Exploding the myths (part 1): Selection at age 10 does not improve educational outcomes

We are being told by the government that expanding selective education will help more pupils to achieve their full potential. But a simple comparison of Buckinghamshire’s secondary school outcomes with the results of neighbouring comprehensive areas exposes this claim as nonsense.

Firstly, look at the pupil attainment gap. This is a key measurement of education performance. It measures the gap between the attainment of disadvantaged children (receiving free school meals) and the attainment of other children.

Bucks consistently has one of the worst attainment gaps in the country. The gap in Bucks improves during the primary phase but then becomes significantly worse in secondary schools. The current gap at Key Stage 4 is 39 percentage points against the national average of 28 (and compared to a gap of 19 points in London, 13 points in Luton, and 27 points in Windsor & Maidenhead).

This isn’t some kind of anomaly. The gap is also high in fully selective areas such as Kent and Lincolnshire. In other words, the underachievement of children from less well-off homes in selective areas is a systemic problem.

Not surprising then that Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw has described the huge attainment gap in selective areas as “an appalling injustice and inexcusable waste of potential.”

Secondly, in terms of the direct cost to children, we can also look at how the average child fares in the Bucks selective system compared with neighbouring Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which is comprehensive. The 2015 results show that the percentage of middle and low attaining pupils who achieved five A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths was 50% and 5% respectively for Bucks children, against the 62% and 10% achieved in RBWM schools.

These percentage differences mean that every year many Bucks children are getting worse GSCE results than they would have achieved in a comprehensive area.

There are many varied and complex reasons why selection undermines achievement. Every year in Bucks, over 4000 children receive a letter at the start of their last year in primary school informing them that they are failures. This is bound to have a negative impact on their expectations and enthusiasm for their move into secondary education. In many cases, the six years of what to the child has been an uplifting and enjoyable learning journey, provided by dedicated and talented teachers, is turned to dust. It is hard to imagine a worse start to such a crucial stage of their education.

So, if the Government believes that the expansion of selection will help more pupils achieve their full potential, can they explain why it has dismally failed to do this in Buckinghamshire?