Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Great Grammar School Debate

I'm touched by the number of people who have been leaving comments on the blog awaiting my views on grammar schools! Well, here goes.

This is an argument we didn't need to have. Instead of attacking the concept of grammar schools we should be encouraging diversity in education - and grammar schools are a part of that diversity. David Willetts' main defence of his anti-grammar school position seems to be that they don't take enough kids who have free school meals. This is no way to judge whether a school is a success or not. What we must move towards is a system where all kids have the opportunity to excel. Front bencher Graham Brady got it right on PM today when he said: "I don't think it's true to say grammar schools entrench privilege. The only reason we don't have more children with free school meals in grammar schools is that there aren't grammar schools in urban areas and certainly I have always supported more grammar schools and more selection where parents want it." I'm not sure it will have done Graham's career prospects much good, but he was brave to say it.

Consistency is a key word here and it's something David Cameron rightly makes a lot of. If you really believed grammar schools were part of the problem, you'd not only not build more, you'd abolish the existing ones. It's called having the courage of your convictions. This is why I always questioned the wisdom of voluntary grant maintained schools in the 1990s. I thought that if Conservatives really believed that this policy was best for schools all schools should be grant maintained.

By sending out the message that the Conservatives are against grammar schools, it stigmatises those 160 odd schools who still fall into that category.

Now, let's look at the other side of the argument. In 1973 I failed my eleven plus. I failed it because I wasn't even told I was taking it. We had taken so many government tests that year that we all decided not to take this one seriously. Whadda mistaka da maka (as Captain Bertorelli in 'Allo 'Allo might have said). So I ended up at the local Secondary Modern, turned bog standard comprehensive. I was lucky. Saffron Walden County High School did me proud, despite the efforts of Education Secretary Shirley Williams to deprive me of school books.

My partner, however, was not so lucky, and ended up at the very worst type of Secondary Modern in Tunbridge Wells. Selection failed him and despite being a remarkably intelligent person who could easily have gone to university he finished school with few qualifications. Had he gone to the local grammar school I have little doubt his life would have been very different.

The challenge for all political parties is to come up with policies which make the need for selection at 11 superfluous. Like David Willetts I am a fan of City Academies. Well, I would be if they had the kind of independent powers given to City Technology Colleges in the 1990s. They have provided opportunities for many kids from deprived backgrounds in inner cities.

But just as you don't make the poor richer by making the rich poorer, you don't make less able kids more able by making the more able kids less able. What I mean by that is that David Willetts's speech seemed to highlight social mobility as a key aim of Conservative policy rather than academic excellence. Of course we all want to see kids from poorer backgrounds given the same opportunities enjoyed by those who come from better off homes, but levelling down standards is not the way to do it. We saw that during the comprehensive experiment.

When I was in North Norfolk I was a school governor at Cromer High School. The school has a fantastic Head Teacher and a very motivated staff. I learned during my 18 months as a school governor, and from visits to other secondary schools in North Norfolk that you shouldn't generalise, but comprehensives sometimes - and I emphasise, sometimes - don't stretch the brightest kids in the way that grammar schools do. If I had any criticism of my own schooling it would be that I didn't feel stretched in some of the subjects I excelled in (admittedly there weren't too many!).

I don't pretend to have the answer to the structure of our secondary schooling system, but I feel very uncomfortable that a party which believes in academic excellence should appear to be criticising the very schools which are providing it. David Willetts went to a grammar school and could easily be accused of pulling up the ladder behind him. At least thirteen members of the Shadow Cabinet went to independent fee paying schools. Four did not (according to the Evening Standard).

I know from my own emails and telephone conversations today that this announcement has been met with despair by many in the Party. One North Norfolk Tory member (and ex teacher) texted me to say: "Why oh why are we dropping our grammar schools policy? I am furious. I always said the party would lose my vote if they ever did this. I never thought they would. I will argue with anyone on this subject...always have done so."

There will be some who think that David Willetts and David Cameron have announced this policy to create yet another Clause two and a half moment. They might appear to think that it's yet another way of distancing the Party from its past and another example of modernisation. I don't necessarily think this is right. From my INTERVIEW with Willetts a few months ago I know he really believes this approach is the right way to go. His SPEECH today laid out in great detail why, but it's written in the kind of language only understood by the likes of Oliver Letwin.

There's bound to be a great debate in the Party and that's a good thing. So I was disappointed to see David Cameron say that such a debate would be "entirely pointless". It isn't. If we're going to have such a radical change of policy it's only right that the Party is given a chance to debate it. However, I still believe it's a debate we shouldn't need to have and that the Conservative Party should be arguing enthusiastically for more - not fewer- grammar schools. At the beginning of the 21st century we should be aiming to raise the level of education in all secondary schools to that provided by existing grammar schools.

UPDATE: Graham Brady has retracted clarified his stance this evening. He says in a statement issued by CCHQ: “I support the policy of more City Academies and I fully accept the Party policy, that whilst existing grammar schools should continue, there will be no return to the 11plus exam under a future Conservative Government. The priority of the next Conservative Government will rightly be to ensure that we raise standards in more than 3,000 secondary schools so that children reach their true potential.”

