Sunday, May 27, 2007

Grammar Streaming is Part of the Answer

David Cameron's ARTICLE in the Mail on Sunday is a timely reminder of the fact that there is more to Tory education policy than grammar schools. But on that subject, I was delighted to see he is totally committed to encouraging so-called 'grammar setting'.
My loathing of experimental teaching methods that failed generations of children, my fear of disruptive children wrecking the education of those who want to get on and learn, my contempt for the 'all must win prizes' mentality - whether in sporting or academic endeavour - is not just political, it's personal. And that leads me to the first group of critics, who want to hear positive, constructive policies from my party. They will not be disappointed.

When I say I want 'zero tolerance of disruptive pupils', it is not some sound- bite - it is a call to action backed by specific measures. We will legislate to give head teachers the clear right to exclude disruptive pupils from school, without the fear of being overruled. We will enable heads to draw up binding home-school contracts setting out how children - and parents - should expect to behave when in school. They would be binding because if the parent won't sign, the child cannot attend.

Vitally, we will shake up the system for turning around disruptive and excluded children so that they are not just put in taxis to expensive and often poorly performing pupil referral units, or left on the streets to turn to crime. We will set out how social enterprises, such as the Amelia Farm Trust in Wales, or the Lighthouse Group in Bradford, both of which I visited recently, can access state funding to do the job properly. When I say I oppose nationwide selection by 11 between schools, that does not mean I oppose selection by academic ability altogether. Quite the reverse. I am passionate about the importance of setting by ability within schools, so that we stretch the brightest kids and help those in danger of being left behind.

With a Conservative Government this would be a motor of aspiration for the brightest kids from the poorest homes - effectively a 'grammar stream' in every subject in every school. Setting would be a focus for Ofsted and a priority for all new academies.

This is the one thing which will really help bright kids succeed in particular subjects. I remember at my school our year group was divided into three streams, but we remained in the same class for every subject. I was rubbish at all science subjects yet was still in the top stream for them. Only in Maths were we split up in the third year (13-14 yrs). I was moved down a group in Maths and it helped be hugely. Instead of being one of the worst in the class, I became one of the best in the new class which helped my confidence no end. I doubt I would have got my O Level without it.

Read the rest of David Cameron's article HERE.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff. This is the best bit:

"And the second, at risk of becoming inverse class warriors, appear to be saying that someone who went to a public school cannot possibly understand, still less reform, state education in a way that delivers aspiration and opportunity for all.

Let me take the second group first. They've got me wrong as a politician, as a leader and as an individual.

As a politician, a profound belief that there should be no limit to what anyone can achieve, according to their talent, but irrespective of their class, sex, colour or background is one of the things that makes me a Conservative. "


DC is right.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to "the rich man in his castle; the poor man at his gate."?

IF David C really does believe that dangerously subversive stuff, he may be all sorts of things but he would be no conservative.

Anonymous said...

DC said it was pointless. William Hague declared him the winner.

I thought it was over.

Please, please no more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mark M Heenan said...

I totally agree about setting. I started secondary school fairly unbalanced - very good at science but terrible at languages - and it definitely helped me that classes were set by ability within the school with regular promotion and relegation. It certainly helped me improve my english no end, while my physics wasn't held back.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, setting within schools is a great idea. My school (a grammar) had sets for the GCSE years. We had sets we were in for english and the sciences, and then for maths, languages and most other options there were individual sets. The only problem was having english and the sciences grouped together meant you had to be pretty good at both to be in the top set.

Anonymous said...

Well, this sounds all well and good in theory, but I wonder whether in practice it would be possible to build a grammar stream in all subjects in all schools in all conurbations. The distribution of intelligence may be a normal bell curve for the population as a whole, but intelligence is not normally distributed within each locale corresponding to the national norm. It is hard to see that some children will not be required to change school in order to benefit from an appropriate education, such that some schools would not have a grammar stream at all.

Man in a Shed said...

Maybe he's beginning to realise the scale of what he's done.

Its better than we're all delusional and the debate is over stuff.

I could say more, but I'd like to make up.

Lots more soothing noises and gestures are needed. And the head of whoever thought this would be a good idea on a pike wouldn't hurt either.

YHN said...

