Grammar schools, again
In particular, he dealt with the currently fashionable enthusiasm for a return to a grammar school system with remarkable tact and skill. This is one of those passing fads that surfaces in the comment pages, even of newspapers that ought to know better, and a rather more persistent ideological marker of the right wing of the Conservative Party.
I understand why Martha Kearney, the presenter, tried to put the arguments in favour of returning to the 11 Plus, because those were the hard questions for Gove, but she strayed into contentious ground. She said that opinion polls showed that 75% of people support grammar schools, but this depends entirely on the wording of the question. If you ask about grammar schools, people say they approve of them. If you ask about the 11 Plus, or selection, or secondary moderns, people say they disapprove of them.
More importantly, she said that, “as grammar schools ended, social mobility did as well”. There is no evidence of any connection between the two, or indeed between most grammar schools staying abolished and the slight increase in social mobility under the Labour governments.
Gove was too polite in reply, because he has to watch his right-wing flank. The idea that labelling 80% of school children (including almost all working-class children) as failures at the age of 11 would make Britain more equal is implausible.
Instead, Gove gently said that it is “not the case that you need selection” to achieve excellence in schools systems, if you look at the most successful countries. He pointed out that excellent teachers, school autonomy and rigorous standards were more reliable common factors.
If you want a fuller argument for why more selection at 11 would not promote fairness and equality, and why a Conservative politician cannot say so, I refer you to David Willett’s speech in 2007, after which he lost his job.Tagged in: michael gove, public service reform, schools
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