Glad that's clear then.

UPDATE: Willetts v Heffer - a 16 minute debate HERE.

66 comments:

working class ex-grammar school boy said...

If the foolish, PC-obsessed Tories really intend to abolish the 160 remaining grammar schools then they've lost my vote.

malcolm said...

Well said Iain. I was beginning to think you were trying to avoid the subject, I'm glad I'm wrong.
Agree with what you've written and I hope Cameron and Willetts will debate with the rest of the party and think again on this policy.

judith said...

I find myself (a product of a1950's grammar school, wife of grammar school boy, mother of two grammar school kids,) oddly torn by this debate.

Most of my grammar school friends at the wonderful East London institutions were lifted from - what's the politest way of saying it - the poorest of backgrounds by their brainpower and access to a fine education.

But, and it's a big but, grammar schools did very little for those who were clever but not academically inclined. Whether in the 1950s, 60s or 80s, once you'd said you didn't want to go to University, you were dropped like a hot potato.

For many years, I've thought that streaming by subject, or subject groups, within a school is the way to go. The extra ingredient should be the ethos of the best grammar school teachers I have known:

"I don't teach to the standards required to pass the exams, I teach to the standards I expect my pupils to be capable of".

And why am I torn? Because I almost never agree with David Willetts, but he was right (and I was wrong) when he said that tax credits wouldn't work (Bournemouth Conference fringe meeting, 1996), and I think he may be right now.

Ted said...

Iain,
Agree entirely with your last bit about raising the standards of all schools - why does this mean having an 11 plus and Grammar schools?

Chris Paul said...

Obviously nice but dim Graham Brady is the MP for a constituency with state grammar schools in their blood and independent schools in Manchester and Stockport nearby that they can common entrance into. He could hardly say anything else. In 2005 he had an expansive majority, but in 2001 he did not and the potential for a slide is in mind.

The trouble with Grammar Schools is Secondary Moderns isn't it.

NOT comprehensives. There never has been a comprehensive experiment.

Every school a good school is a good mantra. Let's make our state schools so good that every parent opts in, avoids humungoud school runs, and relaxes about our kids. They will find their level.

Don't suppose this Tory blether is goiong to abolish anything. Just not roll out more.

Iain proves that in a more or less comprehensive situation. His partner in a Secondary Modern suffered and makes my case for me.

Chris Paul said...

Sorry bit of a non sequitor. Kids in comps like Iain find their level and succeed as Judith suggests too. Secondary Moderns were a huge problem and can be replicated by fright-flight sink schools of supposedly comprehensive intake.

Attended 2 x Voluntary Aided schools - one exceptionally good, the other like a good comp.
Have taught in poor GS and great comp too.

Anonymous said...

"Why oh why are we dropping our grammar schools policy? "

We dropped our grammar school policy over 30 years ago! More grammar schools were abolished under Conservative governments than Labour. The party has not meaningfully supported them for decades.

You might also want to examine Willets' arguments. Where grammar school exist, there are statistics that show that they are not schooling lower class pupils to the extent you would expect if the sole issue involved was merit. The aim is to try and get the school system to a state that merit is rewarded for all, which grammar schools apparently no longer do.

Paddy said...

David Cameron loses my vote over this as well.

Barely a fortnight ago it was reported that some 40,000 more parents are having their children privately educated than in 1997. Have the Tories not twigged that this is because they are not happy with the state education system?

It is OK if you can afford to send your children private (hands up all members of the Shad Cab who do that). David Willetts sent his daughter to Godolphin and Latymer, and his son to St Paul's. Hardly slumming it with the proles. It is also OK if, like Cameron, your child has a disability and can attend a special school. But what about the special needs of bright children who may be held back? Finally, it is OK if you can afford to pay a premium to move into the catchment area of a good state school.

Yes, it is wrong that there are not more children from poor backgrounds at grammar schools. It is also wrong when (in not all cases) the alternatives to a grammar school are so hideous. The failure in the 1960s was the poor standard of secondary moderns and the poor resources put into them. But how very left-wing to think that the answer is to deny the privilege from those with ability rather than to expand the opportunity. All Cameron and Co are doing is making a good education the preserve of those with money rather than brains.

Anonymous said...

As a former headmaster I say this is utter madness. Far more children will suffer than will benefit. It is intellectually and philosophically flawed to remove academic selection - presumably before long universities will not be able to select either. The biggest vote loser you could think of, but very good for independent schools, to which parents will flock even more and rightly

Maggie Thatcher Fan said...

To my mind its an unwinnable battle. Once comprehensive schooling was introduced by the Labour Party it sounded the death knell for Grammar Schools, everything in secondary education had been dumbed down, exams are so easy these days , kids seem to know their grades even before they take and exam. and as for University, some are having to add in a pre university course to get kids up to scratch with the University course demands.
I think DC is right, though I regret the decision had to be made.

Paddy said...

Maggie Thatcher fan, I'm not sure the decision did need to be made. He is not (for now) abolishing the existing ones, simply refusing to expand the system. He could therefore have got away with saying nothing on the subject. Instead he has made a deliberate statement of philoshophy, that it is ok for his friends in the Shad Cab to want a good education for their children, but not for the rest of us. He'd have been better off saying nothing

Anonymous said...

