Not often three MPs from different major parties come together to oppose the government. Such is the situation with grammar schools… (Source)
Personally, I went to a grammar school and I know the toxic atmosphere they breed. This is my first reason for opposing Theresa May’s plans to expand the number of grammar schools in Britain. The second is their weakness in providing social mobility. The third is the damaging effect they have on comprehensive education. The fourth is the total unsuitableness of the policy for the times which lie ahead.
My school was a very good one academically. I believe it had the 4th best GCSE results in the country (of state schools) when I was doing my GCSEs. It also bred a “culture of one-upmanship” and bullying through its over-competitive atmosphere. (Source) Competition undoubtably has some role to play in education, however I still remember my GCSE results day, when I got my results (all As and A*s), and wanting to drown myself in alcohol because I felt I had not done well enough. The other boys were going to laugh at me. Sure enough, they did. It was survival of the fittest, and we all knew that you could not play fair – we had all cheated to get into this school. Which brings me on to the second point:
99% of grammar school students, perhaps more, got private tuition to pass the 11+ test. Hardly a beacon of social mobility. The richest kids are the ones who can afford private tuition, so the richest kids are the ones who get in. As times get tough, some private school-educated parents may not wish to have their children rub shoulders with students in a comprehensive, and yet may struggle to afford the price of private education. Spend a bit on tuition and have your kids go to grammar schools instead! Like private – only cheaper!
Thirdly, the best attaining schools attract the best teachers, understandably. Thus, grammar schools create a two-tiered education system, with better teachers teaching better students, and the attainment gap becomes higher than ever. The gap between clever and challenged grows, the gap between rich and poor grows, the A*s become easier to attain and the Cs become harder. No longer is legal aristocracy acceptable, so the Tories have created an economic aristocracy, and they are trying to supplement this with an academic aristocracy to boot.
Perhaps the strongest reason why May’s grammar school policy is a non-starter, is the current climate. Automation and digitisation are creating huge strains for the workforce, and the dystopian vision of the robots taking over seems to not be far from realisation. (AI Takeover) Even Stephen Hawking thinks so: (Source). In such times, it is more important than ever to ensure that all citizens have sufficient skills to survive. Education, more than ever, must be about the many, not the few. It is only now that the more pragmatic Tories are realising this fact.
Theresa May feels like she can do anything, but her education policy is a far-cry from Corbyn’s National Education Service, and it may yet prove costly for her future election hopes.