The Grammar School Debate: Dr. Lewis’ Personal Response
This article was originally published on the Bournemouth School website.
From the moment I first walked into Bournemouth School, well before writing my application to succeed John Granger as headmaster, I knew that this was the school for me! It reminded me so much of my own grammar school – from the house system to the parquet floor in the main hall, from the thriving extra-curricular programme to the purposeful atmosphere. Up until that time, I had taught only in the comprehensive system.
Once appointed, I introduced the mantra of “hard work, discipline, smart appearance and respect”, echoing the traditional values that had been instilled in me as a boy and to provide a focus for our school improvement. We have not sought to be trendy, have resisted the temptation to jump on educational bandwagons, and have not manipulated examination statistics to rise up the league tables; we have simply focussed upon the basics and the needs of our students. In the intervening years we have been judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, became an academy, restructured the school day, and welcomed girls into the Sixth Form. Accommodation, facilities and resources have been improved, but the financial position has precluded us making the sorts of improvements that our students deserve.
In common with our colleagues in other schools, we want to bring out the best in every student. This means that we have the highest expectations of each student’s learning, respect for self and others, sense of community, dress, behaviour and discipline. We enjoy the support of students, parents and our community in helping to fulfil these expectations. We always challenge students to do their best while, at the same time, offering them the support that they need to do really well. Older students are asked to take leadership responsibilities and operate as role models and mentors for those in lower years. We place great importance on delivering an all-round education for all of our students. Every student is given the opportunity to participate in a host of extra-curricular academic, sporting, and cultural events and activities (and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are given financial help to do so).
As you would expect, academic standards are high. Virtually all students achieve 10+ A*-C at GCSE, with a very high proportion (40% in 2016) achieving 10 or more A*/A grades. Most students follow programmes of study enabling them to attain the English Baccalaureate. This is a reflection of the school’s continued determination that all students should follow a broad, balanced and academic curriculum. We have hard-working, talented and knowledgeable staff, who are always willing to “go that extra mile” for our students. The most impressive aspect of our school, however, remains the student body. They are well motivated, enthusiastic and determined learners. Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds; our school is not the preserve of students whose parents could afford private education, as some would have you believe. It is a real privilege to be their headmaster.
So what of the new proposals? Whilst broadly welcoming the proposals, a number of questions remain. The Prime Minister’s passionate commitment to a meritocracy where the best academic education is available to all regardless of their background is surely right. The Prime Minister stated that in grammar schools, ‘the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils is reduced to almost zero’ and that ‘they provide a stretching education for the most able, regardless of their background, and they deliver results’. I hope that everyone would acknowledge these statements to be true of Bournemouth School.
It appears that Ministers want the entry examinations to be less susceptible to coaching and would be expecting grammar schools to have close ties with local primary schools and to demonstrate that they are socially inclusive and of benefit to the local community. Bournemouth School shares these objectives – increasing social mobility is the very reason why grammar schools were introduced, after all. I am sure that I would not be in the position that I am in today were it not for my grammar school education, and for that of my father before me. I come from a working-class background and socially deprived area. I, like many of my friends from grammar school, was the first in my family to go to university.
All local grammar schools, through the Grammar School Heads Association, have worked closely with the main test providers for several years to make tests far less susceptible to coaching. New types of questions are regularly introduced. A broad range of areas are covered by the tests we use: numeric, and verbal reasoning as well as maths and English based on the KS2 curriculum. Test materials are not made commercially available whilst standardised familiarisation materials are made available free of charge on school and test provider websites. We, of course, acknowledge the local tutoring industry, and the way in which some local independent schools market themselves as a way of virtually guaranteeing grammar school eligibility for those who can pay. When I sat the entrance test for my grammar school, coaching for the test was, as far as I was aware, non-existent. All primary school children sat a test on a given day across the area (in their own primary schools). Perhaps this could once more be the case?
We greatly value our links with the local community. Through working with BHLive, we have made our sporting facilities accessible to local people (The Sir David English Centre and astroturf pitches). The school has raised significant sums of money for local charities. In the last seven years, and for many before that, we have worked to strengthen relationships with local schools and the local authority. I have chaired the monthly meetings of the local association of secondary headteachers and the pupil placement panel. I have been privileged to represent secondary headteachers on the local authority’s school places programming board. Senior colleagues and I have visited a number of local primary schools every year to explain the admissions process and answer any parental queries. We have also supported curriculum delivery in a number of local primary schools, with many students visiting our school to use our facilities. Under the current schools’ admissions code, however, it is not permissible to base over subscription criteria upon feeder schools. Perhaps, given the latest proposals, this will change, and grammar schools will be able to give preference to students from local maintained primary schools, especially those from disadvantaged areas? If this were the case, perhaps the way in which students were deemed eligible for a place at the school could be transformed?
