Theresa May plans radical education reform

Theresa May has announced some surprising education reforms which herald a new push for radicalism

On Friday morning there was a surprise announcement by Theresa May of a government plan to shake up the education system and allow schools to become selective. In effect, putting an end to the arbitrary ban on Grammar schools in this country.

Grammar schools have for a long time been very contentious and Theresa may has gone to onerous lengths to frame her arguments for them, saying:

“I want Britain to be the world’s great meritocracy – a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow.”

“For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established – sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and it’s selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.”

“This is about being unapologetic for our belief in social mobility and making this country a true meritocracy – a country that works for everyone,”

These proposals are significantly more radical than any Michael Gove even proposed in his time as education secretary, as this reform doesn’t just affect some schools, or just free schools – every school in England will be given the chance to become a grammar school.

In response there has been the predictable uproar from many on the Left. But despite some very vocal opponents, this is actually a very popular policy among the general public. In a recent poll by Sky Data, some 60% of respondents stated that they backed the proposals, while 27% were against and 13% didn’t know or failed to answer.

I suspect this is a row that will die down much like the row over academies, once people start seeing the policy work. In the end most people are perfectly fine with having sets in school, but vigorously opposed to Grammars. Which tends to suggest it is more of a visceral opposition rather than one which is thought out, and will likely subside.

In the same speech May also announced several further important reforms;

  • Faith schools will now be able to select purely on faith – lifting rules which required them to have 50 per cent of their places available to children from other religious groups.
  • Universities which want to raise fees will now be required to found a new school or sponsor an underperforming institution.

Toby Young, who will be one of our speakers at this year’s Freedom Fizz drinks reception, also did an interesting set of tweets on his thoughts on the announcement.

Thomas is director of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow him on Twitter: @Thomas_Stringer

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty


  1. It is not only the left who are in uproar

    As with so many opinion polls, the result is hugely dependent on exactly how you ask the question. If you ask – “would you like more grammar schools” the answer tends to be “yes” – if you ask “would you like 25% of children to be selected at age 11” – the answer tends to be “no”.

    It is probably more relevant to consider the pros and cons of the policy.

    The fact that there are some areas of England that have grammar schools, and very similar areas that do not, allows for an unusually scientific and objective analysis. The conclusions can be summarised:

    * Grammar schools mostly attract rich parents’ kids
    * Rich parents’ kids do better at grammar schools than they do at comprehensive schools
    * However overall standards are lower in grammar school areas – presumably because those (on the whole poorer) kids that are not selected do worse

    Some may decide that this it is nevertheless preferable to have grammar schools but this is about as solid evidence as you will ever get for an education policy.

    PS I went to a grammar school a very long time ago.

    • I think you are grossly overstating the case here. A tiny amount of very overt subscribed grammars left in small, affluent areas of the country in Kent and Buckinghamshire can only have severely limited things to tell us about
      an evenly distributed national system. Extremely spurious to call this hard evidence of anything but the situation in Kent and Buckinghamshire, where places are very limited indeed.

      Far better to look at the success of the German system, and in Northern Ireland too.

      Additionally, I really think this requires more out of the box thinking. The German system does not have the 11 plus, its admission are more flexible and provide a better example to follow. I don’t disagree with a quota either.

    • You also, very typically, the situation with comprehensives. Every one of the common arguments against grammars applies to the comprehensive system, which selects by wealth.

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