Let’s go back to the future with co-operative schools – and leave grammars in the past
Comprehensive schools have improved our lives. The evidence that they are better for our children and for all of us is overwhelming. Which is why 60 organisations, including the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, put their names to an open letter in October pleading for the ban on new grammar schools to remain. Why, then, in the face of overwhelming expert advice, do so many members of the public, some ministers, and the prime minister want to press ahead with more selective schools?
It is possible to select a subset of grammar schools and to suggest that the minority of children from poorer backgrounds who attend that small set do go on to get better GCSE results, but that does not provide evidence that the grammar school model is good in general. It also does not question the English orthodoxy that it is always better to get higher grades in exams. If all we needed was lots of people who were especially skilled at exam technique, it would be – but that is not what we lack as a country. We lack rounded adults with a wide range of skills who respect and understand each other’s abilities and contributions.
Introducing a grammar school into an area does not only harm schooling in that immediate district but also in neighbouring areas. Despite this, more people are in favour of creating new grammar schools (38%) than would be in favour of ending selection in those that still exist (23%). Among those who attended grammar schools themselves, 61% would like to see more built. It’s the old who are most in favour of selection.
The argument for grammar schools is similar to the argument for leaving the EU. It is about people wanting something better than they currently have, and believing that a return to the past will be an improvement and that “experts” are not to be believed. However it is also an argument against carrying on as we are, and against the rising inequality of recent decades that has resulted in selection by house price.