Time to move on: grammar schools and the stale debate

When Tony Blair banned the opening of new grammar schools in 1998, the debate was far from over. Now, in the wake of Theresa May’s announcement that the Conservatives intend to lift the ban, the conversation on grammar schools has picked up where it left off. But why do we discuss this potential lift as though it were still 1950? There are various implementation methods on the table for the Conservatives, and debate must resume as such, instead of regurgitating long-held vendettas. Grammar schools are an updated concept with positive implications for the British education system and society as a whole.

The principal benefit of grammar schools must be social mobility which was not fully pursued when grammar schools first came into being. However, with entry assessments changing, this will be a huge advantage. The 11+ must not be the only entry assessment, rather, children across comprehensives should be monitored throughout their academic careers in order to detect signs of academic promise. As such, there are supplementary opportunities to climb the ladder, and to move across to an environment in which to flourish. We’ll see greater numbers of young people from different social and economic backgrounds integrating which must be considered fundamental to the overall benefit of social mobility.

Furthermore, the twenty first century grammar school must be established in the most deprived areas of UK. The benefits are obvious; the young people most disadvantaged will be targeted. When we evaluate the underlying causes behind much of the poverty in UK, we come across a self-perpetuating cycle. In other words, if you’re born into a disadvantaged area, it’s difficult to lift yourself out especially surrounded by a culture of poverty, in worst cases crime. Through placing grammar schools in the most disadvantaged areas we have an opportunity to provide a way out for young people, a leg up the ladder towards the opportunities traditionally reserved for public schools. While, simultaneously the issue of supposedly middle class families manipulating the system through moving to catchment areas will be largely overcome.

And yet, there’s still opposition from the parties which claim to stand up for the most vulnerable in society. The suggestion that grammar schools provide a two stream education system of the middle class and comprehensives is no longer a credible argument, the social benefits of this system are clearer and more attainable than they were nearly seventy years ago. But then again solutions revolving around hard work, independence and responsibility have never been popular with the state-centric left wing. And in opposing grammar schools on the grounds that some children will remain in comprehensives, the argument is essentially ‘if not everybody can benefit in the same way, I’d rather nobody did’, not unlike Blair’s pursuit of abstract equality which led to the ban in the first place. Not every child is the same, and not every child will be suited to the academic focus of grammar schools.

Let’s pursue an education system which sees every child as independent, both in their abilities, and also from their backgrounds. An education system which is blind to income, and instead prioritizes hard work and merit. The left cannot cling to the same arguments as they did sixty years ago forever: it’s time to move on the debate.