Recent days have seen the possibility of a new wave of grammar schools and this signals a potential reversal of decades of political ideology over practical reality. One of the most contentious aspect of our education system is the 11+ and selective education. Here in Grantham we are steeped in the grammar school system with alumni of the respective selective schools being towering figures on the world stage, such as Newton and Thatcher. The abiding principle was, and remains in those areas fortunate enough to retain grammar education, that ability is paramount. Few can doubt the popularity of selective education with parents from across the region fighting hard to get their children into our local schools. Ironically some of the greatest critics, both locally and nationally, of selective education seem to get selective amnesia when their own children are granted the opportunity to pass through the 11+ system.
About the only serious criticism of grammar schools is they don’t provide the same level of education for everyone and can dominate local education to the detriment of other schools. The equality argument is at best bizarre and at worst strikingly dangerous. There aren’t enough public sector houses to go round. Would it then make sense to demolish all those houses and make everyone except the rich live in tower blocks? Of course not. Yet this mad principle – that if everyone cannot have something, nobody can have it – governs our education policy. More worryingly the equality position engenders a belief that the world is a fair and equal place which patently it isn’t. Perhaps one of the most important lessons we can teach our children is that life isn’t fair and in fact can be hard and full of disappointment. What defines us as adults is our ability to deal with adversity not how we sit in the corner crying about how unfair it all is.
Thankfully Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, seems to be prepared to look past the cloudy politics of envy and do what a great many parents know to be right and reintroduce selective education. Interestingly this reversal wouldn’t be unique. When communism collapsed in East Germany, thousands of parents petitioned their new free state governments to restore the grammar schools which their Stalinist rulers had ruthlessly replaced with comprehensives. The truth is that comprehensive schools, have never been designed to improve education. Their inventor, Graham Savage, actually admitted that his plan would hold back bright children. They are simply a system of education designed to produce an equality of outcome regardless of ability. The enemies of choice in education repeatedly lie about them. Because a tiny few oversubscribed schools are dominated by the middle class, they claim that a national system, available to all, would have the same problem. This obviously isn’t true, as half a century ago, everyone agreed that secondary modern schools were not working. Everybody knew that the technical schools, promised in 1944, had not been built.
The sad fact is that the current system of state run schools are entirely selective, not on ability of child however, but on grounds of parental salary. Their pupils are picked on the basis of their parents’ income and therefore ability to live in the right catchment area. To those of us, like me, who struggle to understand why the state deems it necessary to involve itself in every aspect of people’s lives, grammar education remains are real achievement of state intervention. Both sides of the argument speak of the importance of social mobility. But one of the chief causes and symptoms of social mobility is a strong and growing middle class. The middle class is the most successful way of making a family flourish in a post-industrial society, so it must and will grow. Part of that flourishing results from an interest in education.
Grammar schools, like King’s and KGGS work. They provide a world class education to the brightest children regardless of background or wealth. Parents want them and they deliver for our children now is the time to restore them.