To be absolutely clear Iain, Cameron is pledging to double the number of teachers in the state sector in order to provide a 'grammar' stream in addition to the current regular classes?

Has this been costed and passed by Osborne's new 'manifesto test' as Osborne clearly stated that there is no new spending until it has passed this test.

Anonymous said...

I went to a competitive grammar school and the differences between sets, especially early on, were quite significant. If the school was taking the top 15% of applicants, the top set represented the top 2-5%. Grammar streams will presumably cater for the top 15-35%.

Similarly, my brother is in what would probably be the bottom 2% for reasons hardly worth going into. Being in a class which lumps the bottom 20% together would leave him almost permanently behind.

Streaming is a positive step, but at the top and bottom ends of the bell curve setting of this nature will do very little for the kids who will benefit from specialist education the most.

(Plus, considering the talk of schools becoming racially segregated, I can hardly think of a better example of diversity than my school. I think at one point every single one of my friends had at least one parent of a different nationality, spanning four continents).

This is why specialist schools such as grammars are so important, and why the refusal to commit to making them part of a palatte of educational options is such a foolish error on the part of Cameron (who I voted for -- sorry, Iain! -- and, but for this, wholly support).

Anonymous said...

What is the Conservative party's view on private education? How does this fit with it's attitude to grammar schools?

Anonymous said...

mitch said...

What is the Conservative party's view on private education? How does this fit with it's attitude to grammar schools?

Not you again,you really are a tedious fellow.Please go back to the Daily Mails' comments page and bore them instead.

Anonymous said...

You Hypocrite Noble - 8.27 - now that you are leaving UKIP, what is your (new, personal) party's policy on this.

Anonymous said...

Good to see Cameron using the word "loathing" when speaking of progressive education policies. We could do with a little more of that.

But in fairness, the vision of the early comprehensives was that, by reason of their much greater size, they would be able to offer the full range of teaching, from A-level Latin and Greek at one end to tarmacadam studies at the other.

It was soon clear that the vision was flawed, but to say so was a thought crime.

YHN said...

Huh? I'm asking a straightforward question.

If Cameron is pledging a 'grammar stream' in every subject in every school then that must mean a doubling of the number of teachers.

George Osborne said that no spending promise is policy until it has passed his new 'manifesto test'

So has this policy been costed, what is the cost, and has it been approved by Osborne?

Or is it just a lie?

If you want to know what I support, it is simple; parent power with a voucher per child, and free schools to choose their own admissions policy free from any political interference.

So Iain, please tell me if this policy you are supporting has been costed and approved. Just so I know it isn't a complete lie.

Iain Dale said...

For those not in the know YHN is the latest incarnation of the mad as a fruitcake Chad Nobel, formerly of UKIPhome notoriety. Chad has now left UKIP and started what can only be descrobed as a fruitcake's blog, where has has created his own language.

As for Chad's point about doubling the number of teachers it is clearly a long time since he studied maths. I'd love to know how he works out you'd need to double the number of teachers.

If there are 900 pupils in a yeargroup with an average class size of 30 you need 30 teachers. If you set them by ability you still need 30 teachers. So Chad, what exactly is your point?

Simon Harley said...

Of course, streaming will be totally dependent on the calibre of the teachers assigned to sets.

I too was once in a top set Maths at school and was stuck with a useless genius. Kept on getting 25-30% in exams. Moved into the middle set and got 60% on the same material. So long as the teachers are up to the task then grammar streaming, like everything, is possible.

Anonymous said...

I was streamed and did well out of it.

However I knew children at my school who were targeted because their parents were part of an anti-Masonic group and the headmaster was a leading mason (as was his father, chairman of the local council). There have to be some forms of checks and balances to a headmaster's decisions on expulsions...

Rich Tee said...

The irony of it is that the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth was founded under a Labour government.

