Grammar schools backlash, Brexit fears and no more homework
In yet another challenge to Theresa May’s contentious grammar schools plan, a wide-ranging study into the effects of grammar schools has found her claims of their benefits to be ill-founded. The Education Policy Institute examined GCSE results across grammar schools and good comprehensives, finding that, for bright pupils, there was no benefit to attending a grammar school. The survey concludes that good comprehensives had a far higher proportion of students on free school meals (FSM), than comparable grammar schools. Malcolm Trobe, the acting general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, believes more grammar schools will not benefit the overall education system, while widening the attainment gap between richer and poorer students. This view is supported by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, agrees that selective schools entrench division and increase inequality, claiming there is “no evidence” they improve social mobility. Rayner said that she and the Labour party will fight vigorously against the implementation of May’s plans.
Margret Wintermantel, the head of a body of German academics, has warned British universities that they could lose as many as 15% of their academic staff if European academics are not assured they will be allowed to stay after the Brexit vote. The xenophobia and anti-immigrant slant by parts of the Leave campaign has led many European academics to consider moving abroad, while many British researchers involved in European research projects have been encouraged by EU partners to scale down their role – or withdraw altogether. Universities UK, the body that represents 135 British institutions, has urged the government to assure academics currently here that they will be allowed to stay and continue their work, and send a message that Britain remains “an attractive destination for academic talent.” Brexit could also be catastrophic for both British students who want to study abroad and European students who want to study in the UK, if we opt out of the Erasmus scheme.
The Boarding Schools Association has issued official guidance encouraging schools to develop more sensitivity and awareness towards transgender pupils, and use the gender-neutral pronoun ‘zie’ when referring to them. This is part of a wider drive to break down extremely long-established gender binaries, and make schools more inclusive for LGBTQ students. Other moves have included the introduction of gender-neutral bathrooms and uniforms at some schools, and leading schools such as Eton and Westminster being told they should display an ‘equality pledge’ that all visitors should sign at the reception.
A secondary school in Essex has banned all homework, saying that teachers can make better use of marking time by spending more time on lesson plans. There will still be homework tasks available online, but they will be optional, and incentivised with rewards. Philip Morant School and College, Colchester, is not the first to abolish homework. In 2013, Jane Austen College, Norwich, extended the school day to 5 pm with the provision that all homework would be included in that time, while last year, Cheltenham Ladies’ College did the same to help combat an ‘epidemic’ of mental health problems among students. This could be seen as a wise move, given recent reports about mental health issues among school and university students. Indeed, a recent survey of students suggests a high proportion are willing to sacrifice happiness, hobbies, socialising and cultivating important life-skills in favour of achieving good exam results.
And finally… the government of New Zealand has outlined legislation for online teaching that could radically change the future of education in the country. Any registered school or tertiary education provider can sign up to be a Community of Online Learning (COOL), with the potential for limiting the need for students to physically attend classes. It has sparked a debate about whether online learning could replace schools, provoking strong responses from both sides.
For more information on this week’s stories:
German academic body warns UK over Brexit – Guardian
Essex school abolishes homework – Independent
Students sacrificing life-skills for exam results – Independent
New Zealand education goes online – Telegraph
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about creative writing and everything that’s trending in education.