The flipside of grammars is most children failingby Alan Johnson / September 8, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Theresa May spoke encouragingly about the deep inequality that still pervades our society as she launched what proved to be an unnecessary leadership campaign. As Prime Minister she’s taken the rhetoric a stage further, announcing a government audit, whatever that may be. But incongruously—and in my view, incredibly—she has told her MPs that, as part of this agenda, that she wants to see a re-birth of the grammar school.
Given the weight of evidence demonstrating the damage done by selective education, it’s rather like a new Health Secretary announcing that the NHS must go back to applying leeches. The proportion of poor children in grammars is vanishingly small; several English counties that retain selection have an especially marked class gap in GCSEs; and, the OECD’s number crunchers have looked round the world and concluded that early selection retards social mobility.
Nobody has put the argument more succinctly than May’s former colleague, David Willetts, when he said that grammar schools don’t spread advantage they entrench it. Willetts made that comment as my Conservative shadow when I was Education Secretary. David Cameron, his party leader, accused Willetts’s critics following the speech of “splashing around in the shallow end of the education debate.” But our new PM can get away with paddling in the same old pool because of the abiding myth that grammars rescued poor working-class kids, by offering a route out of deprivation.