National Grammar Schools Association
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Letter to governors & Parents, 7th July 2009

Dear Governors and Parents,

You have probably heard about the debate on the motion 'Grammar Schools Are Best' on 23 June 2009. This was organised by The Spectator and sponsored by the NGSA. The motion was carried by a large majority. During the following days, it generated considerable press coverage in support of grammar schools, some of which is listed at

You may also have heard about the formation of a new Grammar Schools Heads Association (GSHA) led by Shaun Fenton (head of Pates Grammar School), Simon Everson (head of The Skinner's Grammar School), Barry Sindall (former head of Colyton Grammar School) and David Wheeldon, (head of King Edward VI Five Ways Grammar School).

On 3 July 2009, the Times Educational Supplement reported that, before its official launch, the GSHA had been holding meetings with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is, of course, ideologically opposed to grammar schools. The TES quoted Mr Fenton, the GSHA's co-chairman, who said his group 'would not be campaigning to save schools, such as St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar in Slough, Berkshire, that are slated for closure.' Rather, he said, 'We support grammar schools as part of a diverse provision of education... If it works locally for a grammar school to become an academy [which must be comprehensive], that is a decision to be made locally. Gradual evolution is fine.'

Let us clarify this statement. He is saying that schools which change from being grammar schools to academies, are 'fine' with him and his colleagues. In addition, he has suggested 'dumbing down' the existing 11-plus by changing it from an objective test of academic ability to a subjective test for social selection. This seems akin to softening-up public opinion in preparation for the abolition of grammar schools. Mr Fenton, of course, has a vested interest in academy schools, as do several of his colleagues. He is on the board of the proposed new Cheltenham Academy. He is also suggesting that 'gradual evolution' based on local decisions, is 'fine'. But who makes these local decisions? Is it central government and the DCSF, the local authority, the school governors, or the parents? As the law stands, parents can vote in a ballot to convert a grammar school into a comprehensive school, or possibly a comprehensive academy, but they cannot vote to have a comprehensive replaced by a grammar school. There is not, it should be noted, a single instance of parents voting to change a grammar school into a comprehensive. Nor is there any evidence that academies are outperforming other comparable (non-academy) comprehensive schools. So much for Mr Fenton's 'gradual evolution'.

We cannot believe that every grammar school governing body that has agreed for their head to join and be part of this self-serving association – and allowed the head’s joining fee to be paid on a per pupil basis from the school budget – fully understands what the GHSA is approving.

This is an extremely worrying statement and should send a shiver down the spine of all grammar school governors and parents. It is totally at odds with any governing body that is aware of the pressure that this Labour government is placing on local authorities to reduce grammar places and close grammar schools by any means, no matter how deceitful. Please make no mistake: there is a real and concerted effort to cut grammar places and close grammar schools across England – not just in Northern Ireland. The evidence is overwhelming and a grammar school governing body should be very wary of allowing its head to have an interest in an academy, when on the grammar school payroll. There is enough hard work in each grammar school to keep a headteacher fully employed maintaining academic standards and results in his or her own school.

Coming from the head of a grammar school, Mr Fenton's comments are not only disappointing but also extremely damaging to the selection/grammar school cause. The NGSA is not against grammar schools helping less effective schools to raise their standards. But grammar schools should not be sacrificing their grammar school status on the altar of egalitarianism, as is the case with St Bernard's in Slough. Or allowing their admission numbers to be reduced when there is such overwhelming demand for grammar school places. The function of schools is to educate. It is not their purpose to advance any social or political ideology.

Let us be absolutely clear: the GSHA's position is in stark contrast to the NGSA's position. The NGSA exists to defend our existing grammar schools and encourage the formation of new ones where there is demand. The NGSA is the only association pledged to support all grammar schools and oppose the closure of any grammar school. Three times over recent months, the NGSA has taken legal advice, including an expensive legal opinion from a QC, in defence of grammar schools that are threatened. No other organisation will do that. The NGSA is also inclusive. It is open to parents, governors, teachers and anyone else who supports grammar schools.

The GSHA, by contrast, is exclusive. It is open only to headteachers, rather like a self-interested trade union. As their website's job advertisements clearly indicate, their objective is self-serving and, indeed, the website display trade union logos. We have much more information on these points if you require it and we shall be holding meetings in the Autumn to discuss the situation and what can be done. It is now evident that the career objectives of some grammar school heads are not congruent with the advancement of the grammar school ideal.

Meanwhile, it is vital that you continue to support the NGSA. If your grammar school is threatened with closure or destruction, there is no other national organisation that can, or will, help you.

Yours sincerely,

Robert McCartney QC, Chairman.