Selecting When To Select

Selective education can and should be at the heart of the learning process

I have becoming increasingly annoyed by education professionals who have been commenting on the recent report by OfSted on standards in education. I have heard politicians, headteachers, teachers and trade union leader repeating their commitment to a secondary education system which is not based on selection, and teaches students in mixed ability classes. I do not believe there in any doubt it has failed, particularly in view of the report completed by OfSted which is now being discussed on a daily basis.

I believe the people who are claiming to be committed to a system which does not use selection or streaming are operating double standards. I have been involved in education and training for over twenty five years and I have taught both young people and adults, which I believe has given me the skills and experience to comment on what I believe is a huge problem with consistency.

I have worked in several schools, and they all had a football team in every year. I believe the players were picked following a trial, which, as far as I am concerned is a form of selection based on ability. I believe the same students will continue to play football every year, which means it is now selection based on ability and performance. It is possible the school, will have a B team as the A team which is clearly a form of streaming.

I know from experience the same system is used for every other team sport and individual sport. It would be much easier for everyone who says selection is unacceptable to allow the students to pick a team at random. I am confident the students would use a detailed selection process. It may be possible to pick the first students who arrive in class, but I am sure they would find reasons to avoid being involved, which is self selection in action.

I know schools are keen to provide extracurricular activities, and many schools have some form of orchestra. I am certain the musicians who play in the orchestra are picked for their musical ability, which is clearly selection.

Every school I have ever worked in has a head boy and a head girl. I am aware they are picked from a short list, which is selection. In most schools they have a deputy head boy and a deputy head girl which appears to be both selection and streaming.

When student sit their GCSE examinations certain students are not included. I have been advised the only students who are entered for examinations are the students the teachers believe can pass the examination. I believe this is selection based on ability and performance. I feel it is completely unacceptable to state your commitment to a system of education which is not based on selection, and then use a selection process at the time the student should be given the opportunity they were promised five years earlier.

It is now increasingly important to obtain a good education, and a very important part of this process is to pass both AS Level examinations and A2 Level examinations. It is not possible for a student to enter year twelve to study AS Level subjects unless they have achieved a good grades  at GCSE level. I can only describe this process as selection based on ability and performance in examinations, which politicians, headteachers, teachers and trade union leader have all stated in unacceptable.


I do not have any problem understanding why the teachers take this action. I can confirm to every student I know selection takes place on a daily basis in work and in other areas including club memberships and passing a driving test. I am not suggesting we change the selection processes we use to ensure drivers can pass a test and drive correctly, or we abandon any idea of selecting the best candidate for a vacancy. I cannot believe it would even be considered.  I would like the individuals who say they are committed to a system of education which does not use selection and teaches mixed ability classes to acknowledge they are operating double standards, and are not keeping the promise they made to the students.

Tom McManus has worked in education and training for over 25 years. During this time, he has taught in the prison service, universities, schools and colleges. He has also worked as an adviser on education and training to Members of the European Parliament.


  1. What is wrong with a meritocracy? Bring back grammar schools – that will enable the brightest kids, whatever their status, to improve their life chances, not being held back by mixed ability classes.


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