Chris McGovern: An insidious new threat to grammar schools. Selection on class grounds not merit

A Guardian headline last December exclaimed, “Ofsted chief declares war on grammar schools”. The problem, according to Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector, is that they are “stuffed full of middle-class kids.” Without questioning why these schools are so popular he, effectively, denounced them by claiming that “grammar schools might do well with 10 per cent of the school population, but everyone else does really badly. What we have to do is makesure all schools do well in the areas in which they are located."

His call to arms and to class warfare neatly overlooked the fact that seven out of the top ten best performing local authorities at GCSE are in areas that include some grammar schools. He alsooverlooked the fact that many ‘secondary modern’ schools, for those who failed to get a grammar school place, do better than comprehensive schools. In addition, public examination results in Northern Ireland, where grammar schools and secondary modern schools have, until now, been retained, are consistently better than in the rest of the UK.

Most important of all, our Chief Inspector has chosen to ignore the wishes of the public. According to an opinion poll carried out by ICM 70 per cent of those questioned support the retention of the 232 grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland. Furthermore, 76 per cent would like to see some new state grammar schools, especially in urban areas where none survive. Only 17 per cent oppose this proposal. Support for grammar schools is strong across all age groups and all income groups but, especially, amongst the ‘young’; 85 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds want more grammar schools.

Given the ‘lip service’ paid by the educational establishment and by politicians to the principle of educating children in accordance with their needs and abilities, it is strange, indeed, that creation of more grammar schools is off the agenda. The Government has agreed that, in theory, existing grammar schools may expand but has, to date, found excuses for turning down all such requests.

Now, we hear that, in order to deal with the overwhelming demand for grammar school places a form of discrimination and rationing is to be introduced. Over half of grammar schools have decided toappease the Chief Inspector by giving priority to pupils on free school meals. This is seriously misguided. The ‘free school meal’ designation is an unreliable discriminator – many eligible do not claim (over 25 per cent in one study) and those falling marginally ‘above’ the line may still be in poverty. Similarly there are those below the line who, simply, choose not to work. And, now, of course, there is an educational incentive to be unemployed.

The fairer way to meet excessive demand is to create more places. The Education Act of 1996 emphasised “the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.” This principle could be honoured by creating lots and lots more grammar schools, not least in the most deprived areas. It would mean that we could meet the needs of academic pupils, whatever their background. Similarly, the creation of top quality vocational schools would, as in many successful economies, provide a pathway for the learning of more practical skills. Alternatively, if a local community wishes to retain comprehensive schools, that decision should be respected.

It is time to let parents have some real say in the choice of educational pathways for their children.

Chris McGovern
  • cityunslicker

    Gove stepped into ban expansion in Sevenoaks were demand is very high. Conservatives hate grammar schools and its seems hate any aspirational middle-class people. The votes they seek are of the left who have some funny ideas about driving down standards to reach equality for all.
    however, the conservatives are masters of ignorning popular opinion. it explains why they are in Coalition and also why they have allowed an upstart threat from the right to grab up to 50% of their electoratal base in the space of a few short years.

    • Vera

      The Tories are not really left wing. The problem lies with Dave, heir to Bliar, who like Bliar is all things to all people, and thinks that this is the formula for longevity in power. Like Bliar he is statesmanlike but has no real policies or principals. His policies depend on who he is addressing at that moment. The Tories deserve better.

  • lojolondon

    This is what happens when Labour stuffs quangos with their puppets. You get Labour strategies and decisions, even during a nominal ‘Conservative’ government.
    The Environment agency is another classic example – more concerned with minorities rights, saving the planet and hiring more people, rather than dredging rivers in an area like Somerset which lies at sea level.

  • Sapporo

    Under the coalition, more than two-thirds of quango appointments have Labour links. Admittedly, that is down from the 90% under the Labour Govt, but its shows a) how the Left have infected public administration and b) what little difference there is between LibLabCon.

  • derekemery

    Why is it allowed that the public sector is stuffed to the gunwales with left thinkers spewing out their confirmation biased based dogma all over the hapless public?
    See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060131092225.htm

    …Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix…

    …”None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged,” says Westen. “Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of
    negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.”
    What the UK public want is a return to the age of reason which is not something left wing emoting can ever offer.

  • RoadrunnerNick

    Chris, Sir Michael Wilshaw is not “our” Chief Inspector but Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (unless you are HM writing under a nom de plume).

