After the government’s very recent insistence that all schools should become academies and all new schools must be academies or free schools, out of the blue we have had the rushed new proposals to create a whole new generation of grammar schools. The Prime Minister has no mandate for this, as it was neither in the election manifesto nor on the radar of the last two Education Secretaries.
Sounding utterly non-Tory in her first speech outside Number 10, Mrs May announced her wish to work for the many, not the few and to improve social mobility. Great, if she really meant it, but this proposal is not the way to do it. The best ways to improve standards are streaming and setting of pupils of different abilities and interests; enabling teachers to do their work effectively; positive use of the Lib Dem instigated Pupil Premium from early years; increasing the availability of apprenticeships; and valuing practical and academic achievement equally. This way we enable young people to maximise their potential and allow schools to serve the whole community.
Selection on the other hand is divisive and an unnecessary and risky gamble with young people’s future. The Educational Policy Institute has recently undertaken a review of grammar schools and found no evidence whatsoever that increasing the number of grammar schools would raise standards. On the contrary, they found that it would have the potential to increase the attainment gap between richer and poorer children.
The Morpeth partnership of schools has a highly successful comprehensive school in KEVI. Mrs May suggests that we already have selection by post code, with the wealthier being able to live where the best schools are. That may be partially true, but it is not the whole story. Government policy allows parental choice of schools and encourages good schools to expand. Morpeth schools are so good that they traditionally include many pupils from out of catchment. Local Lib Dems believe that introducing selection to KEVI would be disastrous, whereas setting up a new Free school in Morpeth using selection as a means of recruiting pupils would be detrimental both to the effectiveness of our current comprehensive and to the best interests of our children. Undoubtedly the same applies across the country. The best way forward is to improve all schools.
Expect yet another Tory government U turn due to unpopular and ill thought out proposals.