Transfer tests have to end. They are a crude, nasty, unfair system of determining who goes to grammar school (and which). They pigeon-hole children and force parents (in effect) to pay for coaching. The consequence is that many children end up in the wrong school and many parents run up debts (in both time and money) that would not be necessary in a fair system.
The outcome of it all, as we saw reported in the latest OECD report, is literacy and numeracy standards lower than the average in the developed world (that they are higher than England, whose standards are the worst, is nothing to write home about), while the cream of the crop leave school able to administer but not innovate. We churn out accountants, lawyers, civil servants and all kinds of other bureaucrats – but no entrepreneurs or general wealth creators. Meanwhile teachers continue to be pressurised with all kinds of administration of their own (and constantly live under threat of discipline if they look once at the wrong pupil or even the wrong parent the wrong way). The system has its good points, but fundamentally it doesn’t work for anyone.
The transfer tests represent the ultimate political failure – one side failed to realise the harshness of it all, the other failed to analyse the problem properly in order to solve it.
Firstly, as mentioned in the past on these pages, no one asks the obvious question: what is the education system for? Even lessons grouped by subject are a fundamentally Victorian method, designed for sending people off to govern 19th century India rather than to create wealth in a globalised 21st century economy. Without agreeing what we want from the system, we are never going to agree how to get it.
Secondly, what is the cause of the transfer test? It is that grammar schools are oversubscribed. Why is this? It is because they are perceived automatically to be better than other schools. Why is this? Generally, it is because they are, given the common (academic) curriculum. So no one then asks the other obvious question: why is there a common curriculum? If pupils are genuinely not academically minded and thus not desiring of a career as a civil servant, an accountant or a university lecturer, why give them the same curriculum as those who are? Maybe there is an answer to this – but I have never seen the question posed.
Thirdly, let us face a few home truths. Parents are going to want the best for their children; not all schools are going to be the same; so there will be and should be an element of choice.
So, never mind the daft sectarian games, let us face the fact that the current system is unfair on children, parents and teachers and answer the question: how do we enable that choice to be made in everyone’s best interests?