One of the arguments — a very strong one — against the revival of grammar schools in this country is that if they select bright children as the result of a test at 11 then they necessarily deprive other local secondary schools of the best students. The bulk of those who are not selected are therefore given a second class label which can easily cast a spell for the rest of their lives.
Theresa May’s government had already armed themselves with an answer to that by saying that children will be also able to transfer on the basis of several other tests taken up to the age of 14 or so. In this way those who are late developers can be catered for. Also, those who happened to have had a bad day when taking the original test will have at least one more chance — perhaps two or three — to escape to the better school.
But this, on reflection, also implicates a reverse fault of tests. Although tests have a precise selection mark, the sort of intelligence and all-round abilities that are really being looked for are rather more hazy above and below the cut-off point. In short, just as there are a few children who ought not to have been rejected after their first test so there are children who were selected when, as it turns out during later performance, they should not have been.
The result of this is that a grammar school that selects at 11 and is subsequently fed with good new entrants between 11 and 14 will also be accumulating some original takers who will bring the average performance down from then onwards.
Both problems can be avoided by streaming. After an all round experience in junior schools why shouldn’t every student then be graded in each subject? Instead of meeting in one class every day of the week, a student might well meet in several different classes in the course of a week. Too complex to organise? Not these days surely, with very large secondary schools and a school administration having access ro supercomputers to print workable timetables.
Though the timetable wouldn’t be complex at the teacher level. One teacher might have three classes in his subject, one class just starting off, one half-way through the syllabus and another at pre-university level. All the classes, however, will have students at different ages, some who have dropped back and taking the subject remedially, others who are brilliant even though years younger than the average in that class.
Teaching and learning will become more like mentoring and something like this is probably already developing in an increasingly specialised era.. We hear stories increasingly of more precocious children than ever before forging years ahead of paid professional people many years older. Maybe our educational shibboleth should be “Sack the schools. Start the streaming.”