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Chris McGovern: We will have to take a back-door route to more grammars


The Queen’s Speech might suggest that the ‘game is up’ for Tory plans to expand grammar school provision. As the BBC observed: “The Government’s plans for the next two years no longer include their most high profile education reform – the expansion of selective education in England.”

It is not, however, game, set and match to the educational establishment. The reason why potential Tory support drained away among parents was probably more to do with the Blob’s persistent scaremongering over school budgets. For years, polls have consistently shown that support for more grammar schools outweighs opposition to them.

Fortunately, most parents see the sense of educating children in line with their aptitude. It was for this reason that the Government felt confident enough to include in the Queen’s Speech an upgrading of technical education. This, of course, is the corollary of grammar school academic education. It is unlikely, however, that we shall see a restoration of technical schools to sit alongside existing grammars. The best we can hope for is a new ‘T-Level’ exam as a credible alternative to the ‘academic’ A-Level.

Remarkably, the Blob continues to promote its dogma of one-size-fits-all for secondary education. It seems that it really does believe that it should reject the schooling route of ‘education by aptitude’.  Howls of outrage were heard recently from teacher unions when it was reported that a handful of academy schools had set up an academic stream.

The truth is that the alternative to educating by aptitude is a continuing under-performance by our schools. Currently, the successful parts of our economy are too dependent on an older generation of workers and on well-educated immigrants. Whether the Blob likes it, or not, the recipe for the most successful education systems around the world is the provision of alternative pathways – technical and academic.

The new Government must not throw in the towel on education. The expansion of existing grammar schools does not require legislation. We have already seen one grammar school ‘annex’ being set up in Kent. We need more, lots more and, not least, to meet parental demand.

A few days ago, reported that, “Grammar schools in north Kent are coming “under siege” from London families desperate to place their children at some of the county’s top selectives…”.

Not all parents are persuaded, it seems, by the much-heralded success of state schools in the capital. They recognise that it is built on the admirable work ethic of its high immigrant population, on a mass of private tutoring backed by supportive parents, and, indeed, by its own cohort of hugely over-subscribed London grammar schools.

An expansion of existing grammar school places through annexes will only ever go a small way, of course, towards ensuring education by aptitude for all pupils. Given the circumstances in which it finds itself, though, there is one effective step that the Government could take to meet the needs of all pupils. It should do all within its powers to ensure that every comprehensive school has a both an academic/grammar school stream alongside a technical/vocational stream. Revolutionary? Not at all! They are what used to be described as bi-lateral schools.

(Image: Richard Harrison)

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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