MP backs county's grammar schools

ONE of the region's senior MPs launched a staunch defence of grammar schools last night after A-level results revealed those in Essex had been among the best-performing in the country.

ONE of the region's senior MPs launched a staunch defence of grammar schools last night after A-level results revealed those in Essex had been among the best-performing in the country.

Conservative frontbencher and Essex North MP, Bernard Jenkin, said grammar schools like the four boys and girls schools in Colchester and Chelmsford, were "beacons of excellence".

Amid fears that Labour politicians are secretly in favour of axing the selective system, Mr Jenkin said this week's results vindicated years of Tory campaigning to keep them – and he suggested there could be more of them.

He said: "Grammar schools are a beacon of excellence in a system in which the public has otherwise lost faith.

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"They raise aspiration levels for other schools and they can only be a good thing in inner cities which are robbed of opportunity and hope.

"These results vindicate the grammar school system and Conservatives in Essex have always been in favour of them."

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Mr Jenkin's comments came as it emerged that the county's top four schools were among the best 12 in the country.

Colchester Royal Grammar School's 127 candidates achieved an average points score of 427 in this year's exams, equivalent to all of them achieving more than three A-grades.

The results placed them as the third most successful school in the UK for state education, behind two other grammar schools.

The Colchester County High School for Girls was ninth nationally with an average points tally of 403 for its 108 entrants.

And pupils at Chelmsford County High School for Girls achieved 390 points on average, placing them 11th while King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford was 12th highest in the country with a 385-point average.

Under the grammar school entry system the most academically gifted students, who have passed their 11+ exams, are selected to join.

But a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said yesterday it did not support academic selection at 11 and did not wish to see it extended.

"Where selection exists, the Government believes in local decision making as to whether it should continue, and has put in place mechanisms to allow this to happen," he said.

"The Government gave a commitment in its 1997 manifesto that any changes to the admissions policies of grammar schools would be a matter for parents.

"It also made clear that there would be no new grammar schools and no further selection based on the 11-plus."

However, Brian Wills-Pope, chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, said the strength of the grammar system was in the way in which it places "like minded individuals together".

He said: "They are selective in the sense that they select the most academic pupils from the age of 11 and upwards and provides them with the education they require and a chance to bond with each other.

"The strength lies in that you have all the youngsters of the same academic ability together, helping each other and working as a unit."

He said the grammar schools were also strong in their sporting prowess and sense of discipline.

"It goes back hundreds of years and they came about because youngsters needed education and were not getting it anywhere else.

"They are well known for sport, discipline is renowned, it is lots of things."

Ken Jenkinson, headteacher at Colchester Royal Grammar School, said the exam success was only part of what his pupils achieved.

He said: "The approach to the exams is just one aspect of their approach to life in general – we were very pleased because we had such a happy and great bunch this year who really enjoyed each other's success.

"Here in Colchester people are lucky because they have a good choice of schools, including the Sixth Form College and the comprehensives, and it is important that parents and students can find the right type of school."

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