A new word, ‘gromp’, has just been introduced into the school vocabulary. Gromp stands for ‘Grammar Comprehensive’ – meaning comprehensive schools with the ethos of grammar schools. It was reported in the TES – Times Educational Supplements on Sunday of 20th August that the New Schools Network had conducted a survey which reveals that pupils in schools that are run in a very traditional manner made significantly more progress than those schools with so-called progressive ethos.
Features associated with those Gromps, which are schools with truly comprehensive intakes, which makes them similar to grammar schools in their day-to-day activities, include: stricter discipline, smart school uniform, longer school days, competitive sports and students taking subjects such as Latin and Triple Science. This is quite a contrast from the ethos of the so-called progressive schools, where the regime is more laid back and low-level of disruption in the classroom is tolerated.
In the early 2000s, Alastair Campbell – an adviser to the then prime minister, Tony Blair, once used the word ‘bog standard comprehensive’ to describe schools that appear to have no real ambition in achieving anything out of the norm. Features that are associated with bog standard grammar schools include: a lack of smart school uniform, no academic setting in many key subjects, a lack of competitive sports and student-led as opposed to teacher-led lessons. The real problem with those schools – which sadly is most state schools, is a lack of discipline. Children’s socioeconomic background is used as an excuse for poor performance.
What amazes me is that the massive investment that went into schools in the first decade of this millennium was spent mainly on new computers and fancy buildings. Whilst investment in infrastructures, such as building repairs and more equipment was necessary at the time due to the dilapidated state of school buildings, most of the investment should have gone into building the people. One of the most notable features of schools at the time were things called ‘state of the art IT systems’ and building. What more money should really have been spent on was changing the culture of schools and creating regimes where low level yobbery is strongly frowned on and punished. Too many teachers are happy to manage bad behaviour and they do not see it for the real evil which it really is. With strong discipline, a teacher can teach 30 students in the classroom successfully. What we know of poor performing schools is that it is often the case that there are fewer than 15 students in a class, but it is extremely difficult to manage their behaviour.
Among the Gromp schools which have shown that the fact that a significant proportion of young people come from poor families is not an excuse for underperformance are Solomon Academy and Mossbourne Academy. At Mossbourne Academy, where the former head of OFSTED, Sir Michal Wilshaw, was the head, the school was able to achieve extraordinary results, including sending up to 10 students to Oxbridge in one academic year – an achievement that most independent and grammar schools would be proud of – due to the very strict discipline he introduced. This worked very well, despite the fact that about 40% of children on that school were on free school meals and several foreign languages were spoken at home
The result of this survey, by NSN – New Schools Network – has confirmed that schools that are run along a more traditional ethos do much better academically irrespective of the natural academic ability of the pupils. This is in sharp contract to the more laid back, less traditional comprehensive schools. This has shown that nature matters more than nurture in academic achievement.
In the last two weeks, the A-level and GCSE results were released and we saw all those jubilant teenagers. We rejoiced with them and their parents – particularly those who had worked very hard to achieve to the best of their ability. Those include young people of about average ability who have worked diligently and who have been very fortunate to have parents who made considerable sacrifice to ensure that their offspring are placed in schools where academic excellence is valued, respected and young people encouraged and nurtured to achieve excellence. There are several thousands of other young people with academic ability who have been allowed to just coast along and ended up with mediocre and, in some cases, appalling examination results.
My conclusion is that Gomps show that nurture is more important than nature for academic success.