Yet another opinion poll has demonstrated that a majority of the electorate back the setting up of more grammar schools where parental demand for them exists. A YouGov survey for The Times found that 54 per cent of voters would support such a move, with only 23 per cent opposed. Faced by a general election that will be contested even more fiercely than usual, a Tory manifesto that commits itself to parental choice in this matter should be a ‘no brainer’. As with the thorny issue of immigration, Ukip has been quick to seize the initiative. It the only party that, currently, has a commitment to restoring grammar schools where there is a local demand. How sensible, how democratic and how ‘streetwise’!
The best the Coalition Government has been able to offer is an unfulfilled promise to allow existing grammar schools to expand – almost an irrelevance in view of the huge demand for places. Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has complained that the 164 surviving grammar schools are packed with middle class kids. Locked into the socialist mind-set of Harold Wilson and the ‘swinging Sixties’, he is passionately against the creation of any more grammar schools. The product of a grammar school education, himself, he is happy to pull away the ladder that allowed him, and many youngsters from less than privileged backgrounds, a chance to fulfil their potential.
The Chief Inspector really does seem to believe in teaching that matches the talents and ability of each child. How sad, then, that he refuses to see how the ‘egalitarian’ system of comprehensive schools is failing not only academically talented pupils but, also, those many pupils who are best served by a vocational education. If we want every child to succeed we need to match teaching to aptitude. We need a choice of pathways and we need to get away from the misplaced notion that ‘vocational’ is inferior to ‘academic’. Our ‘skills’ shortage in many areas of employment is not going to be solved by grammar schools, alone. We need high quality vocational schools as much as we need grammar schools.
Under the post-war tripartite system of grammar schools, technical schools and secondary modern schools, it was a true outrage that grammar schools received more money and resources than the ‘techs’ and the ‘sec mods’. If anything, a new generation of vocational schools should receive more investment than a new generation of grammar schools. The resources demanded by top quality vocational education are likely to exceed what is needed in academic schools.
We must get away from the ‘one size fits all’ mentality with regard to public examinations, too. Government education policy has been focused too heavily on ‘structure’, in terms of choice of schools. Yes, we do need school choice, including a new generation of grammar schools and of vocational schools. But what good is a choice between different types of school if, at the age of 16, everyone has to sit the same examination – the discredited GCSE?
We need lots more grammar schools, especially in deprived areas of the country. We need top quality vocational schools, everywhere. We need a choice of public examinations. The ‘status quo’ is not an option.