Grammar schools can make a real difference. They can give children from less affluent areas a chance to thrive. I know their worth because I’ve seen it in action in my constituency.
Dover has two brilliant high-achieving grammar schools. In recent years pupils at Dover Grammar School for Girls have even got better results than students at Eton! There are countless stories of pupils who go on to achieve great things.
Take Jack Williams, a former head boy at Dover Grammar Schools for Boys. Jack grew up in a small terraced house near the school. He excelled academically and left in 2009 to go to Cambridge to study Law – the first in his family to go to university. This was followed by a Masters at Oxford. Jack is now a Barrister at Monckton Chambers in London. He is just one example of many local children from less privileged backgrounds that have benefited enormously from the education they have received at Dover’s grammar schools.
It’s no surprise that parents in Dover, Deal and Kent as a whole see grammar schools as engines of opportunity and aspiration. This is why I fully support the Government’s decision to end the ban on selective schools with a £320 million boost to the free school programme. There is a clear demand in Kent. Last year, 14,300 children took the 11-plus hoping for a place at one of nearly 40 grammars in the county. The number who passed rose to 6,537. But there were only 4,959 places available. Also telling is the 2,145 applications from outside the county. Clearly it’s not just parents in Kent who have aspirations for their children to get a grammar school place.
Despite Labour’s doom-mongering, building these new schools will not harm non-selective schools. What parents want is more choice and diversity close to where they live. This is why I also want to see more faith schools and more skills education in schools. St Edmund’s Catholic School in my constituency has gone from strength to strength with results improving year on year.
All students must be given the best possible life chances. They must be work ready from the moment they leave school. So they must learn practical skills and have the choice to master things like plumbing, carpentry and electronics in school. I’ve seen this at work at non-selective Dover Christ Church Academy – a real local success story. The school has undergone a complete transformation in recent years. You can see how excited the children are about lessons and how much they want to learn both academic and practical skills. It goes to show that having grammar schools does not mean non-selective schools suffer.
In Dover, letting parents choose the right school for their children is clearly working. No matter what part of town children come from – they have the chance to excel and have the best start in life. I’m passionate about giving people ladders in life. Schools must give children the support they need to climb as far as their talents can take them – to fulfil their potential.
Kent is a diverse county. Dover is not like leafy Tunbridge Wells or Sevenoaks. But it is a town full of determined people – of aspirational parents who want the best for their kids. That’s why the grammar system works, particularly in more deprived areas. Because it means that no matter where you come from – no matter how big your parents’ house or what they do for a job – every child has the chance to get on in life.
Charlie Elphicke has been the Member of Parliament for Dover since 2010, and is a member of Conservative Way Forward's Parliamentary Council.