“When it comes to opportunity we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”
Theresa May wasted no time in setting the tone of her leadership: one nation government, social justice and meritocracy. The fact that she is a grammar school girl from relatively modest origins gives these sentiments an edge of authenticity.
If the Prime Minister is serious about combatting entrenched privilege and resurrecting meritocracy she should repeal the thoroughly unjust ban on new grammar schools. The provision of a high quality education provided by institutions that select by ability, not wealth, is a bold policy that will deliver true social justice.
David Cameron sadly rolled over to the left-wing consensus on grammar schools and indulged in the classic Leftist hypocrisy of lauding comprehensives while sending his daughter to an utterly untypical, oversubscribed Church of England school; the Grey Coat Hospital in Kensington some distance from his home. The same school was also favoured by Michael Gove over Burlington Danes Academy, despite Burlington being minutes from his home and subject to his frequent praise.
We expect this from the Left; Labourites often use highly exclusive comprehensives for their children to superficially prevent a violation of their ideology. Sometimes they even move house to avoid the socialist crime of paying fees. Thus, they gain the advantages of their wealth and position while still imposing their egalitarian dogma on the rest of us. It is total fraud and there is no moral justification. These schools are not accessible, they are ultra elitist and highly selective. This is not equality; this is the entrenched advantages of the fortunate few in action.
There is no moral case for a system of selection by wealth. Any estate agent will tell you that a good school adds value to houses within its locality. All over the country people with the money to do so are playing the state system to get their children into the best schools by moving into the right post code, or becoming born again Christians. They are effectively seeking the advantages of the foolishly abolished grammars while the poor are abandoned to their fate.
We know why the Left despise grammar schools; they see state comprehensives as a means of enforcing equality of outcome. Spiteful socialists have successfully shut every door on children from poor homes achieving academic success and getting on in life. The supposed party of equality destroyed the grammar school system and the direct grant schools. Then, as part of their victory dance, New Labour swiftly banned the creation of new grammar schools in the School Standards and Framework Act. This was followed up by the abolition of the Assisted Places Scheme. What a spiteful act of social vandalism.
The grammar schools were beginning to break open our class system and top universities. According to the 1966 Franks Report into Oxford University, in 1939-39 62% of places were taken by the privately educated, 13% by direct grant school pupils and 19% from state grammars. By 1958-9 the share for direct grants increased to 15% and state grammars to 30%. By 64-65 private schools were down to 45%, with direct grants increasing to 17% and state grammars up to 34%. What a massive folly it was to halt this progress and conserve our class system just as it was becoming obsolete.
The tripartite system wasn’t perfect by any means, but the rational solutions would’ve been to expand the grammar school and direct grant system, build the intended technical colleges to offer the choice of vocational education and improve the secondary moderns. Unsurprisingly, destroying so many excellent schools did nothing to improve the rest.
We still see today the remnants of the grammar school system in the upper echelons of society but increasingly it is the public school pupils dominating our elite. Now there is an intellectual barrier blocking poorer Britons from breaking through the class system and a growing sense that we are ruled by the privileged.
From 1964-97, every British Prime Minister, from Harold Wilson to John Major, was grammar-school educated. Now we have a seven grammar school educated members of the Cabinet, how can they possibly justify upholding the ban on the schools from which they benefitted?
It is mindless to dismiss this as “bring-backery”; this government is already correcting one historic mistake; why not address another? Germany did when Communism collapsed and East German parents petitioned their government to restore the grammar schools their Stalinist rulers had eradicated. The successful German system has another valuable lesson for us; we don’t have to bring back the eleven plus. The German “Gymnasiums” operate on continuous assessment whereby pupils must uphold a certain standard, though those who fall behind are given several opportunities to catch up and late developers can join in later years.
The Conservative education reforms pioneered by Michael Gove were based on freedom from the state, innovation, encouraging rigour, diversity and parental choice; these principles are incompatible with the ludicrous ban on grammar schools. This socialist policy has failed the poor and hindered bright children. If Theresa May wants to reverse this she should listen to the lamentations of Sir Michael Wilshaw:
“The fate of the most able pupils in non-selective schools is particularly depressing. Some 60,000 youngsters who achieved the top levels at Key Stage 2 did not achieve an A or A* in English and maths 5 years later. Indeed, only a quarter achieved a B grade. According to the Sutton Trust, 7,000 children a year who were in the top 10% nationally at age 11 were not in the top 25% at GCSE 5 years later. These youngsters are drawn disproportionately from the white working class.”
I don’t contend for a moment that this is a silver bullet solution, but it would be an essential part of a wider package radically reforming our education system. If we want to build a country where you can go as far as your talents will take you, whatever your background, than the reintroduction of grammar schools, direct grant schools and the Assisted Places Scheme would be a progressive stride forward.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty