Peter Hitchens writes:
Take my posting of 17th January 2007 (1.52 pm) still reachable on the archives:
‘I don't propose a crude return to the pre-1965 world. I favour the German system, of selection in consultation between parents, teachers and pupils, with those who feel they have been wrongly assessed being allowed two years to prove themselves in grammar schools, and the possibility of late transfers. I'd add that being compelled, by inexorable fate, to attend a bog-standard comprehensive because you live in its catchment area is much crueller than being compelled to go to a secondary modern because you failed a reasonably fair exam. The secondary moderns were not that good (more on this later) but they were in many cases better than modern comprehensives.’
On page 145 of 'The Broken Compass’, which contains my most complete statement of position on this subject in the chapter 'The Fall of the Meritocracy' I say of the 'reformers' who smashed up the grammar schools: ‘They might have called for the building of more grammar schools...they might have offered a second chance to transfer at 13...they might have put one tenth of the effort into improving the secondary moderns that they would later put into creating and building huge new comprehensives. They might have created the missing technical schools which this country still needs so badly. They did none of those things.’
I then repeat the anecdote of Randolph Churchill's operation to remove a non-malignant growth, and Evelyn Waugh's joke that the doctors had found the only non-malignant part of Randolph Churchill and removed it - a joke I often tell to illustrate the following point; that there were undoubtedly major faults in pre-1965 secondary state education, but that these were not solved by destroying the one part of the system that actually worked.
I have several times drawn attention to the fact that, by the time they were abolished, a significant number of Secondary Moderns were teaching to 'A' level and getting their pupils into university.
And so on.
He goes on:
Wrecking the grammar schools took from everyone, and gave to nobody. Standards in general in British secondary education, state and private, fell disastrously and will probably never recover, inflicting permanent national damage. Within an inferior system, the comparatively better schools (though few if any were of the standards now lost) were henceforth reserved for the better-off, with the poor entirely excluded from advancement though education. Selection on merit had been replaced by selection through money, parental ingenuity and clout. The research of John Marks (The Betrayed Generation) shows that secondary modern pupils in a selective system (he used Northern Ireland as his model, still a functioning selective system, unlike the distorted patchy survivals in parts of England from which little can be learned) did better than comparable pupils in a fully comprehensive system.
As Big Brother limps on, think of the people you know who went to Secondary Moderns, and consider that if their children and grandchildren had had the same opportunities, then it would never have made it beyond series one, or even been commissioned at all. Never mind who would have watched it. Who would have appeared in it?
Grammar schools delivered higher standards across the board, and continue to do so in the few places fortunate enough still to have them, notably Kent, where the campaign against Thatcher’s comps was for so long spearheaded by the late Eric Hammond. Sending fifty per cent of people to university in nothing new in Northern Ireland; by definition, they cannot all have gone to grammar schools. No one seriously expects this to survive the imposition of comprehensivisation there by Peter Hain as a punishment.
Comprehensivisation has been, and remains, much beloved of the nastiest, most tribal Tories. It saved mercantile schools, and it is still what keeps ninety per cent of them in business. It also suits the intensely nasty and tribal New Labour down to the ground, allowing them to pretend to be sending to children to “comprehensive” schools when in fact the institutions in question are indistinguishable from their profit-driven counterparts, on account (so to speak) of tiny catchment areas within which house prices are out of this world, or complicated feeder primary arrangements, or so many other dastardly devices.
Ministerial defence of the grammar schools came from “Red Ellen” Wilkinson of the Jarrow Crusade, and from George Tomlinson. Academic defence came from Sidney Webb and R H Tawney. Vigorous practical defence came from Labour councillors and activists around the country, not least while Thatcher, as Education Secretary, was closing so many that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled. Of Kent and Eric Hammond, we have already spoken. The Gymnasien were restored by popular demand, as soon as the Berlin Wall came down, in what is still the very left-wing former East Germany. And they were successfully defended by the general populace in the Social Democratic heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia.
This is a cause of the Left against Thatcherism and Blairism alike. Let us take it up as such.