Theresa May wants to give parents more choice over where they send their children to school. Her mission to furtheir “access to opportunity” will mean allowing the creation of more grammar schools. Yet the prospect of Mrs May’s education system having what she called an “element of selection” has sent the Left into apoplexy.
Labour’s shadow education Angela Rayner accused the Government of “advocating social segregation”. Former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn declared in the Guardian that more academically selective schoools would be a “disaster”. Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh insisted that the plan would help “just the few” and should be consigned to the rubbish bin of history”. But have they stopped to ask parents how they felt about having more grammar schools available?
YouGov did last October, and found most (58 per cent) Britons want more grammar schools, but only disagree on how many more should be created. Another poll carried out by them last month found a similar level of support (59 per cent), with just one in four (24 per cent) opposing the creation of new selective schools.
Parents may have their ideological scepticism towards grammar schools, but that relaxes when they’re asked if they would try getting their children into one. YouGov found that approximately two-thirds (62 per cent) would have them sit the entrance exam for one, and a similar proportion (67 per cent) would go on to send them there if they passed.
There is palpable demand among parents for the standard of education grammar schools can provide, so Theresa May is wise to respond to that. As a grammar school girl herself, she undoubtedly knows the impact they can have on children’s lives. Many Left-wing politicians would understand that too. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott have all been to grammar schools. Mr Corbyn’s spin-doctor Seumas Milne also went to a grammar school, and clearly found his education so useful that he sent his children to two of the best selective schools in the country.
That may explain why they’re staying quiet during this debate and leaving it to Angela Rayner to fight against the prospect of parents having more choice over where they could send their children.
The Liberal Democrats come into their own with their brass neck on the issue. Their education spokesman John Pugh may wail about grammar schools, despite having gone both to Prescot Grammar School and Maidstone Grammar School. They also seem to ignoring their own supporters, as YouGov found that those who voted Lib Dem in 2015 are more likely than the average voter to want the government to “encourage more schools to select by academic ability and build more grammar schools”.
Britain’s education system is far from perfect as it stands, so why is the Left so upset about Theresa May’s attempt to change that? Research published by Bristol University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation, Cambridge University and the Institute for Fiscal Studies last year found that the current system for state schools of basing admissions by closeness was one of the biggest drivers of inequality between rich and poor families as it effectively decided school places on “the size of your mortgage”. Is that really much fairer than the 11-plus? As Theresa May told MPs yesterday: “We have already got selection haven’t we – it’s called ‘selection by house price’.
Even if a child passes their “selection by house price”, what chance of success do they have later in life? A survey this February by YouGov found that state school pupils are much less confident about their future prospects than their peers who go to private school. Only 9 per cent of those at comprehensives think they will be “very successful” in the world of work, whereas that number rises to half (50 per cent) among private school students. The last poll YouGov carried out on the quality of state education, in 2013, found that 40 per cent of Britons thought standards had got worse over the past three years, with only 4 per cent suggesting they had improved. It’s no wonder then that the same poll found over half (52 per cent) said they would send their children to private school if they had the money.
Parents understandably want the best education for their children, which the Prime Minister is hoping to offer by ensuring to Britain’s schools are “catered for the different needs of all children”. But Lefties are acting as if she wants to usher in a sweeping dystopia where every child’s future is determined solely by the successor to the 11-plus. Mrs May and her colleagues are already working on making this test fairer so that children from all backgrounds can get in, with 66 grammar schools already prioritising applications from those on free school meals. Grammar schools are not becoming the only model on offer, despite what you may think from the hysteria they spark from critics.
The inevitable furore over the question of having more grammar schools should boil down to what parents think. They are crying out for more good schools, and are open to the idea of this meaning a greater number of grammars. So why are Left-wingers so keen to deny them that choice?
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