"All Cameron and Co are doing is making a good education the preserve of those with money rather than brains."


The argument, as I understand it, it that grammar schools are now, for all intents and purposes, the preserve of those with money and the aim is to try a new system which does indeed reward those with brains.

It's interesting to note that vouchers are rather heavily backed in the speech.

dblackie said...

As one who went to Public School (although a lesser establishment than DC) my creds may be weakened here. But I agree entirely that there is merit in diversity. The place I was at was highly unsuitable for many there, but parents perhaps saw education as simply a matter of finding the best rung on a two dimensional ladder, rather than a means to fulfillment. Kids are lucky if, wherever they go, they find a teacher who is interested and inspires them. That is less likely when politicians decide that something should be abolished. The end game is less about "standards" than confidence and realising potential.

aardvark said...

I am eternally grateful that I went to a grammar school (my wife also). We knew that we could realistically achieve whatever career we set our sights on. We were always aware that standards in the local secondary moderns were abysmally low and that their pupils would find it very difficult to get anything other than a mundane job. One useful feature my local LEA introduced was that any late developers in the secondary moderns could transfer to the grammar school at 13 or 16. Nevertheless the overwhelming majority of their pupils got a very poor deal. Although the comprehensives cannot recapture the grammar school ethos, I would like to think that the academic stream (internal academic selection!)in a comprehensive could approach the grammar school standard and is potentially open to all who can benefit from it.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all of Iain's thinking in his piece on grammar schools but I guess this issue is not going to lose the Conservaives many votes.

Those voters who support grammar schools, send their kids to independent (fee paying) schools or who can afford to buy houses in good catchment areas are likely to be still voting Tory.

Put in purely political terms it will upset party members but will not lose the party any votes at the next election as long as DC does not advocate actively going out and shutting grammar schools. From what I read that is not the plan - just create more City academies.

I did like DCs piece on the news saying that he intends to listen to teachers who say they want the right to impose discipline and order in the classroom. Good start for any school in my view and it does not have to be draconian - just a no nonsense attitude with a proper sense of being bothered and interested in the kids. Some children will have to be excluded who are very disruptive and will need special support.

Perdix said...

This is not a change in policy ref grammar schools.
DW's paper was not "anti-grammar".
There is no intention to "level down".
Grammar schools will not be closed.
Read DW's paper before jerking the knee.

Man in a shed said...

This has really had me thinking today. It seems mad not to support the only schooling system we know turns bright children into successes - where ever they come from. ( After all don't middle class and even upper class people deserve good education for the children too ! Everyone pays for it - why should anyone accept a poor level of service ).

However, like yourself I didn't get in at 11+ (no warning either) - but my parents could afford to send me to a ex-grant maintained school ( private after the last but one Labour Govt - its the one Jack Straw got a grant to go to before he joined the party that really has kicked the ladder away after its members climbed up it ).

In the end I managed a 1st class degree in Engineering, PhD and a postgrad diploma, and have become an expert in my particular field. But I didn't win through at 11+. So I see what David Willetts is driving at also.

This has been handled badly - I've seen at least one resignation from the party in the Blogsphere today.

I also don't want this system of a select group of Cameron insiders announcing what the new policy is going to be without debate or fully road testing their ideas.

Who wants to wake up in the morning and to be told on the Today prog that their party believes in something 180 degr off from what you thought it believed in when you went to bed - its not the Labour party for crying out loud.

My message to David Cameron is learn from this- its not that there's nothing good in your ideas - I might even be talked round -, but the way they have been delivered today is terrible, and its a discourtesy to the party membership.

Yak40 said...

Seems like Cameron is determined to show there is little difference between the Conservative and Labour parties today. Hardly a winning position.

Anonymous said...

Having sat through about 100 School Admission appeals in inner London this week, I can tell you that parents of bright children want to see a return selective education.

How do you tell a child who is in the top band chasing the few places that exist in the better schools, that if he was not as bright he might have got a place.

Parents say that it is unfair that their children work hard at school and then do not get the school they want.

I accept that there is no such thing as parential choice in education, parents can only make a preference.

The only real choice parents have is to pay for private education or send them where they are allocated.

For most inner city parents that choice does not exist.

Graham Brady was absolutely right, when he said that the reason that there are few school dinners in grammar schools is due to their catchment area.

In Inner London, all grammar schools were either closed, became comprehensive or moved to outer London in the early 1970s.

When I look at my school today - a school which was founded in the 17th century, it horrifies me. The school sadly is just another sink school producing some of the worse results in London.

And they call that progress.

There is no proof yet that inner city acadamies are producing any better results than the comprehensives they replaced.

Ed said...

solve several issues at once - let the local authority decide how to best educate it's locals

why do we have to have a uniform national policy? if the exams are set by an independent organisation then competition between cities and counties to get the best results for their kids will bring innovation and improve standards.

when are the statists of all parties going to realise that you cannot micromanage from the centre?

ordinary housewife said...

I too was the product of a Seecondary Modern having failed the 11+ because of a complete failure to grasp mathematics!

