The grammar school false dawn

Many people are now erroneously talking about a new grammar school opening in Kent. This is, of course, impossible because it would be against the law. It has however temporarily brought this old debate back into the news.

The reaction amongst the cosy cartel in the media, staffed by a privately educated elite, has been entirely negative. The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, the Independent and, of course, our totally unbiased nationalised media corporation the BBC, have been expressing their disdain in unison.

They sit all too comfortably at the higher echelons of society protected by a glass ceiling.

The “new” school is only allowed to open in the form of an ‘annexe’ of an already existing school. It is illegal- in what we like to call a “free” country – actually illegal, to open a school that selects by ability.

Academically selective schools were irrationally closed en masse in an aggressive flurry of egalitarian fanaticism forty years ago. The idea that the way to improve the education system was to close the good schools, rather than concentrate on improving the underperforming ones, was always absurd and illogical. This act of vandalism was purely driven by ideology.

When New Labour rose to power, one of the first things they did to celebrate their overwhelming victory was to make it illegal to open new grammar schools. This was a disgraceful act of spite and a huge victory for leftist ideology.

To think there are still leftists who don’t realise their dogma is the overwhelmingly dominant force in this country, even while they do a victory dance through the media and every one of our institutions, they laughably think of themselves as the underdogs. The closing of the grammar schools was one of their greatest victories. Sadly, those on the right were either complicit or too weak in their opposition.

While I think the opening of an annexe is a good thing, I wouldn’t go as far as celebrating or getting prematurely excited. In most of this country this legal dodge is impossible because there are no grammar schools and therefore there is nothing to annexe.

Talk of a “new wave of grammar schools” is naive, the very fact that the government are using a legal dodge to allow the annexe to open indicates they have no plans to change legislation.

Many in the party can’t bear the thought of the reaction from the Labour Party, the unions and the media (especially the BBC) if they were to repeal the ban. For a “modernised” Conservative Party it is a fight they are simply not willing to pick. Besides, there are many in the party who outwardly oppose academic selection, including the privately educated David Cameron and Nicky Morgan.

Like many critics of grammar schools David Cameron has sent his children to an elite state school which is unofficially selective and reserved for the rich. His daughter goes to St. Mary Abbots, an exclusive Church of England establishment off Kensington High Street. It’s a state comprehensive alright, in the same way Number 10 is an inner city terrace. Although such schools are inaccessible to most of the population they allow Cameron to boast about using a state school and it conveys a certain image to the gullible.

He’s one in a long line of hypocrites who opposes grammar schools, champions comprehensives, and then sends their own children either private, to a grammar or an elite state school that selects by wealth.

Tony Crosland, Shirley Williams, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Diane Abbott and Ruth Kelly all chose private schools, for example. Harriet Harman – just years after her party banned academic selection in new schools- chose a grammar for her own children because she wanted the best for them and that was more important than her principles.

In choosing an exclusive school Cameron is following in the footsteps of Tony Blair and, disappointingly, Michael Gove, who snubbed his local school – despite heaping praise on it to promote his reforms – and sent his own children to an elite girls only Church school. Their actions are extremely telling and we should not stand for it.

To improve education standards we need a diversity not uniformity. We need the state to get out of the way rather than constantly dictating, tinkering and imposing the dogma of the establishment. We need parents to have freedom of choice.

There are many strong arguments for grammar schools to be made, and I will make them, but right now I will simply say this; the law is unjust.

An elite of ideologues decided that they don’t think its “right” to select by ability. Egalitarians hate competition and meritocracy, so nobody can have the choice. This is what the left think of as “social justice”. It is disgustingly illiberal. Academic selection doesn’t fit with egalitarianism and so a blanket ban is the only way to impose their ideas on the rest of us.

All the while elitist politicians of all parties send their children to schools that select by stealth and wealth, located in enclaves for the rich. Except those who brazenly send their children to private schools.

Egalitarianism does not create equality, it only lowers standards and erodes liberty. The British class system is as rigid as ever and the upper class establishment has pulled up the ladder of social mobility.

Repeal this foolish law. Allow schools that select by ability to open again, watch children flourish and standards raise. If those who laud comprehensive schools stand by them, what do they have to fear from competition from grammar schools?

I believe ideological opponents of grammar schools are terrified of how successful they would be… If they’re wrong about that, what else might they be wrong about?


Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty web editor and a Brexit campaigner.  His political philosophy is an organic hybrid of classical liberalism and conservatism underpinned by a healthy instinctual scepticism. Follow him on Twitter:  @TheScepticIsle

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