Elizabeth Anderson: Grammar schools offer life chances across the board

Grammar schools.  Theresa May only announced the repeal on the ban on new grammar schools over the weekend, and the left-wing parties have started bouncing up and down immediately to shout about how these will fuel social inequality.


Academies and free schools have done a lot, and were broadly supported at government level on both sides.  They have increased standards, and transformational principals have reformed the way education is delivered.  More schools have led to competition, as heads and local authorities realise they don't want to be at the bottom of the pile.  Hardworking teachers have been freed up to be even more amazing.  Students who were lost have been inspired.  Of course it hasn't all been brilliant, because no system is, but there have been a lot of successes, and people in deprived areas who have achieved a lot more than they would have had the status quo prevailed.

Grammar schools are a bit like that.  And given we are behind countries such as Estonia and Vietnam in the 2015 OECD school rankings, we need to think about how to increase our skills base.

The cry seems to be that education will separate off, the bright will have all the opportunities, and those who fail their 11 plus will be cast aside.  There are a number of points here.

1. If you are academically bright, why should you not have extra opportunities, more challenge and stretch, and the ability to really excel?  It is physically impossible, in my view, to teach a couple of thousand kids at every possible level.  One minute the left is arguing that not everyone can pass the E-Bacc and that it isn't fair to think they can, the next they want everyone to have exactly the same education in the same place.  It's a question of practicality.

2. I do not for one minute imagine that the Conservative government sees a return to sink schools.  Comprehensives will continue, and the party of aspiration will want everyone to achieve the best they can.  Big secret - Conservatives want people to do well at school.  The more people do well at school, the more people can access employment, the more they can provide for their families.  Plus, bonus, the more the economy grows, the better off we all are.  Conservatives do not sit in ivory towers hoping that only the affluent will pass their exams.

3. Not everyone wants to be academic.  Nor should they.  There should be just as much value placed on vocational skills as there is on academic skills.  For example, we mustn't lose opportunities to point gifted potential craftspeople towards their craft, which could lead to a lucrative career.

4. When you apply for university, it is basically selective - no-one says that people should be forced to go to their nearest university even if it doesn't offer a strong course in their chosen subjects.  There is no reason why those who are gifted and talented at an early stage shouldn't have the chance to do really well in their studies.

5. The wealthy can already access elite education.  It's called paying for your child to go to public school.  Grammar schools return to the idea that the brightest can access the best education without having wealthy parents.

As above, no system is perfect.  In amongst the many tweets I have seen, I saw the suggestion that there should be later entry points into grammar schools, which I completely agree with.  There are any number of reasons why 11 may not be the right age, and giving people one or more further chances is entirely fitting with a desire to increase social mobility.  Given that at the age of 14 children can opt to move into a University Technical College or Studio School, there is no reason why this shouldn't be another opportunity to move to a grammar school.

And, we have to make absolutely sure that non-grammar schools retain the high standards they we seek at the moment.  This means continuing to attract top quality teachers into these schools, and avoiding self-fulfilling prophecies.  It is also vital to ensure that vocational education is perceived as an attractive option for those whose skills may not lie in academia, but are just as valuable to them, their family and the country as a whole.

These types of schools offer so many opportunities, and there is no reason to deprive our most academically gifted children the chance to excel in life.

Elizabeth Anderson is a committed Conservative from south east London, and has held a number of positions in the voluntary and youth wings of the party. She works for a prestigious institution in London, and became involved in politics with the aim of spreading Conservative values.

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