However, I had a wonderful education, so much so that although now in my 60s I am asked which university I attended.

We were very poor -my parents could not afford for me to go past 16 but certainly I did not feel rejected or deprived, worked very hard to O level standard I enjoyed most of it.

So I wish to know why, in the 50s when the war had left the country poor and struggling, I cannot remember one single child leaving school unable to read and write - even the dyslexic pupil from my primary had learned to read basic English.

Classes were large until I entered the GCE year, books were old. The less academic pupils were given practical lessons and encouraged to 'show off' to the academic side their prowess in cookery, needlework, gardening,bee keeping, art, pottery. We were taught that everyone had a skill and talent and 650 children were polite, well fed and fairly happy.

Why not now when we are more affluent?

The standard of behaviour is abysmal
the English spoken on BBC unintelligible in many cases, the ignorance displayed is a national disgrace compared with other european countries.

Why?

BaldockBaldrick said...

Maddy as "hot goods" Iain? C'mon, I know you apologised about it straight away but if an MP had said this he would have been annihalated. As a commentator who often criticises MPs for their use of language you must be ready to face criticism yourself. Sorry Iain, but it's not a nice term at all.

Kent mother of two said...

As I've just posted at The Difference, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Willetts has been perfectly clear:

"For those children from modest backgrounds who do get to grammar schools the benefits are enormous." - i.e. he believes selection makes a valuable contribution to education.

"And we will not get rid of those grammar schools that remain." - i.e. those of us in Kent that hope to get our children into the local grammar in a couple of years time will still be able to.

"But the trouble is that the chances of a child from a poor background getting to a grammar school in those parts of the country where they do survive are shockingly low." - i.e. we are the "one nation" party and the party of compassion and we believe all schools should provide every pupil with the opportunity to reach their potential.

jailhouselawyer said...

What great grammar school debate? Have you not heard that Cameron has already decided no more grammar schools? He was in Hull today at the Kingswood Grammar School. I don't know why if he is not in favour of them.

ian said...

If Willetts is so against the middle classes getting a better education for their children, will he be abolishing private education?

Thought not.

dk said...

DC has been shrewdly avoiding detailed policies, which has irritated both his enemies and his opponents.

Willets has stated an unecessarily detailed education policy. Odd, as it seems to be a no-win place to start.

But it is no odder than announcing 'because of this policy, I'm never going to vote tory'. Is the socialist GB going to provide the education system you want?

Anonymous said...

You can home-school your kids. You can also find independent schools with bursaries. You can make sacrifices and pay. You can mortgage the grandparents - anything but state schooling. It's the philosophy that is wrong, not what it is called.

Ask anyone who has lived in Bristol.

Perdix said...

Jailhouse Lawyer 11.24 - Cameron was at a Hull High School, not a Grammar. Get your facts right before criticising. (see webcameron)

ian said...

"This grammar school boy will take no lessons from that public school boy on the importance of children from less privileged backgrounds gaining access to university"

forthurst said...

nftUltimately the issue must boil to one of size and disciple. Lets say, on average, Grammar schools have 800 pupils and take 30% of the best students, to accomodate them offering an equal range of subjects would require a school of 2700 pupils and a level of disciple which is much higher than achieved in many comprehensives. In addition, ability is not evenly spreed; to offer a bright child living in some urban areas an equivalent education, an absolutely massive comprehensive would be required.

Ultimately, the Tories must answer the question, "is the primary purpose of education social engineering?" I would say the primary purpose is to ensure that each child is educated according to his ability and likely future career.
Politicians do not control human genetics (yet), and till they do the most intelligent will continue to have the most intelligent parents, although a significant proportion of children will potentially disappoint or exceed their parents' expectations.

I dont think our competitors emerging in the Far East could give a monkey's about anything other than excellence and in subjects which are the future, not the past: maths, science, engineering.

So ultimately it boils down to logistics, not wishful thinking or playing to the gallery. If we dont focus on the brightest, we will become a third world country, by default.

GM said...

Sadly, I too am not sure I can vote Conservative while they hold such a poor education policy. The consistency argument that you made, Iain, is a powerful one. If grammar schools are doing such a good job in the areas where they exist, then why not extend the opportunities to other areas? Alan Johnson managed to admit the popularity of grammar schools in the deputy leadership debate today, where he correctly pointed out that abolishing them in areas where they currently exist would be tantamount to political suicide.

So let's just be clear. Grammar schools once offered a tremendous opportunity to children from all walks of life to be able to progress meritocratically. They achieved excellent results and provided real ladders of opportunity, such that many political leaders from humble backgrounds were able to invade the quondam sanctum of public school privilege, and to great effect.

Then, social engineering took over, and the grammar schools were abolished. Now, because they do such a good job they cannot be allowed to return, because no-one is willing to devise the parallel, non-grammar, system that needs to exist successfully alongside them. Truly an awful admission of political failure, and with his policy, David Willetts places himself in that all too well populated category of arrogant politician unwilling to allow ordinary people the chances he was able to have.

Willetts, by the way, looked thoroughly awkward when challenged by Gavin Esler on Newsnight about whether it was right for his colleagues to send their children to grammar schools.

