Each week we ask experts to come up with answers to the questions dominating the headlines.
Last week, the debate about selective education returned to the mainstream as Conservative Mayor of London—and prospective parliamentary candidate for Uxbridge—Boris Johnson used his LBC radio phone-in to state that scrapping grammar schools was “a real tragedy for this country.” His comments followed Home Secretary Theresa May’s support for the possibility of a new grammar school in her constituency. Debates about education—particularly when the topic relates to opportunities for the poorest children—always ignite passions, but public opinion on this issue proves tantalisingly difficult to gauge: a YouGov poll last year found that just 37 per cent of the public supported expanding grammar schools, but only 25 per cent opposed them entirely.
If grammar schools alone hold the key to social mobility, then something’s gone badly, badly wrong. Schools, regardless of their intake and the student population, should be geared up towards improving the life chances of every single young person who comes through the door at 11, and leaves five years later at 16. Every school should do everything within its power to ensure that every young person is well qualified when they leave. But what defines “qualifications?” For me, it isn’t merely a smattering of GCSE certificates and BTECs, but a strong whiff of the rich, vibrant and downright beautiful British national cologne, of which we, as a nation, should be rightly proud. To truly educate is to inspire. A truly comprehensive education system is the way to inspire social mobility; to help anyone achieve their very, very best. Matthew Burton, Teacher and star of Channel 4’s Educating Yorkshire
An escape route
The existing grammar schools provide a useful illustrative example of what our most able young people are capable of, and I would recommend spending some time working at one to any secondary teacher. They also provide one of the few dependable routes from state schooling to prestigious courses at top universities. What they do not do is contribute any great degree of social mobility. They are dominated by the…