Bring back the grammar schools! So there, I’ve thrown a hand grenade into the debate on education. It is so non PC to make this suggestion. Opponents will immediately wave their shrouds, wailing about late developing children having their lives blighted by the arbitrary 11+. I’m much more concerned about the thousands of children who want to learn having their lessons disrupted by pupils who don’t want to pursue an academic education.
The education system is not producing enough young people with the right skills and attitude to help us match our future competitors like the Chinese who are churning out millions of their youngsters ready for the challenges of the 21st century.
Our politicians are failing us badly and this is partly because they won’t offer the bold alternatives like the call I made in the first paragraph. Voters should be offered a choice between a Conservative Party explicitly committed to returning to the grammar school system with this crucial difference. They would also be committed to an excellent system of vocational training which would be equally well funded and held in high esteem by parents and business people.
Labour would be wholeheartedly committed to the comprehensive system with its basic belief in mixed ability teaching, giving everyone the same theoretical chance of succeeding in an academic environment. To give us truly comprehensive education, they might support the abolition of the public schools. They provide an unjustifiable passport to success for those with money. The problem is that the European Court of Human Rights (an institution I fully support) would probably strike out any legislation which scrapped Eton and Harrow.
UKIP is in favour of a return of the grammar schools but the two main parties offer a mess. A complex confusion of policies lacking any coherence because they haven’t the courage to say what they really believe.
Hence Education Secretary Michael Gove is trying to recreate the grammar school system by the back door. He’s doing this with academies and free schools. The latter scheme allows unqualified teachers into the classroom, free schools are being set up where they are not needed and are taking an unfair slice of the budget in setting up costs. He is trying to introduce grammar school rigour on the comprehensive system through the abolition of modules and an insistence on the teaching of facts in subjects like history.
Labour is massive handicapped in criticising this policy because academies were the big idea of Tony Blair. He could see how the comprehensive system was failing. But the Labour grassroots have never been happy with this approach. This leaves the affable and able Shadow Education Secretary and Liverpool MP Stephen Twigg in a difficult position. When he is asked what Labour’s policy is we get a list of tweaks to the current system. He wouldn’t close free schools but would insist on qualified teachers. He wouldn’t abolish academies but would want them to be parent led.
Twigg’s colleague Diane Abbott is in despair. She believes in rigour in education. She represents a constituency where many pupils lack family encouragement to succeed. Abbott said tough credible exam qualifications were needed by students who didn’t have parents who could put a word in for them in the jobs market. Michael Gove declared that he loved the Hackney MP after these remarks.
The voters need to be given a real choice. Let’s see whether they are attracted to a wholesale reform of the schools system to introduce academic and vocational schools equally prized by parents and society, or to continue and perhaps enhance, a truly comprehensive system of education.
Whatever the outcome, business is demanding better qualified youngsters and a stronger say in what is taught.