June 2001


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Members will be aware from our October Newsletter that we intended to survey Members of Parliament and prospective parliamentary candidates to seek their views on our County's educational system. We have now done so, although a few candidates could not be included simply because we did not identify them in time. The results of our survey are shown on the attached summary sheet.

The specific question that we asked was: -

"Are you in favour of grammar schools continuing to select all their pupils by academic ability?"

We personalised the question where we could by including the names of grammar schools situated in the constituency. We also asked respondents answering "No" to specify their preferred alternative education system.

You will see that although we do not have a complete response, we do now have sufficient to determine clear indications of Party attitudes.

No Response

What is interesting is that some have written to say that they do not respond to surveys of this kind and others have not bothered, and yet those who support the selective education system have had no difficulty in responding! We can only speculate as to the motives of those who do not want to commit themselves to a simple black or white answer.

However, a small number of respondents from both the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties have actually answered "No", and indicated that they would prefer to see some form of comprehensive system. We welcome their openness, if not agreeing with their views.

This Newsletter was, of necessity, written before the Parties' Manifestos were published. We do not, therefore, know their precise proposals. However, we do not anticipate any major changes from existing policies.

The Labour Party, whose leader does not always seem to be on the same wave-length as party activists, appears keen still to promote comprehensives, albeit with a target of 50% becoming 6t specialist schools", admission to which for a proportion of pupils would be on the basis of "aptitude". No one has yet been able to explain satisfactorily the reason why selection on the basis of "aptitude" is acceptable, but on grounds of academic ability less so.

Liberal Democrats, to quote one of their local candidates, favour neighbourhood comprehensives for most children. The Conservatives announced at their last Conference that their Manifesto would contain a pledge to abolish the grammar school ballot legislation.

County Council Elections

All the above relates to national strategies, and whilst the General Election may or may not take place on 7th June, the County Council elections will definitely occur then. We have not undertaken a survey of county councillor candidates, but believe it is probable that the main parties' candidates will reflect national strategies. Indeed, in terms of the Labour Party in Kent, their local election manifesto is widely reported to state Labour will work "within the framework of Labour's policies towards ending the 1 1 -plus within Kent". No doubt the views of all parties will become clear as the election approaches.

Comprehensive Education

We remain fundamentally opposed to converting all Kent's secondary schools to a comprehensive system. You only have to ask teachers, parents and pupils who were involved in such conversions in the sixties and seventies to understand the difficulties suffered by a whole generation of children. And the Prime Minister himself admits that the comprehensive system has not lived up to expectations. Why, therefore, even think about a change to a system that is far from universally successful?

Apart from the cost to individual children's education, there remains an unanswered question about the financial cost of creating a network of schools of sufficient size to ensure the breadth of curriculum, etc that is essential to make a comprehensive work. There are far too many small schools in Kent at present that will simply not convert successfully. The Government has said that Local Education Authorities must fund reorganisations themselves. Kent's education officials estimated the cost at 150 million How, when education budgets are already stretched could they find that sum?

We also need to know what system would be employed if selection was abolished. Would we see neighbourhood comprehensives, with choice determined by post code? Would we see a mixed economy: some 11- 16 schools with a few 11 - 18 schools - the only schools offering a sixth form curriculum? Or will all post- 16 teaching be handed over to the further education sector? Will we see all schools coeducational? Many parents prefer single sex education.

SKS says

Support Kent Schools is a non-political organisation supporting all schools in Kent, Medway and Bexley. It will continue to do so. But as elections draw near, many members want to know the attitude of political candidates. It is important that the wider electorate should know such views.

We do not have the resources to mount an effective County-wide publicity campaign. We will issue a Press Release about our survey of candidates. But you, our members and supporters, can help.

If you are in any doubt about a candidate's position, seek a meeting and question him or her. Let us know the response. Write letters to your local press to let your fellow voters know the Parties' and Candidates' attitudes to our schools.

It is up to individual citizens how they vote, but nobody can complain if we seek to make that vote as fully informed as possible.

Summary of responses to Support Kent Schools' survey asking
"Are you in favour of grammar schools continuing to select all their pupils by academic ability" Click

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Published by Support Kent Schools, 8 Faversham Road, Lenham, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 2PN
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