18 years of Conservative government and they did nothing for the most gifted.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if the new Conservative Education policy has any coherence whatsoever. It is looking to me like a rehash of the Blair Education, Education, Education Mantra. There is no logic behind it but you are given to believe that as an obviously caring person, it must be a good thing.
If David Willets is right in saying "We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids." How are we going, in reality, to identify Bright Poor Kids? Are we relying on the fact that David Cameron will personally know them when he sees them, telepathy, the fact that they are on free school meals or what?
Surely identifying Bright Kids involves some sort of exam. Unless I am mistaken exams are academic selection. Perhaps Willets alleged "two brains" came from experimental mice.
Labour have been trying to break the link between exam results and university entrance by changing the criteria to include parental income, disability, type of school attended, and location. How long will it be before Conservative policy is to give up on academic exams and just send people to Oxford and Cambridge based on their poverty. Of course it won't be long before creative middle class parents manage to get their children on free school meals to qualify!
Too many people have experienced the sheer anti-excellence culture and thuggery in Comprehensive schools to believe that this policy has any serious credibility. One Conservative principle used to be "Small is Beautiful" - a Comprehensive with 2000 pupils is unmanageable. If smaller schools are a better solution and then why not specialise them. Old Grammar schools had three streams - not just one.
This policy is about spin not really achieving the best for all our children.
David Cameron may say he leads the Party but some of won't be following any more if this actually becomes Party policy.

Anonymous said...

I think you are up a gum tree Iain; dividing a school in a locale of an average ability range does not give you three equal streams, even ignoring the range of subjects and at what level they have to be taught, because a grammar school itself may have three streams and as edr has pointed out the top stream may only have 2-5%. Trying to teach as one group an iq range of 110-140+
would not work with anything like optimal efficiency.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about streaming for every subject. I'd be happy with three general ability streams for every year group, with the possibility of number adjustments every year.
I liked the idea proposed by one Head a week or so ago. He was going to bring in a dozen extra teachers to make the following system work:
Every class had a their regular teacher, who stayed with them when they moved to their specialist Maths, History teacher, etc.
Their regular teacher ensured that the children behaved and was on hand to help those who were struggling to understand what was going on.
Funding for this? I don't know, but it seems like something worth pursuing.

BTW: ConHome's Tim Montgomerie and the Telegraph's Mellisa Kite are both looking a little sick today.
They were both pushing the story that Cabinet colleagues of Cameron and Willets were rubbishing their stance on grammar schools. Davis and Fox were named as pissed off colleagues.
Oh dear. Fox turned up in the Telegraph today, supporting Cameron's stance.
Melissa didn't mention this in her article this morning and neither did Tim.
The ConHome editor did respond to this story after a few painful digs from his readers.

Anonymous said...

It's be nice to hear from more people who actually work in education.

Banding, setting and streaming work. We did this very successfully in Birmingham's largest secondary school 30 years ago. The top classes would easily have matched classes from grammar schools.

You need schools to be large enough so that the classes in each subject are reasonably homogeneous in ability, and to offer a range of teachers who can cater for different levels. I think some primary schools in urban areas might be merged to give this extra flexibility.

"EDR" worries that the lowest will be disadvantaged, but maximising class sizes in the upper sets means small class sizes for remedial groups. And these days, there's more classroom assistants and more cash for them - special educational needs is practically an industry in itself. Even public schools advertise for SEN teachers.

Yes, as "forthurst" says, the bell curve has long tails, and the top end also needs special attention. But this would be true even in a large school. The very brightest can differ as much from each other as from the average. Exceptionally talented children have special needs, too. Smaller grammar schools might not be able to cater fully for them simply by putting them in the top group.

SEN is too often taken to apply to low attainment and the State system has unfortunately tended to concentrate on constructing a good basic education for the average, plus catch-up for the laggers. The brightest do what's needed easily and aren't stretched, and then use their spare time to get matey with ne'er-do-wells because it relieves the boredom. They need SEN teachers of their own - star trainers.

We're still arguing about the same confusion of issues that plagued us in the 60s and 70s. Every life has worth, irrespective of academic talent; there should be opportunities and challenges for all - and this benefits the country, too; people are not equal in ability and cannot be made so; competition raises the game; outcomes will differ, and some will lose, but should try again; some fail because they don't try hard enough; parents can mess up their children; politicians sometimes make disruptive changes merely for their own CVs; the country benefits from an educated elite, if the elite can be taught to contribute to the country's welfare; we don't need a class war when we're in an economic crisis.

Anonymous said...

The worst of both worlds.
Dreamnt up no doubt my someone more used to selling soap powder.
Standards will be lowered.

Anonymous said...

