“More Grammar Schools will improve educational provision and enhance social mobility”
The “blob” was out in their full sneering force on last Friday, as the Harrogate Debating Society deliberated on the benefits or otherwise of Grammar Schools. The complete hegemony of the educational establishment (known as “The Blob”) was on display in the very proposition of the debate.
As a libertarian, this observer of these deliberations believes that social mobility should not per se be the rationale for education but rather the means by which any one individual can achieve their full potential. However, the Cultural Marxism that infuses so much of our zeitgeist seems, to many, to be as invisible as the air we breathe…I digress.
However, fewer topics seem to act as keenly as a dog whistle than a debate on Grammar Schools, and passions were ardently felt on both sides. Are they a hammer dealing a crushing blow to those who fail the selection process or are they, as I believe, the elevator that can raise children up?
Within the bounds of the debate, Jonathan Arnott MEP, UKIP Spokesperson on Constitutional Affairs and a Maths Teacher by profession, quickly established that he was not arguing for the false dichotomy as which the binary choice between Grammar schools and the old fashioned secondary modern is so often portrayed. Against an overwhelmingly hostile but polite audience, he argued that we should have academic selection as one component in a range of different types of schools in a system that is focused on the individual and their development rather than on a ‘one size fits all’. He went on to say that we should not return to some mythical and halcyon age on the 1950s and ‘60s.
Jonathan’s main contention was that grammar schools provide an opportunity for students from low-income families to escape poverty and gain a high standard of education. Oxbridge intake from state schools has decreased since Grammars were largely abolished and studies have shown social mobility to decrease. Demand for selective schools far exceeds places and an unfortunate consequence of this is the development of the practice of parents tutoring their children to get a place.
Jonathan went on to recognise that the 11+ was not perfect and that academic selection could not be based on a one-off test at eleven, but asked the audience to consider that we had lost something when Comprehensives were introduced, to the detriment of poorer working class children of academic ability.
It seemed to me that Fiona Miller, the prominent Guardian Journalist speaking against the motion, disappointingly dismissed this argument and instead suggested that Comprehensives where the ideal solution. She seemed to imply that the failure of the educational system was due to the 5% of students that went to Grammar schools as they increase divisiveness.
What appeared to be required for Comprehensives to succeed, surprisingly, for a Guardian Journalist, was more funding (irony alert!).
Quoting heavily but selectively from the Sutton Trust Report, her argument rested on academic research in Education, that in my own personal experience, is overwhelmingly qualitative, self-referential and non-repeatable. As such, I believe that this research, although it often comes with a worthy pedigree, lacks the academic rigour that, as a science teacher, I would frankly come to expect from a GCSE science student. The academic establishment is a swamp that needs draining, locked as it is in the groupthink of the 1970s.
Fiona Miller seemed to be suggesting that there could be no deviance from the policies of successive governments to remove parental choice, and indeed parents were to be condemned for having the temerity of trying to help their children secure a place at a Grammar School.
The elephant in the room, that approximately 7% of children go to fee-paying schools, as do 14% of sixth formers, was almost entirely ignored by both protagonists.
Speeches were also taken from the floor and the Chairman of Colne Valley UKIP, Mr. Alan Schofield, whose personal experience as a student at a Technical School that had led to a fulfilling career as an International Engineer, made a particularly heartfelt plea for a return of the tripartite system, which had been swept away with the imposition of Comprehensive Schools from the 1960s onwards.
Although unsurprisingly, given the audience, by the end of the debate, the motion fell, the movement of votes between the beginning and end of the debate shifted in the motion’s favor, providing both sides with a claim on a successful outcome.
It seems to me that this debate is not going away and that a specific article on the merits of UKIP’s current policy, of giving existing secondary schools the opportunity of converting to Grammar Schools with the ultimate aim of having a Grammar school in every town, would be timely.