specialise’ in a certain subject and are allowed to select up to 10% of their pupils on the basis of their aptitude in a certain subject.
Criticisms of Admissions and Selection Policies since 1988
One major criticism of selection by catchment area is that this results in selection by mortgage – the house prices near to the best schools increase, and so over the years, only wealthier parents can afford to move into the catchment areas of the best schools.
Tough and Brooks (2007) use the term ‘covert selection’ to describe the process whereby schools try to discourage parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds from applying by doing such things as making school literature difficult to understand, having lengthy application forms, not publicising the school in poorer neighbourhoods, and requiring parents to buy expensive school uniforms. The end result of this is that middle class parents are more likely to apply for the best schools (because they have sufficient cultural capital to be able to complete the application process) and lower class parents are pushed out of the best (oversubscribed) schools.
Selection since 2010 – The Pupil Premium
One recent policy change which encourages schools to select disadvantaged pulses on the basis of low household income is the Pupil Premium – schools selecting these pupils get an extra £600 per year per student. NB This represents a recent modification to the school’s selection code, and is one of the few elements of selection policy which may do something to reduce inequality in education, rather than increase it!
Finally – Don’t forget Independent Schools
It’s worth mentioning that 7% of children attend independent, or fee paying schools – many of these schools will have admissions tests (like to old grammar schools) but of course selection is initially based on the ability of parents to pay – and the most expensive schools in the country cost in excess of £30K a year in fees.
This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology and this topic is part of the compulsory education module which students will usually study in their first year.
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