“I am a strong supporter of traditional, high quality, academic education, in short what most people would think of as a ‘grammar school type’ education. I think the more children who get that kind of education, the better. That is what we aim to do relentlessly at Bennett for all students. However, I think the challenge for our country and this region is to extend this quality of education to as many children as possible. I do not think that selection at 11+ is a fit-for-purpose way of doing this, simply because the social profile of children who get through that bar does not take in the children we most need to target.
I don’t accept an argument that says that children from less advantaged backgrounds cannot access a traditional, academic curriculum – there are countless examples up and down the country of them doing so successfully. And yet in our Kent grammar schools we have only minuscule numbers of children on free school meals, which is the standard indicator of poverty.
So I am not in favour of more grammar school places in Kent, or more grammar schools, because they simply do not address the challenge of giving more children a strong academic education, precisely because the children who need this most don’t get through the test. And there is of course no such thing as a ‘tutor proof test’ – any test can be prepared for with the right additional teaching.
We should be prioritising our energies on getting all children to do a grammar school type education, not just some. Our international competitors in the Far East and elsewhere in the world would not dream of dividing children at age 11 into those who can and those who can’t access and succeed in a traditional demanding education. They require schools to expect this from all children. That should be our aim – the rest is a distraction.”