Russell Hargrave reports on a recent demonstration in Walthamstow against academic selection
Local campaigners have joined forces to campaign against re-introducing grammar schools in Waltham Forest.
Several dozen people from organisations such as the Labour Party, National Union of Teachers (NUT), and Socialist Workers, as well as local parents and teachers, rallied in Walthamstow against the government’s plans to open new grammar schools across the UK.
Campaigners led calls of “Yes to education, no to segregation” and collected signatures to petition Downing Street against the proposals.
Unlike ordinary state schools, grammar schools select pupils according to ability at age 11, leading to accusations from some local activists that the best education will be available “just for a privileged elite”. The NUT warned that the pressure of further exams for young people will add further to “unprecedented levels” of anxiety and stress among children.
The number of grammar schools in the UK peaked at more than 1,200 in the mid-1960s, but there are now just 163 in England. There are none in Waltham Forest, although some remain in neighbouring boroughs such as Redbridge and Enfield.
The catchment areas for Ilford County High School for Boys and Woodford County High School for Girls, which are both selective grammar schools in Redbridge, include Waltham Forest.
Waltham Forest Council already opposes grammar schools. Councillor Grace Williams, responsible for decisions affecting children and young people, told the Echo that introducing grammar schools in the area could lead to a “two-tier system” which didn’t meet the needs of pupils, parents or teachers.
Councillor Williams said: “The problem with the government’s vision on grammar schools is that it just deals with the 20 percent, those [children] which get into the school, those which have the advantage. It doesn’t say anything about the other 80 percent.”
As a former secondary school teacher, Williams argued that she had seen the importance of mixed-ability schools, where: “You can still make education individual to pupils. The benefits of the children being in the same school is that you raise everyone’s standards.”
She pointed out that educational standards in the borough had been rising under the existing system of secondary schools.
Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy has echoed these concerns. She said: “Grammar schools would take us backwards. In Waltham Forest we have brilliant teachers, brilliant schools. We should be ruthless about making sure every child has the same opportunities.”
The MP says she is worried young people themselves had not been heard in the debate about the future of education in the borough, despite the impact it will have on their lives.
Saturday’s local protest was part of a co-ordinated day of action against grammar schools around the UK.