Grammar Schools, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Sean Campbell

Last September, Theresa May announced the intention for the government to repeal the ban on the creation of new Grammar schools. In his Budget Statement this week Chancellor Phillip Hammond pledged £500 million for the expansion of Grammar schools for the next five years. Although they had never gone away at present there are 164 Grammar schools in existence, the green light for expansion of Grammar schools appear to be a key conservative Education policy for the coming years. Grammar schools are a form of selective education as to gain a place a child must pass an exam taken around the age of 11 commonly known as the 11+. The test is comprised of a verbal and non-verbal section that accesses the child’s reasoning.

A couple of weeks ago Neil Carmichael MP, who chairs the Common’s Education Committee criticised the Government’s plans to reintroduce Grammar schools as an ‘unnecessary distraction’.

According to Carmichael, since the announcement last year, there had been a lack of substantive practical policy that would demonstrate that the Education received by pupils would actually improve. Labour ministers have labelled this a ‘Vanity project’ that puts political motivations over actual practical utility.

Grammar schools are a contentious issue in politics as it is keenly debated on whether they actually improve or hinder social mobility. A recent study from Bristol and Warwick University along with University college London found that a child from a deprived area is significantly less likely to enter a Grammar school when compared to a child from an affluent background.   Despite these criticisms advocates of Grammar schools claim that they allow children to achieve their true potential as they have the opportunity to learn in a higher level environment. Grammar schools first became a policy in the 1944 Education Act; they had existed before but in a form closer to that of an independent school.

Grammar schools up to now

In the 1970’s state schools were pushed by the government and the number of Grammar schools declined to today’s numbers. Successive governments chose to give the decision on Grammar schools with the local community rather than have a policy imposed from above, therefore, they were never actually abolished. In 1997, Labour’s Excellence in schools stressed no return to the 11+ model as they were seen to be damaging to social mobility. However once again Grammar schools were to be closed only by the demand of the local parents rather than the local authority.

The Coalition government’s solution to tackling a lack of social mobility was the Academy school policy 2007 removed school management away from LEA’s and gave schools autonomy. A loosening of the restrictions to set up schools in a community has led to an increase in Faith schools in the UK.

At the heart of this debate is how the idea of selective education can sit with the concept of a fair and equal opportunity for all pupils.

Pros and cons of Grammar Schools

Pros:

  • Allows a higher level of education to the best and brightest.
  • Allows parents to have more choice in their education provider.
  • Lower entrance examinations could allow more pupils access to the schools.
  • New Grammar schools would be forced to take a proportion of pupils from lower income households. The true number would be decided by the schools themselves.

Cons:

  • Grammar schools strengthen a two-tiered system where students across the country would receive an education of unequal quality.
  • The grammar school system discriminates against those from lower income households. Those from better backgrounds are better placed to pass the exam (tutors and extra sessions for exam preparation)

In Wales, Grammar Schools have been rejected by the devolved assembly and in Scotland, a decision is pending.

Further reading:

Image rights: tagishsimon @ Commons Wikimedia

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