"And the second, at risk of becoming inverse class warriors, appear to be saying that someone who went to a public school cannot possibly understand, still less reform, state education in a way that delivers aspiration and opportunity for all.

Since 1945 we have had 29 Secretaries of State for Education - TWENTY of them went to Public School

Anonymous said...

Their regular teacher ensured that the children behaved and was on hand to help those who were struggling to understand what was going on.

Ha ! Ha ! Ha !

This is Education in Third World Britain waiting for economic aid from China.....can you get photos of this for the Net or even some video for YouTube ?

This is so crass as to be perfect for a satirical TV show

Johnny Norfolk said...

The Tories should go for the voucher system and remove the state fromm all education. Alas that will be to much for them.

Anonymous said...

Streaming within comprehensive schools.

Because that is so extraordinarily original...

Anonymous said...

Meatime back in the real world Graham Brady is getting it right in the Times.
Dave is now in danger of disappearing up his own political trouser leg on this one.
This seedy compromise wont work.

YHN said...


Oh dear, that's not a grammar stream at all, that's just a relative chopping up of the classes.

What you are saying is that if a school has 90 pupils, and only 5 of them are of the national 'grammar level', they will actually still find themselves in a class with 25 other kids who are not of that ability, thus defeating the whole point as they remain in a class as the minority.

And of course, what would happen in smaller schools which only have one class per subject? How could you avoid not doubling the number of pupils?

What a total con. What you are saying is that the classes will be split linearly and the top set will simply be named the 'grammar stream'. Just an image exercise.

How will that help those 5 kids?

This policy is a total con that does nothing to focus on the brightest and best, as you admit, it keeps them in the minority group in a class of less able kids.

The only way to genuinely create a grammar stream is to seperate the kids of grammar ability, and that requires a doubling of the number of teachers.

But thanks for clarifying that your policy is a con.

(ps also an interesting respect for blogging etiquette too with regards to outing posters).

YHN said...

Iain Dale wears his ignorance on his sleeve by writing:
" where has has created his own language"

Lol. Um, not me, a chap by the name of Anthony Burgess.

You might not understand the Beethoven's 9th link, so ask Dan Hannan, as he understands it fully.

No wonder your book shop went bust...

Iain Dale said...

Chad, before you make an even bigger idiot of yourself, how exactly did my bookshop go bust? I sold it last year to Harriman House.

Go and form another political party. It's what you do best. Sorry, worst.

By the way, why are you hiding your identity nowadays?

Pogo said...

"effectively a 'grammar stream' in every subject in every school.

Yes. A wonderful idea, obviously suggested by theoreticians with no actual, practical, experience of what goes on "at the coal face".

As "Socrates" so aptly puts it Too many people have experienced the sheer anti-excellence culture and thuggery in Comprehensive schools to believe that this policy has any serious credibility."

Or, to put it another way, it's going to be very difficult for the "grammar stream" to thrive once the disruptive and violent kids have beaten the crap out of them a few times for being "swots".

I suggest you look at "Frank Chalk" or talk to someone who's actually taught (or should that be "attempted to teach") at a standard inner-city comprehensive rather than theorising about what could, perhaps, be achieved in a nice middle-class area!

YHN said...


Would you please spell out for me, who a school with one class of 30, with 5 kids of grammar ability for maths will be organised without an extra teacher?

Me the idiot? You thought I'd invented nadsat! D'oh. You need to widen your sphere of reading Mr Dale. It's, um, quite famous you know.

The id is linked to the theme. But as you don't understand the reference, it's kind of wasted on you.

Still, you've never claimed to be informed or well-read I suppose...

Anonymous said...

Cutting through the hot air, and as someone who attended a purpose built inner city comprehensive that did have streaming (maths was streamed into 9 classes for each year based on 9 different ability levels) my thoughts are this:

1) any attempt to reinstate a school system where you take an exam at 11 which determines to a large extent whether you become a professional or not would be an electoral disaster. However many resources are put into a non grammar school in a grammar school area, it will always be *percieved* as second best and will find it difficult to attract the best teachers. 11 plus results, in this day and age would, I fear, in many cases reflect how pushy the parents or how good the primary school is more than the childs ability

2) Comprehensive schools are a disaster.

3) Setting or streaming in comprehensives, if taken seriously (rare) is the way forward but there is a very serious flaw that makes it impossible for a streamed comprehensive to work in a single school campus.