Anonymous said...

I live in Stratford Upon avon where there are two highly regarded Grammar schools...To be honest my objection with the current set up is that we have a number of private preparatory schools frequented by the chelsea tractor/tinted glass who's sole intention is to get little johnny/joanna into the grammar school and 11 plus is all that is drilled into them..

If little johnny/joanna doesn't get the 11 plus they are shipped off to the private school..so effectively the grammar schools around here are in effect used as a free private education without the fee..

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

Great countries are always run by great elites.

Great elites remain great only if they are open.

English Grammar Schools ensured that the English elite was open.

English Grammar schools are now almost non existent.

The English elite is no longer open.

The English elite is no longer great.

No elite realises that the course of its greatness is its openness.

The decline and fall of the English by Richard Crossman and David Cameroon. Both good Oxford men.

So long and look out for the Black Swans.

philip walling said...

This is simply realpolitik. And horribly unprincipled. The truth is now that if you can't pay you're stuffed. The grammar schools were an astonishing interlude in the life of the nation and which allowed a couple of generations of people to lift themselves educationally and materially out of one class into another. They don't want their position now to be assailed by another rising social class (even if there was such a thing). There is no appetite for education for its own sake amongst the people who can afford to pay for it, never mind those who would be the recipients of a grammar school education because they haven't the money to pay for an alternative. Things have moved on and the Conservatives' new policy is merely recognising that.

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

In the above, I am of course referring to "intellectual elites" as opposed to fame or media "elites" that may now exist in England. They are of course open but are the exception to the rule.

jailhouselawyer said...

perdix or should I say sock puppet? Kingswood is a High School, my mistake, he spent two days visiting schools. I repeat, and this time answer the questions, "What great grammar school debate? Have you not heard that Cameron has already decided no more grammar schools?".

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

The history of England since the 1950's has been dominated by the sell out of the aspirational working and lower middle classes.

Cameroon completes the betrayal.

Only Australia, New Zealand, France and elsewhere remain their option now.

I am totally appalled by this idiot. Its strange put the PSB dominated oppinion formers in the MSM think its great.

Ross F said...

Iain, why do say that you support diversity in education and then claim that it would show the courage of their convictions for parties to insist on abolishing all schools of a the sort they disagree with? How can you possibly have diversity if governments implement their preferred policy on all schools?

bgprior said...

There's an awful lot of people here who are quite happy to decide what's right for other people's children. It doesn't matter whether you're for a one-size-fits-all approach or whether you would allow people a second option (if they're lucky), either way you are supporting the fundamental principle of state-provided education, with an opt-out for those rich enough.

This should not be the debate. It is yet another example of how the Tories are no longer arguing against the socialist principles of Labour, but are simply arguing that they could run a state-managed economy better. It's what every opposition claims, and what everyone believes when they first come into office. And then gradually we discover that they make just as many mistakes (pick just as many losers) as the previous lot. Because government is so big and complex, and humans are so varied and fallible, that the result of central-planning will always be cock-up of one sort or another. The only solution is to have less government so there is less to manage and less to cock-up. Disperse the choices and responsibilities. We need variety so that we can compare the results of good and bad choices and learn from those lessons. We won't make fewer mistakes, but we will be able to learn from them and correct them more easily. This isn't radical or original, but to listen to Willetts or Letwin or most Tory supporters, you'd think the modern Conservative party had never heard of Smith, Hayek and Friedman. Or perhaps, now that politics is socio-centric rather than econo-centric, we are supposed to forget the lessons they taught us.

The debate should be about the extent to which the state should be providing education at all. It is perfectly possible for the state to ensure that everyone has access to essential goods and services without actually providing them. We are pretty dependent on food, but we don't rely on the government to run our grocery stores.

Willetts is in his usual cloud-cuckoo land if he thinks the answer is more City Academies. Nothing against them, but the point about CAs is that there aren't that many of them, so it is practical to pump extra money, either from government or from sponsors, into them. If CAs are the way "to raise standards and opportunity for all children", every school will have to be one. There simply won't be enough money and sponsors to go round.

We need to let a thousand flowers bloom by freeing all schools from central and local government control. No standardisation into grammars or comprehensives or secondary moderns or CAs, just thousands of schools with their own budgets, their own management, their own ethos, their own selection and disciplinary policies, etc. Let government's role be to ensure that parents have the minimum funds to pay for an education, and to ensure that parents fulfil their responsibility to educate their children. But no more than that.

Anonymous said...

Just end the public schools. It would be a much more honest way of educating children, since charity schools would be better maintained and have a better level of teacher than currently, while anyone with any ambition or resources would find the right fee institution for their child. Forcing all government schools to the horrid levels of the worst of them is an atrocious lie: promising an education but not roviding one. It entrenches wealth and privilege while claiming to abolish it (much like estate and "progressive" income taxes).

Alternatively, make every school indeendent and give every child a voucher. Then there is an incentive to REALLY educate kids and to ensure that there is no union feather-bedding or deadwood.

Harry Haddock said...

