16 May 2007

What to make of Tory U turn on Grammar Schools.

David Willetts on Grammar schools;

"there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it."

Now that the Tories have finally admitted what we on the Left have been saying for years, how can they still defend the existing grammar schools?

The Labour party fear the Press and Middle England reaction to abolishing them - but now the Tories have admitted that grammar schools are harmful - what is their excuse?

In effect this is a headline grabbing statement for the Tories that makes little difference to their policies. They knew that opening more grammar schools and introducing more selection was out of the question anyway (even Thatcher knew this), so they probably thought why not use this non-issue to help continue the false re-branding of the Tories as caring & sharing.

As Polly Toynbee says the Tories may be wolves in sheep's clothing but the Labour party is not shooting them down at the moment. We should be.

What also worries me is what the Tories see in academy schools as advantageous to their voters. A lot of us on the left are deeply worried about Blair's schools - especially the evangelical take over of some of them. Cameron has found another issue to paint himself as the 'heir to blair' but hopefully people will get to know the real Cameron once the election comes.


  1. now the Tories have admitted that grammar schools are harmful

    Er, no they haven't; they've said that they are not the engine of social mobility that everyone claims, but they haven't said that they're harmful.


  2. So to say that something 'entrenches advantage' is not to say it is harmful?

  3. It doesn't matter how much money is spent on schools, anything that is given free will not be valued. Ask Ruth Kelly, Diane Abbot etc.

  4. Of course it matters how much is spent on state education. It can always be spent more wisely and you can have that argument - but spending money is improving things.

    The facts are that we spend among the least per head on education in the EU, so there is plenty of scope for better funding.

    The right make the same argument over the NHS and inefficiency - 'it is all wasted anyway so lets cut spending' they say, but the facts don't bear out this argument - the US spends twice per capita what we do on health but only a fraction of their population get better healthcare the vast majority get worse (80% in opinion polls) are crying out for an NHS like ours - but their electoral system prevents them from ever getting it.

    To those people who use private health and education I'm sure they do think that ANY money spent on the NHS and state education is wasted - the majority however think differently to this.

  5. Neil (24/5 12:05),

    The "majority" would like a return to capital punishment; are the majority always right?

  6. If you believe in democracy then overall you believe the majority will make a reasonable decision if they are provided with reasonably full and complete information. I believe that after a comprehensive debate on capital punishment, the majority would vote against it in a referendum. Depending on how you ask the question you can already get this result from opinion polls.

    Any democracy relies on the media being reasonable, unfortunately most of our press are extremely biased in favour of capital punishment. So after saying all the above, the answer to your question is yes, the majority are not always right, but that is not an argument against democracy.

  7. What really inflames me about this debate on grammar schools, is that it is argued wholly from the benefit of those who would go to a grammar school. The corollary of a grammar school in every town is several secondary moderns in every town.

    This is not just an idealogical issue for me, it is a highly personal one, for I failed the 11+ in 1971 and went to the local secondary modern. Perhaps some would dismiss me as being 'envious' of those who passed, but what I will admit to is being very angry about the poorer provision made for me and my fellows at the secondary modern. This for me is the crucial difference. A poor comprehensive is an example of a failing school, that given the political and administrative will, we can do something about; the secondary modern was *designed* to be inferior.

    Being rejected at 11 gave me one thing: it radicalised me. It made me sceptical of authority and made me trust my own judgements rather than those of the 'elite', whether the elite are trying to justify the unjustifiable in Iraq or shove the Poll Tax or ID Cards down my throat.

    The 11+ was pants at spotting academic aptitude anyway. Within six years failing at 11, I'd won an open scholarship to Oxford and taken a first in Mathematics 3 years after that. For every one of me, there were a hundred who could have benefited from a better chance, but acquiesced in the LEA's assessment of them as 'stupid', and never achieved what they could have achieved. What a waste.

    My disappointment with Labour is that it doesn't close down the remaining grammar schools. But then that just matches dismay at its drift rightwards on so many other isseus as well.

  8. Well said Stephen, I failed my 11+ as well and as a result got a worse school, shouldn't it be the other way round?

    Shouldn't the schools for the disadvantaed be better funded?

    Or better still, why design schools to be inferior in the first place.

    The Tories finally announce a policy (one they have always had anyway) and then start to scwabble over the emphasis.

    They state grammar schools "entrench advantage' for the better off, then decide that they would like more of them - sort of sums up their priorities.

    I just hope that this prolonged argument of theirs has an impact on the electorate who currently view them as more united.

    Tip for Cameron that I'm sure their new NOTW policy wonk - Coulson will advise is; if you want to remain united stick to having no policies - that is about the only thing this Tory rabble could agree on.