4) The key problem is that children can be, crudely, divided into two groups, academically minded and non academically minded. Grammar schools were supposed to impose "separate but equal" education with the school tailored to the ability of the pupil. This educational apartheid proved to be as equal as the real apartheid in practive.

5) However, if you put all children into one secondary school you hit a massive massive cultural problem. Children who are not academically minded resent other children who are, set to it to ensure that their education is disrupted and in some cases bully them. THIS is why comprehensive schools have failed and I also believe this is the real reason for the clamour grammar schools.

6) The answer therefore is this. Twin campus fully setted comprehensives. Keep apart those who are academically minded and non academically minded BUT, they remain part of the same institution. That means:

(a) They share the same pool of teachers
(b) Children can be switched between campuses if the original decision is mistaken or they are late developers.
(c) By the age of 14 children can attend both campuses as required, as many children are academically minded in some areas and less so in others.
(d) There is no stigma, it is no different to a college which has more than one campus.

Anonymous said...

"pogo" and "psul": please read what I have written above - or is Iaian the only one who reads responses? I'm beginning to think that the comments column of blogs is a kind of Bedlam, where everybody talks and nobody listens.

I taught for 11 years in Birmingham's largest and most successful comprehensive, and was responsible for helping with the general banding of pupils, and setting (13 classes in each year) in English. The school didn't start out as a shining success, it was made that way by hard uphill work for years, but gosh it got easier and rewarding to teach in afterwards.

The reason so many schools fail is the leadership - and outsiders who undermine what the school is trying to do. If you can teach French to severely autistic children - and I have - you can teach virtually any child that is capable of communication.

Blaming the quality of schools on the children implies that the solution is to abandon the majority to their fate. You wouldn't train a dog in the way that we bring up and educate children; it's no wonder that so many of them are turning feral.

Anonymous said...


As someone who experienced first hand the prejudice that exists in many comprehensives amongst pupils, against those who wish to work hard, which at times manifests itself in physical violence, I think you need to read my comment more carefully.

The problem isn't the childrens fault per se, its the culture they are brought up in, which for a large minority is hostile to the concept of working hard and achieving (and has been for generations).

Unless such people are taught on a different campus there is, in my opinion, little hope of a comprehensive school being much more than a bullying factory where academically inclined children have to look over their shoulders the whole time, in the same way that professional people who are imprisoned do.

Even if they are split into streams in classes, they are not split into streams in the playground or in the corridors between classes or going in or out of the school gate and, being in the top set or having your name mentioned for some achievement in assembly is enough to get yourself sneered at, spat at or even beaten up by these people.

Even as a teacher in one such school you wont know half of what is going on because, as in prison, the worst thing you can do is grass.

At least when I was at school, knife carrying was not the norm.

Anonymous said...

Paul, I don't at all underestimate the problems, and they're not new. A friend was in grammar school in Wales in the 60s when it was forced to go comp. He got beaten up for being a swot - 40 years ago.

But you CAN overcome the negativity. Not in one go, I'll grant you. When the new head came into the Birmingham school I described earlier, he told the staff that they could do nothing about the top year except contain them until so-called "study leave"; the 3 years below them were to be managed as well as possible, though there were going to be limits to the achievement; but the new intake was not to be allowed a foot out of place.

After 4 years, all the ruined old guard had been cycled out of the system. Each year's new intake saw a better lot above them, and conformed and aspired higher.

The point is that that boss had the vision, stuck with it and carried on with the back-breaking daily task of improving the farm, and the staff got to a point they hadn't imagined possible. There was grumbling and cynicism all the way, but with the force of the head's personality and support from converts it happened.

I've been in loads of schools - and some pretty miserable ones - since, and I can tell you that the main weakness is always at the top. Yes, we are fighting against a dreadful culture - I don't think kids should listen to much of the rap, watch most of the soaps or play most of the interactive games I've seen - and much parenting is a disaster - but even if the change we want doesn't happen, I say it could.

Perhaps we should double or triple head teachers' pay (or abolish the heads and deputies pay scale altogether), give them clear objectives, reduce the power of chippy and obstructive governors, give the heads a reasonable time frame (say 3-5 years) to demonstrate progress; and then be prepared to sack them.