As I blogged, last straw for me, he's lost my vote, leaving with me for nobody to vote for. Very sad.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Its time for Cameron to go. Brown is going to make mince meat of him.
The tories just look so weak and wet.
I dipare at Cameron he is New labour not conservative.

Anonymous said...

"give every child a voucher"


You may want to read the speech........

YHN said...

Until the money follows the child, with local people being left to decide the best structure for them, education will continue to be used as a political football with gimmick after gimmick.

I'm very pro-grammar, but the debate should be about removing politicians from the educational structure choices and empowering parents by ensuring the money follows the kid.

This is where, for me, Cameron has failed his party members, because once again, the party has centrally decided what is best for us, when we are perfectly capable of deciding for ourselves based on our own local circumstances.

jean shaw said...

Some comments have said the writer has nowhere to go now with the abandonment of the grammar school policy. Not strictly correct UKIP have issued press releases pointing out they still support Grammars as an agent of social mobility and excellence.

Anonymous said...

We need a debate-with or without Dave!

Soddball said...

Perhaps when Willetts claimed that grammar schools fail to reach poor children and that they are mostly middle-class, he could have looked at the reasons why?

The primary reason is that middle-class families have moved to those areas where grammar schools remain - such as Kent. As a result, those areas have a preponderance of middle-class parents and children.

Were grammar schools available throughout the country, this would not be an issue. It's only the closure of grammar schools in most of the country that has created this problem.

My mother went to a grammar in East Ham where, I can assure you, the majority of the intake was not 'middle class' and nor was she.

lib dem said...

Iain you are right.

An unnecessary row and a complete balls up by the politically inept Willetts and Letwin.

Camoron must Go said...

Camoron is clearly not fit to lead the Tories. This is another Blair-lite policy initiative, so why doesn't the chinless wonder go and join the remenants of New Labour.

My partner passed the 11+, there is no doubt that the GS environment enabled her to use her talents to qualify as a doctor and become a Consultant.

Unfortunately, I doubt that a comprehensive school would have allowed her to develop in the same way. Too many of these schools do not have properly qualified teachers in phsyics, which means that double entry science GCSE is common. Diffiuclt subjects like history, physics and economics are fast becoming the preserve of the selective state schools and private schools.

The sad reality is that if you want a grammar school education which will help your child achive their academic potential, you either have to live in a district with selection, or end up paying £10K p.a. in fees at a (former) direct grant grammer.

Camoron needs to consider how best to open up the best educational opportunities to all the talents, not to blindly support a system which hits the intelligent working class youngsters.

Look at it another way, if the Tories had elected David Davies, it would have been a clearer signal in favour of meritorcracy.

Camoron is a less than gifted member of a rich and powerful clique. Destroying or neglecting the grammar schools allows the rich and untalented to prosper.

Ditch 'Dave' now.

Ned said...

Our erstwhile Leader DC, fiddles in Classrooms & takes Photo opportunities... whilst the Party is incandescent with discontent about "Our Grammar Schools policy"... Y Cooper(HIPPs) gives us a bashing in the Commons , Gordon Brown is the new PM! MPs seem more interested in voting to escape the FOI policy..on themselves!
When are we going to come out with solid policies?... instead of tinkering at the edge of real politics & begin to climb that mountain.

Anonymous said...

"Were grammar schools available throughout the country, this would not be an issue. It's only the closure of grammar schools in most of the country that has created this problem."

This misses the point of the evidence raised by Willets. It's not a catchment problem. Where you have a grammar school, if they were working properly in helping bright children from all backgrounds you'd expect a certain proportion of less well off children in line with the proportion of less well off families in the catchment area. This doesn't matter whether there are high numbers of low numbers of the less well off; it's the proportion you are looking at.

The evidence presented by Willets suggests that this is not happening, and that the proportion is below that one would expect. This indicates the system is not, in fact, working as we would like anymore for various reasons, and Willet's proposals are to take account of this and introduce a system which does, in fact, mean you don't have to have money to ensure that a), one gets a good education, and b) bright children from all backgrounds are stretched.

Newmania said...

Dale This is an argument we didn't need to have.

Newmania -Yes we did. It was an illusion that the Conservative Party could move votes without any pain and the Brown challenge is about to expose that illusion. This attachment to the past operates in isolation from the educational world and is regarded as laughable by the public sector professionals the Party has to attract. LAUGHABLE. It is about being modern and existing in the world and outside the party . It is also vital for the educational system of the future which has to be for all


Dale- Instead of attacking the concept of grammar schools we should be encouraging diversity in education - and grammar schools are a part of that diversity. David Willetts' main defence of his anti-grammar school position seems to be that they don't take enough kids who have free school meals. This is no way to judge whether a school is a success or not.

Newmania-You have missed the point entirely, The index of free school meals shows that Grammar schools discounting for the social mix do not , in fact perform especially well . They are simply a private drive that naturally enough does better than the public street. As for diversity .Well how weak is that . Some good and some bad you mean ? You have confused a rhetorical method by which Grammar schools were defended with the truth



Dale -What we must move towards is a system where all kids have the opportunity to excel.

Newmania- ummmmm is that a platitude …? Could be could be …..

