Charlie Elphicke MP: The grammar system works

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

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Showing 2 reactions

  • Joan Haslam
    commented 2017-04-05 18:13:21 +0100
    Yes, but Dover Grammar School for Boys is barely actually a grammar school. It has a selection test that accepts 80% of kids who take it. It has pupils classed as ‘low attainers’ on its roll. It is a comprehensive school masquerading as a grammar school, because grammar schools in disadvantaged communities simply do not have enough local pupils passing the 11-plus. I think you should research your local schools a little better.

    It is also completely unfair that parents are not told that the Dover grammar school’s test is easier than the Kent Test which you can use for entry. Schools should be upfront with parents about admissions. Dover schools accept either their own easy test, or the local Kent test which is much harder. Many parents have children who fail the Kent Test, who don’t know that if they had entered the easier Dover test they’d get a place. This is typical of the secrecy surrounding grammar school admissions.

    I am sure Dover grammars are good schools. Though their figures for disadvantaged pupils show that even with a low bar for entry, and being in such an area, they are not properly serving their community. And what is the point of academic selection if this school is educating pupils academically on a par with other pupils local schools? And educating pupils who would never pass a test to get into a grammar school down the road in Canterbury?

    These Dover schools get at the heart of academic selection. Why are we denying many local children of equal ability a place at this school? Well, it’s mostly because they didn’t have the right parents who bothered to take the school test on a Saturday. Grammar school selection is so much about the parent’s keenness not the child’s ability. And what is the logic of denying a Canterbury child a place at a grammar school, when they would very easily get into one of the Dover grammar schools?

    We need to be very clear. There is no actual definition of ‘grammar school ability’ it is an arbitary distinction based on an age when 25% were selected to go to university. We now send 40% to university. Which really messes up the children in Kent high schools who end up in schools with too many BTECs not A levels, thanks to the old fashioned,11-plus system.

    Judging ‘potential’ at 10 in the year 2017 is ridiculous. It is neither scientific nor proven to be accurate. In the 1960s they did believe in fixed intelligence and uncoachable tests. We now know better. I don’t know a single education professional who supports the return of the 11-plus and academic selection. Perhaps you should talk to some Kent primary heads about the 11-plus? They do not support your favoured form of education. In a local survey 71% of heads said they preferred comprehensive education. Also 96% think tutoring works. And me and every other Kent parent has to pay around £1,000 a child per child to try to pass the stupid test. And we do this not because the grammars are so good, but because the other schools are so bad. My cleaner paid 3 times her hourly rate for a tutor. I’m a Conservative, and I don’t think this is helping the JAMs. Her child failed by the way.

    I would also urge to look at Kent’s results for disadvantaged pupils. Like every other selective area these are woeful. These children do better in any comprehensive area.

    I was lucky enough to grow up in a comprehensive area. So much better than the grammar/secondary modern divide in Kent. I am a Conservative voter who is shocked that our party is subjecting other areas to the stress, tutor fees, and divide that we have in Kent. Our schools were doing so well. Why change things? No parents I know like the 11-plus. Why are we doing this? :(
  • Richard Kirchner
    followed this page 2017-03-31 23:17:37 +0100