At Bournemouth School, and after much debate, last year the governing body resolved to change our Admissions Policy for September 2018 to favour Bournemouth children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is our intention that for September 2018, the following criteria will be used to determine the rank order in which boys will be offered places at the school:
- Eligible boys who are looked after children or previously looked after children;[A ‘Looked After Child’ is a child who is (a) in the care of a local authority, or (b) being provided with accommodation by a local authority in the exercise of their social services function (e.g. child with foster parents) at the time of making an application to a school.
- ‘Previously Looked After Children’ are children who were looked after, but immediately moved on from that status after becoming subject to an adoption, child arrangements or special guardianship order.]
- Of the remaining eligible boys, those who live within the Borough of Bournemouth and are eligible for the Pupil Premium Grant will be ranked next, in order of the entrance test scores, with those boys obtaining the highest scores given higher priority (those eligible for the Pupil Premium Grant are those who are in receipt of Free School Meals as of 31st October 2017, or have been in receipt of Free School Meals at any point during the six years, or are the children of UK Armed Forces personnel at any point during the four years, before 31st October 2017);
- Of the remaining eligible boys, those who live within the Borough of Bournemouth and are ineligible for the Pupil Premium will be ranked next, in order of the entrance test scores, with those boys obtaining the highest scores given higher priority;
- The remaining eligible boys (i.e. those who live outside the Borough of Bournemouth) and who are eligible for the Pupil Premium Grant will then be ranked in order of the entrance test scores, with those boys obtaining the highest scores given higher priority.
- The remaining eligible boys (i.e. those who live outside the Borough of Bournemouth and are ineligible for the Pupil Premium Grant) will be ranked in order of the entrance test scores, with those boys obtaining the highest scores given higher priority.
Even before the latest announcements we were clearly signalling our intention to serve principally the Borough of Bournemouth and prioritise developing relationships with the Borough’s primary schools to encourage all able students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to apply for a place at the school. We believe that in so doing our aim of increasing social mobility would be fulfilled. Perhaps now we should take the opportunity to expand?
Having worked in comprehensive schools for 15 years before joining Bournemouth School, I do not believe that Grammar schools should be presented as a panacea for all the ills in education. I have had the privilege to work alongside so many talented and deeply committed colleagues in other schools. Different types of school suit different children. Locally, there have been significant improvements in the quality of provision for all children at secondary level; there is a real choice for parents – single-sex, mixed, faith, grammar. I am very impressed and grateful for the excellent quality of education and care and range of opportunities that benefit my daughter at Glenmoor Academy. When schools work effectively together all children benefit. The Prime Minister has advocated students joining grammar schools at ages 14 and 16 in addition to the usual Year 7 entry. This system worked well in my hometown in the 1970s, with students moving to access the provision that best matched their needs. We already welcome into our Sixth Form a number of students from other local schools. Many thrive and leave us to continue their studies at the very best universities.
I believe it important that there is a co-ordinated local strategy to enable schools to work effectively and efficiently together to both continue to improve the quality of secondary education for all and to ensure parental choice. At a time when the number of students applying for secondary school places across an area is low, an ill-timed expansion of grammar schools could result in the numbers of students applying for other schools being so low that those other schools would be forced to close – only to have to be resurrected when student numbers increase. Such local strategic planning used to be the remit of the local authority. Governing bodies of academies may now autonomously set their admissions number. Furthermore, especially when an academy is a member of a multi-academy chain, there need not be any accountability for the governing body to the local community. Local authorities have very little influence over existing academies and are unable to determine a strategic plan for the delivery of education within their area, especially with the proliferation of new “free” schools. I have seen little evidence locally that such free schools deliver value for money. The responsibility for the oversight of academies and free schools is that of a Regional Schools Commissioner – our commissioner’s office is in Bristol (the region extends to the whole of the South West). There was much amiss in the local authorities of old, which is why successive governments have sought to disempower them. Perhaps now, however, there is a need for greater strategic planning, authority and accountability at a local level?