Dale -Graham Brady got it right on PM today when he said: "I don't think it's true to say grammar schools entrench privilege….., but he was brave to say

Newmania -Brave ? Hardly with most of the Party in agreement it is in fact an invertebrate attempt to make personal political capital out of what is a betrayal.He and Simon Heffer are far far behind the debate whic . It is not good enough not to entrench privelege , school s have to beused to re set the meritocracy to fair ie as active social engineering tools. You do not seem to have noticed the extent to which our “ society “ is fissuring . Perhaps some time spent in the inner City is required ?

Dale -Consistency is a key word here and it's something David Cameron rightly makes a lot of. If you really believed grammar schools were part of the problem, you'd not only not build more, you'd abolish the existing ones.

Newmania -Irrelevant , simply political expediency.. as you well know.




Dale -Now, let's look at the other side of the argument. In 1973 I failed my eleven plus. Etc. etc.

Newmania -Times have changed Iain the failing schools are now so badly failing that no parent would allow their child into them if they failed an eleven plus . Move or buy. Most do one or the other . I am leaving Islington for this very reason and putting a “ Grammar school” in the middle of the Andover estate is not going to change anyones mind. Try to visualize the world in which the majority live and you will see how inadequate this response is

Dale -The challenge for all political parties is to come up with policies which make the need for selection at 11 superfluous.

Newmania- More platitiudes…IMHO





Dale- But just as you don't make the poor richer by making the rich poorer, you don't make less able kids more able by making the more able kids less able.

Newmania -It has nothing to do with ability it has to do with class. Show us that Grammar schools do better with the same intake and you have a case . You cannot because they do not








Dale-I don't pretend to have the answer to the structure of our secondary schooling system,

Newmania-Glad we can agree on something.

I very much wish I had more time to comment but tragically I owe my employers a little concentration. The problem is that Willets and co have not supplied the other side of the equation . If grammar schools are a problem because they take all the educational resources then the better comps will go on being so . The answer is the fair allocation of resources via academic lottery in a wide catchment area . Ideas on setting are useful but above all the homogenous acdemic intake will remove the fear of the sink and allow teachers to become accountable . This is why the NUT fear the initiative and why the Conservative Party should support it . Without some approach to meritocracy the whole moral basis of the small state country I disappears and it is crucial the Conservative Party do not continue to show themselves to be self serving hypocrites

Newmania said...

Anon-It's not a catchment problem. Where you have a grammar school, if they were working properly in helping bright children from all backgrounds you'd expect a certain proportion of less well off children in line with the proportion of less well


That is very true but how is Willetes going to solve the vital matter of intake whioch is increasingly criven by wealth and socila advantage .It is not . His own arguemnts condemn him . He stes a problem and does not supply the answer. The exciting Lottery trial in Brighton amingst other measures is the way and the Labour Party are thinking of making it policy. If the Cionservatives do not get their act in gear they wil once again be beaten on this key issue. It will be deserved as the problem is their own poltical cowardice !

Newmania said...

Blimey sorry for the spelling I `m rushed

Anonymous said...

badly timed and badly presented - if it was a commitment to raise the quality of ALL schools (which it is is essence) why present it is a grammar school issue at all. All parents will welcome better schools, more streaming within schools and the return of dicipline to schools-surely thats all the policy needs to be.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:32 - couldn't agree more. A storm in a tea-cup caused by bad presentation giving a perfect chance for the usual opposition of government + BBC to give the party a knocking. As far as I can see there is actually nothing new in what Willet's has said.
Why can't they just shut up and get on with rubbishing Brown? Whenever Blair was in trouble, he brought up the hunting bill because he knew he could so easily side-track the opposition. Will grammar schools be Brown's diversionary tactic? You bet it will.

Roger Thornhill said...

as forthurst (May 17, 2007 12:01 AM) and soddball (May 17, 2007 8:49 AM) says.

I went to a newly Compo'd ex Grammar with 11 classes of 30 in the new year that had a Grammar stream to people who could barely read.

Madness. The school was a monster. Class streaming is beyond rational dispute IMHO. Therefore to keep schools managable you need to select on entry to broadstream schools then substream within them. You will create Grammars in all but name.

Fact is, who says this needs the dead hand of the State and LEAs to manage? Let schools be independent and permit selection. Introduce vouchers. Grammars will appear but also nice safe non-academic yet ordered schools who can throw out disorderly kids instead of being "educator of last resort".

bgprior said...

Anonymous (10:47 PM): "It's interesting to note that vouchers are rather heavily backed in the speech."

The Soviet Union also had vouchers - they were called rubles. People were free to choose where to spend them. The trouble is that the state ran all the outlets and produced and supplied all the goods. So the little that you could buy with your vouchers wasn't worth buying, and consequently neither were the vouchers.

The point of vouchers isn't just that they enable people to choose, but critically that they enable the state-financing of education to be divorced from state-control. That Willetts thinks there is any merit in a system that combines vouchers with one-size-fits-all state-provision of the goods on which you can spend those vouchers, shows what a moron he is. If he's got two brains, it must be because the first one died, and I'm not sure they wired the second one up quite right.

Anonymous said...

