The reluctance of Labour leaders to face up to the question of selection at eleven has now gone on long enough to be a “tradition”. Even now, during a leadership contest, when you might think that Labour MPs might regard themselves as off the hook in terms of constraining their remarks within the bounds of Front Bench policy, some still say things like
We are opposed to selection at eleven, but the mechanism for removing selection at eleven in local areas is through a local parental ballot. It is very difficult in some parts of the country where we have parliamentary candidates, where we need to win seats, where a lot of local parents are signed up to this idea, wrongly in my view, that a grammar school system and a secondary modern school system somehow is better for children, but it is a fact that that exists there on the ground I’m afraid and something that we need to find a way to move that debate on and that is the way I was hoping that we would do so had we been elected.
Many see in this a lack of principle and a willingness to let unsubstantiated electoral concerns trump clearly established educational harm. It is clearly something that needs to be properly discussed as opposed to merely repeating Front Bench positions.
So it is very helpful that a long-standing Labour Party member and active member of the Party’s National Policy Forum has expressed her concern with the lack of responsiveness of the Party leaders and its educational team to the issue of selection. Carol Hayton has explained in the current issue of Forum how she has repeatedly tried to engage them in discussion but without success.
This has to change. As Carol Hayton says
There is no end of compelling evidence that demonstrates that selection at age 11 is fundamentally wrong both morally and pragmatically. … It concerns me that a party that advocates a progressive approach to policy and claims to be guided by a sense of social justice has done very little to alleviate [the] detrimental impact in those areas where the selective system prevails.
It is high time for Labour to reject the idea that local authority provision means “one size fits all”. Local authority control, or indeed any other form of local democratic management, does not require the elimination of diversity. On the contrary, working properly, it provides a framework within which schools feel free to experiment and innovate. The point about it is that in contrast with the Conservative governments drive to making all schools into independent units, it provides a cohesive framework for people in each locality to connect with the school system and express their ideas for it through local democratic accountability.