I am sure that our governing body will consider the possibility of increasing our intake (they have already agreed to this in principle), but with a new free school on the horizon in Bournemouth and changes to the way in which schools are funded, this will, by no means, be an easy decision; we would not wish our expansion to be to the detriment of our current or future students, or to other local schools. Schools that are too large can be perceived as impersonal. If we were to expand we would also need significant investment in extending and improving our accommodation. Successful schools, like ours have always been towards the bottom of the list of priorities for investment. The main part of building dates from 1939. Any improvements that have been made have been as a result of careful budgeting, fundraising or successfully applying for grants from charitable foundations. I have always found it unfair that some of the brightest and most talented students in the area are being taught in some of the oldest and inappropriate accommodation (that is not to say that there aren’t other schools in the local area desperately in need of investment). Perhaps an expansion in numbers would attract funding that would be sufficient to transform the accommodation to the benefit of all at Bournemouth School long into the future?
I believe that Bournemouth School is a very special school, with not only its examination results, but also its ethos and traditional values setting it apart from other schools. I am very proud to serve as headmaster and look forward to the school serving more closely the local community. Bournemouth School must play its part in an efficient and effective education system that serves all local children – helping all to fulfil their potential and realise their dreams. Whilst I hope that the implementation of the Prime Minister’s proposal will benefit the school and its students, now and in the future, I sincerely hope that they will not prove to be divisive in the local education community, and schools will continue to co-operate and work collaborately.to offer parents a real choice for their children and to the benefit of all.
Dr. D. P. Lewis, C.Chem. (Soton) MRSC
A profile of Dr. Dorian Lewis
Dr Dorian Lewis, headmaster of Bournemouth School, was born and raised in South Wales. He is passionate about the potential of education to changes people’s lives. This commitment he attributes to his own family history and personal experiences.
On Friday 4th May 1906 in the Pontypool Free Press, the death of a collier in Blaenavon was reported. The tragedy began when at 6.30 am on the 27th April 1906, a 46 year-old man and his two sons left for work. The sons were 16 and 18 years of age; for the elder son, it is his first day at work. The article continued:
“Whilst proceeding down the slope towards their working place in the Big Pit on Friday morning, he heard a journey of trams approaching….the journey was too close on him to reach the manhole…Witnesses saw him push the boys into the manhole…the journey knocked him down……he was found alive underneath a tram 20 to 25 yards from the manhole. The screams of one of the sons caused the journey rider to stop the trams……both his legs were severed, and one arm. Thomas Lewis died of his injuries at 8.20 am. His sons lived…”
The younger of the two sons was Dr Lewis’ grandfather. The family’s fortunes began to change when Dr Lewis’ father passed the entrance examinations and was admitted into Jones’ West Monmouth Grammar School for Boys in 1938. The school was a Haberdashers’ school, with a motto of “Serve and Obey” – and was the poor relation of the independent Monmouth School. In 1943, Dr Lewis’ father was called up for service in the RAF – and on being demobbed in 1947, his ambition of a career in architecture was to be unfulfilled, instead becoming an electrical engineering draughtsman to provide for his wife and daughter.
Dr Lewis was born in 1967. It was a time of political and educational upheaval, with Labour governments speeding the closure of grammar schools and opening more comprehensive schools. Such was that value that Dr Lewis’ father had placed upon his time at his grammar school, that he chose to move the family home during Dr Lewis’ junior school years, so that attending a grammar school was a possibility.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Dr Lewis joined Jones’ West Monmouth Grammar School for Boys in 1979. His experience of a grammar school education was, however, to be short-lived. His school was part of a reorganisation that resulted in 1982 in the closure of a boys’ and a girls’ 11-18 grammar school, and three secondary modern schools and the opening of two large 11-16 comprehensives and a tertiary college. Sadly, academic standards in the area have never been the same since that time, and consequently, he believes, social mobility has reduced. The three years in the grammar school and continuing to benefit from the teaching of those grammar school teachers who stayed on either in the successor school or in the sixth form college had a great influence upon Dr Lewis’ secondary education – and, he believes, his life chances.
After sixth-form college, Dr Lewis became the first in his family to attend university. A degree in Chemistry from Southampton University was, with further encouragement and support from his family, followed by a PhD. During the final years’ of his research for his PhD, he supported undergraduate students in undertaking practical work; soon it became apparent to him that teaching was his vocation. Dr Lewis trained to teach at Nottingham University, before accepting his first teaching position at The Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester. He later became the Head of Science and then a Deputy Headteacher at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Wimborne Minster. Dr Lewis became the headmaster of Bournemouth School in 2009; he is the school’s eighth headmaster since it was established in 1901. Dr Lewis is married with three children. The family (including their unruly black labrador) live within walking distance of the school. All three children attended maintained primary school, with the younger two joining Queen’s Park Academy when the family moved to Bournemouth. His two sons attend Bournemouth School, and his daughter is at Glenmoor School. Students of Bournemouth School will also be familiar with his wife, who has supervised lunchtimes, invigilated examination’s and supported students in lessons.