The Grammar School Question

I hadn’t anticipated listening to the claptrap about grammar school reintroduction today but I heard an interview with Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, on Radio 4 this morning ostensibly about NATO peace keepers that veered into education towards the end and now I’m cross. I’ve generally given up on Radio 4 in the mornings since Nick Robinson joined the team but the courtesy car I’ve got has a dodgy aerial and can’t hold onto a music station very well.

Something Fallon (privately educated) said really stood out, for all the wrong reasons, which is really no surprise when it comes to education:

“That’s the kind of choice I want to see in every part of the country,[Everywhere] should have a choice, a proper choice of good schools. Not a choice that’s passing the 11-plus and then failing it and having to go off to a sink school of the kind that has let our children down so badly.”

Apparently we currently have a system that doesn’t have a good choice of schools, and basically sees the majority end up at sink schools. I’ve taken the quote from a newspaper article but did hear it spoken, and it confuses the hell out of me. Half the ills in schools at the moment come from an obsession with testing, bench marking and administration, the other half comes from chronic under-funding. Personally I’ve seen my nine year old son’s love of writing crushed under a need to make sure his paragraphs have fronted adverbials or other such nonsense included that when googled only seem to appear on school curriculum websites. I’m not alone in detesting this, Michael Rosen isn’t a fan either.

What May has said in terms of school selection already existing, it’s called ‘selection by house price’, is true enough; in some parts of our city, the proximity of a good secondary school can add a couple of hundred thousand pounds to the value of a house but conversely the idea that (re)introducing grammar schools with selective entrance will somehow rectify the situation is at best facile and at worst intentionally misleading.

As it stands, somewhere between 80-85% of pupils at the 160 odd selective state schools we still maintain have had a private prep school education. If May, Fallon or Greening think that those who aren’t well off enough to afford private fee paying education and maybe live on the fringes of a catchment area for a top state school can’t or won’t find the money for private tuition or coaching for entrance exams for a grammar school education, I want whatever they’re on. The goalposts will move but the poorer will not benefit.

The Conservative dogma that “choice” begats competition that begats a rise in standards has been comprehensively proven wrong as we sit here contemplating a privately run rail system that receives £4bn in public subsidies a year, pays a couple of hundred million to the franchise holders owners (in some instances the owners are overseas, so the money is removed from the UK economy), only to see us have the most expensive and cramped service in Western Europe.

The confusion isn’t helped when those involved in education (in this case, look back to Gove in 2013) don’t even understand fairly simple maths:


The way to improve the standard of education isn’t simply to have a headline policy about grammar schools, which, like the free school meals sounded great but in implementation hasn’t been particularly sound, it is to do a root and branch overhaul of the education system that goes far past paying hundreds of consultants a couple of grand a day each to do a review which passes through committee, gets watered down and then sees no real end product.

We’ve stiffed our kids generation with so many policies in recent years, from Brexit to university fees, and everywhere in between, it’s about time we found some way to repay them. A properly funded and resourced primary and secondary education system that addresses the needs of the child rather than the needs of a league table or an assessment would be a great start to this, grammar schools won’t help.