15 Dec 2013

Ofsted chief: grammar schools ‘stuffed’ with middle class

Grammar schools are “stuffed full” of middle-class children and do not improve the chances of poorer pupils, claims the Ofsted chief inspector.

Sir Michael Wilshaw also said summer holidays were “too long” and admitted that he had concerns about the number of Romanian and Bulgarian children who might come to British schools after restrictions on the two European Union countries expire at the end of the year.

Sir Michael’s criticism of state grammar schools in England comes after the rejection of an attempt to expand the provision of selective education in Kent.
He told The Observer: “Grammar schools are stuffed full of middle-class kids. A tiny percentage are on free school meals: three per cent. That is a nonsense.

“Anyone who thinks grammar schools are going to increase social mobility needs to look at those figures. I don’t think they work.

“The fact of the matter is that there will be calls for a return to the grammar school system. Well, look what is happening at the moment.

“Northern Ireland has a selective system and they did worse than us in the (international comparison) table.

‘Everyone else does really badly’

“The grammar schools might do well with 10 per cent of the school population, but everyone else does really badly. What we have to do is make sure all schools do well in the areas in which they are located.”

It comes after Ukip leader Nigel Farage told Channel 4 News that he believed private school alumni dominate the country so bringing back grammar schools would make things “fairer”.

Weald of Kent Grammar School and Invicta Grammar School both put in rival bids to run an annexe in Sevenoaks to address a shortage of selective places.
Both were rejected by the Department for Education because neither complied with the law, which allows expansion but not new schools.

Sir Michael highlighted the role that “pushy parents “could play in driving up standards.

“Parents write in to Ofsted and complain about an institution. And I would encourage that,” he said.

“Pushy parents have usually got kids in schools where, because they are pushing hard, standards rise.”

Holiday is ‘too long’

In a wide-ranging interview Sir Michael indicated he would like to see changes to the school calendar when asked if teachers had too many holidays, saying: “I think the six-week holiday is too long.”

He acknowledged that the government had a “big job” in ensuring England had enough quality teachers in the system to cope with a potential influx of Romanian and Bulgarian children when the restrictions on people from the two countries working in the UK are lifted.

“Obviously I have got concerns about that,” he said. “If we get huge numbers of children from overseas and from eastern Europe coming in, we have to have enough teachers to teach them and resources available in schools.”