  • GOM

    It is a tragedy that the Conservatives have joined Labour – and presumably the Lib Dems – in opposing grammar schools. For years we have bemoaned the stagnation of social mobility and our ‘skills shortage’ yet politicians of the main parties appear determined to genuflect to some left-wing ‘anti-elitist’ belief that grammars benefit only the ‘pushy’ middle classes! Create John Major’s grammar school in every town – thereby reducing the need for such sharp elbows – and we might start enabling all kids who would benefit from a more academic route without ill-thought out attempts at social engineering.

    • Vera

      It’s political posturing. Cameron feels he must occupy the middle ground. Well UKIP have shown him he has left a space to the right that they have stepped into. Each of the leaders of the 3 main parties has been a major disappointment to their parties who all feel they would be so much better off with someone else in that place. Ironic, no?

  • Adaadat

    Michael Gove is a superb confidence trickster. He, together with fake-conservative ‘Conservative’ MPs and fake conservatives of the right-wing press, has fooled so many to believe he is of the Right and a champion of freedom of choice and competition, that it really needs debunking. Why oppose Grammars competing with Academies, Free Schools and the remaining LEA-controlled Comps?

    The truth, as I see it, is that Gove is the one responsible for restricting Grammars from expanding; Gove‘s fingerprints are all over their cuts their funding; and Gove has orchestrated a change of their admissions policies. His curriculum reforms are largely a charade, too. Barring granting teachers greater powers of discipline over their pupils and performance-related pay, teachers have more, not less, freedom to teach how and what, as they see fit. They have greater freedom to teach from the Left, not lesser freedom. If you believe less socialism is needed in our classrooms, then this is worrying. Indeed, hasn’t he spoken with conviction of his objection to an Anglo-centric teaching of history and much else, preferring, by implication, a wishy-washy ‘United Nations’ approach? He’s on video record also (a Q&A after a CPS speech (?)), outlining his opposition to profit-making in the education sector – contrary to its success abroad and over-whelming success in the university sector (Willets’ domain, admittedly – another Leftie). The right-wing curriculum that the NUT bleats about, doesn’t exist. The educationalists’ hysterics would be laughable, were they not wholly unfounded, with children to continue to be failed by a collapsed secondary school system.

    Gove is also the son of adoptive parents and although we have yet to see much of how he plans to use this as an intellectual foundation for future policies, some of what is planned has become apparent. Together with continued MSM support, a future Conservative majority govt. (or maybe another LibCon Coalition) will dramatically expand the state’s current, horrific child snatching policy. The groundwork has already been laid.

    Firstly, the MSM has covered-up how the system has gone completely off the rails, trying to maintain our supposed support for the brave social workers, working with children only ever in truly dire straits; secondly we now have the requirement of the NHS to log every child’s hospital admission as potentially the result of abuse, giving social services another foot in the door they desperately crave; and thirdly, the new Orwellian crime of ‘emotional abuse’ has been introduced, so catch-all as to grant social workers and anyone else awarded pseudo-police powers to grab and hold on to children, ‘for their own protection’. Given glimmers of success have been seen in the work the govt. has done with the country’s 100,000 most problematic families, who are the additional 10,000s children who need to be removed from their parents, who can’t be rolled into the ‘problem family’ initiative, you might ask? Who knows. There was, once, an idea of sending problem children to boarding schools, where, for a fraction of the cost, they could be more successfully transformed into productive members of society. The arguments were superb, but, as with so much else, it hasn’t come to anything. Be under no doubts as to what Gove plans: 10,000s more children wrested from loving parents on trumped-up charges. North Korea, not Magna Carta.

    Overall, I really don’t think it is too strong to say that, given the current effects and those forthcoming of his policies, Michael Gove is a nasty piece of work, as are much of the right-wing commentariat. It pains me to say it. Add the Right’s support for HS2, ‘green’ policies and their hidden Europhila, it is more than pretty accurate.

    • Vera

      Sorry, I think Gove is the good guy hampered possibly by Cameron who seems to be a huggy huskie dogs, green loving liberal, whatever he is, he is not a Tory. Gove also has an uphill struggle in reform of education by the teaching unions and the left leaning teachers who believe prizes for all, no competition, dumbed down lessons and exams – too upsetting for children – which doesn’t prepare them for the real world.
      My husband and I were lucky enough to be educated in the 1950s. We both went to grammar schools and the pupils were around 90% working class. It took me until last week to understand why the Labour party were so intent on getting rid of grammar schoolds as they gave the working class the best start in life. It was selection by merit, not wealth as it is now. It came to me that grammar schools instilled aspiration, they gave working class children the opportunity to go to university, which was free then. The trouble with that as far as the Labour party was concerned once these children got their degrees, proper degrees in those days, they got good jobs, earned good salaries and tended to become Tory voters. And those pupils who didn’t go to university still got decent jobs. Unfortunately the Labour party is not the friend of the working class, but not many understand that.