Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Graham Brady is right

Like most people on the centre-left, I have grown up with the idea that Grammar Schools are elitist and socially divisive. But the ongoing row in the Tory Party over the issue has forced me to take a fresh look at this, and in particular to ask myself what a "progressive" position on academic selection would look like in today's world.

Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that Graham Brady is right when he argues that selection by academic ability is a greater engine of social mobility than selection by house prices.

Near to where I live in Derbyshire, there is a former Grammar School which nevertheless retains many of the facets of one, which is regarded for miles around as the school to get your children into.

As a result, house prices in that village and the surrounding area are a good 20-30pc higher than in those areas which lie slightly outside the catchment area, meaning that only better-off families can in fact afford to send their kids there.

I don't doubt that there are countless other examples of this kind of effect across the country, a consequence of the exponential growth in house prices since comprehensive education was but a twinkle in Tony Crosland's eye.

By ditching his party's previous policy on creating new grammars, Tory leader David Cameron thinks he is being "modern" and "progressive." In fact he is doing what the Tory Party has historically always done - standing up for the interests of the wealthy elite who can afford homes near the top state schools against those who have to make do with what Alastair Campbell called "bog standard" comprehensives.

In my view, if Gordon Brown wants to lead a genuinely progressive government, as well as outflanking Cameron on an issue of real concern to the hard-working classes, he should take a very close look at what Graham Brady and the other Tory rebels are saying.

How about this for an autumn conference speech soundbite, Gordon? "Read my lips - no selection by house prices or interview under a Labour Government."

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10 comments:

G Eagle Esq said...

Dear Paul

Your point is well-made

... but if you now realize that you were wrong on Grammar Schools, are there any other "left-of-centre" "Progressive" issues on which you have been wrong

Yr obedt servt etc

G Eagle

BondWoman said...

The point about house prices and social mobility may well be very true, but selection at 11 has pernicious effects upon the psychology of those who 'suffered' it. Believe me - I've lived with two men who failed their 11 pluses...

dk said...

Secondary schools are only a part of the educational mix. In the 60's and 70's, 5% of the school leavers went to university (though another 6% went to polytechnics, now called universities, and others went to teaching training colleges).

This govt seems to want 50% of the popualtion to go to university; its already up to 45%.

If grammar schools were re-introduced for the top 15-20% of state school children, it would still mean that large numbers of secondary-modern, 11+ failures, would go to unversity. That is a long way from the original concepts, and may not work fairly, or well.

Without disagreeing with your general thoughts, there is no surfeit of joined-up thinking here.

VFTN said...

Isn't the whole point that it is because grammars are so politically divisive that the Tories are right to abandon them. The reality is that if the Tories went into the next election backing more grammars they would have to spend an awful lot of time trying to explain to parents that if their child was not bright enough to go to a grammar it would not be the end of the world and they would actually benefit from an education that suited their child. And despite the merits of that argument many parents would still decide their child might "lose" in a selective system and would not be prepared to take that risk. Instead they can vote Labour and continue to mortgage themselves to the hilt for a house in the "right" catchment area. Its a crackers system but a safe bet.
This is why even in the years when the Tories supported grammars they didn't open any more. DC is finally realising better to ditch an argument that cannot be won and instead focusing on proposing an education policy the electorate might support and so might actually get put into action.

skipper said...

Brady claimed his data proved that selection raised overall educational standards in an area, citing improved GCSE results. Without having studied the data first hand this would seem to make sense: where a grammar school exists more middle class families acquire houses and educational performance improves accordingly as more motivating middle-class families motivate their kids to do that bit better.

Unique Directories said...

Thank you for taking time to write such good articles for us

james higham said...

And private schools are even more eleitist.

By the way, Paul ... don't forget to get those nominations in for the Blogpower Awards - vote early and vote often!

GJB said...

As a Conservative, it's great to see the left finally coming round to our way of thinking.

It's a shame too that just as this is happening, Cameron is trying to abandon it.

Contrary to what the left thinks, the Tories have never been against social justice (even when the term was first popularised as an insult in the Civil War), we just differ on how to achieve it. See here for more.

james higham said...

I think DK has a point here about percentages. Should we run a quota system based on percentage of places from grammar, private and sm or should it solely be based on best three scores at A Levels?

Mike Ion said...

I recognise that I come very late to this particular thread but...

According to a study by Professor Jesson (2005) - a statistical comparison of the GCSE and GNVQ results of all grammar school pupils with those of the top 25% (of "grammar school ability") in comprehensive schools - which indicated that the comprehensive schools had done slightly better overall. There is also evidence that fully comprehensive systems reduce the gaps in attainment between children of different abilities and between children from different social class backgrounds. Selective systems cost more to run, increase social exclusion and limit choice of schools for parents and pupils. The long-term effects on pupils failed by the system cannot be quantified. It is often forgotten that all primary schools are comprehensive as are all FE institutions.

The familiar claim that selective schools offer an "escape from poverty" to clever children otherwise denied real educational opportunities, has relied heavily on highlighting individual successes without establishing how representative they are. In the past, the most academically selective schools were also the most socially selective. The surviving grammar schools are, in the main, schools for the middle-classes. In England in 2005, the proportion of children eligible for free school meals (an imperfect but commonly used indicator of social disadvantage) was much lower in selective than in non-selective schools in every one of the 36 local authorities which retain at least some grammar schools. In the 15 LEAs with around 20% or more of their pupils in grammar schools, the average percentage of children eligible for free school meals in those schools was 1.8% compared with an English average of 18.1%.


The idea of "choice" in education is all too often ill-defined. Parents can exercise a preference in terms of schools: few can exercise any real choice. A selective system of schooling does not lead to diversity of provision it simply leads to division. Selection is not the creation of choice, rather it is the denial of choice for the many.


Progressive politicians like Gordon Brown are surely of the view that it is now time to address the archaic and socially exclusive policy of academic selection. Who knows, perhaps it will be a case of fourth term lucky.