Smart kids need a totally different pathway when learning things, you cannot lump them all together and expect everyone to do well -- how can you even consider that a kid with an average IQ can manage the level and pace of the education at grammar school? It's designed for the top 5% of the population that has an IQ of 130+, and it is a tough place to get through! I went to a German grammar school and had to pass a number of tests to get in, it was a state school and therefore free, and I won my place on merit, like all the other kids that got in. The best thing about it was that I got to be in class with other geeks and I got some competition, and not just kids who hated me because my grades were easy to get for me. What's more, if you waste that precious time between 10 and 18 on easy education that every child in a mixed ability class can manage, it is gone forever, you will not end up with an adult as capable as someone whose schooling pushed their abilities to a limit.

David Lindsay said...

I'll post this here as well, now that Iain has a thread on the subject (an answer to the Thatcher question can already be read on the "Blair to Resign" thread - in brief, no she didn't):

Why is anyone surprised? The Tories have always been against grammar schools.

As Education Secretary, Thatcher (who sometimes came as close as possible to claiming to have attended a state grammar school without actually telling that lie) closed so many of them that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled.

During a very prolonged period in office, the Tories made no effort to reverse comprehensivisation, because, far from being Socialist, its suited, and suits, their requirements to a tee, with strict selection by parental income through either or both of fees and house prices.

As for Labour, comprehensive schools were what it came up with when it gave up (a very long time ago) on serious wealth redistribution. "Equal Opportunities", "meritocracy", and all that. Nothing to do with Socialism at all, to say the very least.

Still, it is notable that a vote for the Tories is now a vote to close down even the grammar schools that still exist. But again, why is anyone surprised? The Tories have never done anything to defend the grammar schools.

And why would they? Indeed, how could they? Even in flagship Kent, that job has been left to Eric Hammond. Of course.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems today seems to be lumping all the kids together and proceeding according to the lowest common denominator. I, like Judith, am a product of the 1950s. I managed to squeeze through the 11+, but not well enough to be considered for a place in a "proper" grammar school. I was therefore allocated a place in secondary modern school, which described itself as a "County Grammar", that had a grammar stream (one class for each year) and which ran alongside the normal sec-mod syllabus. The school also had a technical stream (one class a year) which started at age 13 for those of a technical bent who passed an exam at that age. The grammar class went on to O levels while the technical class went on to OND. The sec-mods who were streamed according to ability into A, B and C classes got nothing. This has always seemed to me to be the best solution - each child in the appropriate class according to his/her abilities and skills. It is a shame that the words "streaming" and "individual ability" seem to be abhorred by all politicians since it seems to me to be obvious that each child should have the opportunity to achieve the maximum he/she is able to without all the politically correct crap and nonsense about "elitism" we all now have to live with. It is a simple fact of life that some folks just are brighter than others. The other great scandal of recent years is the appalling decision not to teach English properly. I have spent many a weary hour correcting drafts produced by so-called educated jumior colleagues. If you learn a foreign language, you also learn how to conjugate, parts of speech etc etc. So why not for English too?

W G Gruff said...

You are quite right Iain, redistribution does not work. What is needed is a fairer distribution in the first place and a system that does not punish those who are more fortunate without improving the lot of the unfortunate. While what has been sold to us as 'socialism' seems only to provide the latter, it is clear that the market cannot provide the former.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

I liked Roger Gale's statement. "I think that one of David Willett's two brains has exploded".

This is a crazy U-turn for the Conservatives. It may cost them votes.

canvas said...

it's not like this is NEW news. David Willetts is doing a great job. Cameron and Willetts want to help ALL the children in the UK - not just the chosen few.

Wait until you see what they do with opening more 'special needs schools'. About time too.

Edward Leigh and all the right wing Tories need to stop trying to undermine Cameron - it's so self destructive.

Camoron must go said...

If 'Dave' Camoron is such a wonderful leader, why is he not laying into Broon.

Broon has screwed up the Tax System, the level it hits people at is too low, and hits larger numbers of households than necessary. The Tax Forms are too complex, how long did it take you to process the last one you filled in? The Revenue staff are overwhelmed by Broon's constant tinkering with taxes, his merger with the Customs and Excise, and then the very wonderful Working Family Tax Credit. Add on Broon's unwillingness to stand up and be counted when there is criticism of the system, what does Camoron do?

Allows Willets to stand up and make a cack handed speech on Grammar Schools, and give the media a feeding frenzy. Is this effective opposition?

Unless there is are clear effective moves to highlight Broon's unfitness for office, and this governements many failings 'Dave' is history.

Pretending to be a teacher, visiting a Muslim family is all very well, but finding out about famlies cope with Broon's meddling is more important. Stop the stunts, 'Dave'.

Chris Marshall said...

David Cameron has more or less said that the Conservative Party should not support the creation of new grammar schools because it would not be a popular policy with parent-voters and that should be the end of the debate.

What sort of conservative policy is that? It seems to me that the Conservative party under Cameron will only do what it thinks will gain it power. I would call that Genghiz Khan politics not conservative politics.

In which case the best thing would be for the Conservative Party to loose the next election because that is the only way that we will ever get (eventually) a conservative government.