Sunday, 7 August 2016

Failing The Grammar Test

Believe in new grammar schools when you see them.

Even the right-wing think tank boys are not keen on them. They prefer voucher schemes.

Those, such as the massively Labour-controlled Education Committee of Durham County Council, who fought vociferously to keep the grammar schools at the time, not least against Margaret Thatcher as Education Secretary, may very well have had a point.

But, as my friend Michael Merrick, a Blue Labour stalwart and a working teacher, has tweeted today, what makes anyone imagine that they could possibly recreate the grammar school ethos from scratch?

Thatcher, of course, went on to replace O-levels with GCSEs, a move opposed by an entire Parliamentary Labour Party that even then must have included Jeremy Corbyn.

Today's grammar school enthusiasts either want to blame "the system" for the disappointments of their own lives, or else they are annoyed that their own economic ideology has placed the commercial schools beyond their price range.

Theresa May barely attended a grammar school.

She spent only a couple of years at such an institution, between her time at a private school, and the merger (not merely the transition) of her girls' grammar school into the coeducational comprehensive that sent her to Oxford.

We all know that, regardless of the area, the working classes barely attended grammar schools, and almost never left them with A-levels. Where grammar schools still exist, that remains the case.

The famous exceptions are famous precisely because they were and are so exceptional.

There is no university in the United Kingdom that admits predominantly from the fee-paying sector.

There are nowhere near enough state grammar schools for them to dominate university admissions from state schools in general.

It is a laughable proposition that this country in the 1950s was more mobile socially than it is today, or indeed that it was better educated.

David Cameron once said that the question of the grammar schools was a "key test" as to whether the Conservative Party was "an aspiring party of government" or "a right-wing debating group".

It is in danger of choosing the latter path, even while in government.


  1. You've changed your tune.

    1. Quite a while ago now, but I don't deny it.

      The things that I regret have been lost from the grammar school tradition were destroyed by Thatcher's Education Act, quite some time after comprehensivisation.

      My old comp was still employing a Classics master until he retired just before my arrival there in 1989. He was not replaced. Not on the National Curriculum, you see. Founded in 1964, the school had been a comprehensive for most of its history.

  2. Lindsay is a hypocrite.

  3. Education Select Committee Chair making it clear tonight there's no Commons majority for this so that's that.

    1. Michael Gove used to indulge in similar grandstanding, in the same knowledge that there was no parliamentary possibility of his ever having to try and give effect to any of it.