Selective education is rising up the agenda: it’s no time for fudging

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Artists impression of the Sevenoaks "annexe"
Artists impression of the Sevenoaks “annexe”

According to the Kent on Sunday newspaper (page 11) Nicky Morgan is expected to approve the renewed application for a Sevenoaks “annex” to the Weald of Kent Grammar School.

The Conservatives have blown hot and cold on selective schooling. Some recognise that selection at eleven doesn’t have sufficient political legs to run very far but others just dream of a return to the way things were. The more considered opinion in the Conservative camp shows an awareness of what an electoral loser a system which assigns a minority of children a better future than the rest at the age of eleven can be. Not only that but some Conservatives recognise the good quality of their maintained secondary schools. Nevertheless, many Conservative MPs are supporting calls for more grammar schools. This includes Teresa May (who backs calls for a grammar school “extension” in her constituency) and Boris Johnson (who wants more grammar schools in London).

Divergent views on selective schooling also exist in the Labour Party. The overwhelming majority of Labour education activists oppose selection. However, the Shadow Education Secretary has made it clear that Labour will not move against existing grammar schools and that even though selection at eleven harms all children Labour will not end it. Labour prefers to focus on getting schools of all types to cooperate with each other under the guidance of a locally appointed Director of School Standards. Ambivalence over selection was clear in a statement by Claire Leigh, Labour Parliamentary candidate for Tonbridge & Malling who said that the proposed Sevenoaks annexe “seems unnecessary” because:

The Knole Academy has a highly rated Grammar Stream and has benefited from multi-million pound investments in the past two years. The Knole Academy Grammar Stream offers all the benefits of a diverse and comprehensive learning environment while also catering to different abilities.

Which suggests that selection between schools is not needed because it is going on within schools. Meanwhile London Mayoral hopeful David Lammy says that he supports selective schools in the capital.

UKIP wants “a grammar school in every town” and says that “Existing schools will be allowed to apply to become grammar schools and select according to ability and aptitude”. So, no problems with selection on their part! This forthright, if divisive, stance is putting pressure on the Tories. It find great favour in the Daily Mail and The Telegraph and among the general membership of the party. So the feeling is that if they do not want to lose votes to UKIP they should match their call for more grammar schools.

The Lib Dem’s position is similar to that of the Labour Party. They do not want to see more grammar schools created (without pronouncing on extensions) but would not move against existing grammar schools and the selection this involves. Support for grammar schools is higher among Lib Dem membership than it is in the Labour Party with the majority of those expressing a view in a poll on the question supporting grammar schools. All the same many Lib Dem members are opposed to selective schools.

What all this adds up to is the issue of selection at eleven being an election issue, at least in some constituencies. Poll results are perhaps ambivalent in that so much depends on the question but overall they appear to indicate that the majority of voters, despite all the hostile propaganda, are inclined to support non-selective education run within a local authority framework. That inclination will only be turned into votes if the work of campaigning and explanation is done. Nothing is to be gained by fudging the issues.

Interestingly Comprehensive Future has recently pointed out that there is a growing basis for cross-party consensus to oppose grammar schools making it even more urgent that Labour takes a clear stance and gives some leadership on the issue.

Some links materials on grammar schools are given below starting with a really handy document from the NUT.

1. The case against grammars summarised by the NUT

2. Two pieces from the SEA blog by John Bolt

Trafford, its Grammar Schools, what Graham Brady didn’t say and the Today programme didn’t ask

More nostalgia for selection – and why it’s wrong

3. Two contributions from Selena Todd

The recent Caroline Memorial Lecture on grammar school myths

On celebrating comprehensive schools, and the character they produce

4. Fiona Millar on the Sevenoaks grammar school project

5. Dean Burnett on the alleged ‘horrors’ of state school education

6. Lynsey Hanley on why bringing back grammars will not help working class children

7. E Jane Dickson on why grammar schools are not the answer

8. The majority of Lib Dems who have an opinion on the matter far more grammar schools

9. UKIP policy is to have a grammar school in every town

10. New grammar school in Kent edges towards approval

11. Nicky Morgan urged to approve new grammar school

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