High schools are not incompatible with the educational revolution of the conservatives.
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss spoke favorably to lift New Labor’s ban on new high schools. Sunak did it at the request of Nick Ferrari in the first leadership contest, and Truss did it at the request of myself and Andrew Gimson in ConservativeHome’s own interview. Neither committed to removing the ban, but both expressed support for the grammars in principle, and Sunak suggested that he supported the expansion of existing grammars.
That they did is not surprising. Few other policies – aside from declaring war on France, abolishing income tax or reintroducing corn laws – are as likely to get a roar of approval from conservative stalwarts. Such leg displays are easily done during the election campaign, and then even more easily dropped as government distractions multiply.
Nevertheless, it is interesting in the light of the educational background of the candidates. Much has been made of Sunak’s attendance at Winchester College and whether that contributed to his, ahem, “screaming private school behavior.” Having met him I would say he is the first Wykehamist I have known since his good friend James Forsyth who is not right handed and boring Brideshead keen. But don’t hold it against him.
Truss, meanwhile, got herself into hot water by claiming Roundhay School, her former complete children, had ‘dropped out’ while she was there. These claims have been criticized both by a current Conservative councilor who attended the school and by the former MP. Whoever is right, one thing remains: it wasn’t a high school anymore when she was there.
Like Sunak, she reflects the educational landscape after Anthony Crosland’s efforts to “destroy all the fucking high schools” – a world divided between private education for those who can afford it and local composition for (almost) everyone. world, with nearly 1,300 English and Welsh grammar schools lost and only 163 left. I myself attended state school, on scholarship, having been educated by the state until l 11 years old.
Fortunately, our reforms since 2010 have meant that the gap between public and private schools is not so marked. From Gove, supporting phonetics, streaming, curriculum reform, academies and free schools, we have seen over 10,000 places in academy schools created and standards raised across the country. In 2018 almost two million more pupils attended schools rated as good or exceptional by Ofsted compared to 2010. We now have Brampton Manor Academy sending more pupils to Oxbridge than Eton College.
This could explain why some see lifting the ban on new high schools as a regressive step. Just because they necessarily see it as a step back to the bad old days of a life-ruining Eleven Plus, crumbling secondary moderns, and hard-nosed teachers with mortar boards and canes. Instead, they see it as a narrow-minded retreat into an educational world before Gove’s life-changing reforms.
David Johnston, the MP for Wantage, didn’t resort to my lazy snaps when do his business against grammars for The spectator. Instead, he eloquently argued that, when adjusted to antecedents, grammars do little to raise the bar. He rightly pointed out that high schools today have five times as many people attending prep schools up to the age of 11 as disadvantaged students, and that any mass grammar building program would require a tremendous amount of effort. money than we currently do. you have.
Nevertheless, Johnston misses some crucial facts about grammars today, and why lifting the ban would improve the post-Gove educational landscape, rather than hinder it. Like David Butterfield highlighted, most counties no longer have high schools today, and those that remain are overwhelmingly concentrated in the more affluent middle-class neighborhoods. Almost a quarter are in Kent and 45 of the 50 most deprived upper-tier local authorities in England do not have one.
It’s not always the case. Butterfield pointed out, for example, that in 1959 60% of Yorkshire grammar school children were the children of manual workers, at a time when 40% of 15-year-old pupils nationwide were in grammars. More importantly, even in the high schools that exist today, the achievement gap between rich and poor is much smaller than at all schools – at just 4.3%, compared to 25% nationally. .
Why is it? The selection principle means that emphasis can be placed on the naturally academically brilliant, whatever their background. If the grammars were rolled out nationwide, I wouldn’t be surprised if their composition remained disproportionately bourgeois. Like Ed West pointed out, middle-class children come on average from more literate households, read more widely, and have higher IQs. The more we learn about intelligence, the more it seems to be primarily genetic – and hereditary.
This could be used in a case against grammars. I do not agree. Middle-class kids with pushy, literate parents will most likely do well in any school you push them into, selective or not. But it is the bright children of disadvantaged or below-average IQ parents who lose out in schools where equality is placed before excellence in education. The goal of selection is to give them the opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.
The coelacanth high schools we have today—living anachronisms of a cursed past age—are the worst lottery in the ZIP code, with parents shelling out homes in catchment areas or tuition just beyond from the womb in order to bring their children to them and save on private school fees. Such was the world created by Crosland (skillfully aided, it must be saidby Margaret Thatcher).
Cameroon’s response to this question was to focus on raising the standard of all public schools, starting at the bottom – while carefully avoiding awkward questions about their own tendency to have attended private schools themselves.
Gove, the vessel of their goals but not of Tartan Toff, has now become so obsessed with its former quest to improve schools that it has joined Labour’s war on private schools. But stripping independent schools of charity status or charging VAT on tuition fees will do nothing to improve the life opportunities of the 93% of students who are not privately educated.
Instead, we can marry the free school revolution with the return of grammars. It was the fears of middle-class parents that their children would fail Eleven Plus and be sent to an underachieving modern high school that precipitated the departure of grammars.
So let schools become grammars if they wish, selecting students according to their abilities. But let’s also make sure that those who don’t make it still attend schools that benefit from Gove’s reforms. Large schools for everyone and selective schools for the most academic. The best of both worlds – and an end to Labour’s malicious and misguided war on academic achievement.
Or, if not the best world, then at least one where the contest to be our next prime minister doesn’t dissolve in a meaningless squabble over who went where and when.