BLOG: Opportunity and choice – the two things every child should have

Our CEO Steve Docking discusses the crucial role of primary schools in encouraging disadvantaged but able pupils to take up a grammar school education.

At the start of every New Year I always try to do an assembly that looks forward to the key events that are taking place over the next twelve months. There is normally some major sporting opportunity or a celebration of some sort that catches the imagination and gives me something to talk about for 15 minutes or so.

However, 2017 doesn’t yet have that and the thought of talking Brexit or Donald Trump’s inauguration to a school full of kids who have just had a great Christmas break, seemed pointless. Therefore last weeks assembly was themed ‘let’s make our own news’.

As a Trust that is exactly what we will be doing this year. We are in the pre-opening stage for Ledsham Manor Academy in Ellesmere Port and are passionate about all the opportunities this will offer to the community it will serve. Opening a free school is always an honour, but this one in particular will be something special. Just before we finished for Christmas, I was also delighted to find out that we have been invited by the DFE to interview later this month to discuss our proposals for two new free schools on the Wirral.

Our aim with all of these schools is obviously to teach the children well and to instil a strong sense of confidence and personal ambition in each pupil. Our aim for the schools on the Wirral would be to encourage, through quality first teaching, as many children as possible from areas that don’t typically put pupils forward to sit the grammar school entrance exam to do so. For too long we have seen families from less affluent more challenging areas, within commutable distance, not taking up the opportunity. With this in mind I was delighted to read the following report from the National Grammar schools Association, written in direct response to the Government’s wish to see more grammar places created.

National Grammar School response – Schools that Work for Everyone

At this point we could get into all sorts of debates about the merits, or not, of selective education, or even if grammar schools should exist at all. However, to do that is to completely miss the point. Primary education is the route for all children to begin to makes choices in life. The higher the quality of primary education, the more choice you have. Learning to read, write, and be numerate are the basic skills we all need to function but as these skills develop and advance they enable us to start thinking, dreaming, imagining and ultimately allow us to choose our own direction.

Our aim with the schools on the Wirral wouldn’t be to ‘teach to the test’ just to ensure that children pass an entrance exam. It is to layer teaching and learning over a seven year period and make sure that all our children would have a choice and the fair opportunity to pass an entrance exam. Grammar schools currently have many children who are tutored to pass entrance exams, but this is the equivalent teaching method of using one coat gloss. Through sanding down, priming, undercoating and applying more careful layers over a seven year period our schools would be different as they strive to make learning a more embedded process. By 11 we will have children who not only have more choice but will, crucially, have the knowledge, skills and understanding that will help them on their journey through secondary education, wherever that may be.

So maybe this year, when the real news is mightily depressing, is the time to make your own headlines and do something wonderful.