Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary, has finally announced a £50million funding package to support grammar schools that wish to expand. His intention is worthy – to increase the number of grammar school places for children from underprivileged backgrounds.
With the neatest of timing, the announcement came just before the Sunday Times revealed that Britain’s wealthiest man came from a council house and won a place at grammar school.
The trouble is, as Chris McGovern argues here, £50million out of the whopping education budget (which for 2019 will be running at 6 per cent of our £2trillion-plus GDP) is mere window-dressing. Millions of hopeful parents and children will be lucky if between a miserable one thousand and two thousand places are created – the size of one large comprehensive school. That’s all.
But it’s been enough to bring out the anti-grammar brigade in force and the near-pathological hatred that the very mention of these schools evinces.
What is it that they fear? They have already won the battle. Mrs May is not about to introduce across-the-board selection or turn 30 per cent of schools back to grammars.
There’s no sign that she is up for challenging the anger grammars galvanise which now infects the best part of the establishment. Witness Saturday’s Letters to the Editor in the ‘voice of the establishment’ Times. Not one was published in their favour.
The head of Colfe’s School, London, asserted categorically that expanded grammar schools will not accommodate more children from less privileged backgrounds. How he knows this he did not say. Perhaps he thinks children from poor backgrounds are congenitally incapable of competing against the sharp-elbowed moneyed middle class (if such a class now exists and has not itself been pushed into poverty by successive governments ironing out earned and unearned ‘incomes’). This is eugenics.
Nor apparently can the siting of a school – whether in a poor inner-city borough or an edge-of-town estate as opposed to leafy suburb – make any difference either. I am not sure how many middle-class parents would be prepared to send their kids into the heart of London’s knife-infested inner boroughs.
Another correspondent, Sir Peter Newsam, a former Chief Schools Adjudicator, stated equally categorically that the government’s ‘misguided and dangerous’ expansion proposal would neither increase parental choice or social mobility. How can that be? Surely any extra school in a vicinity means more choice?
He explained. For every 25 children who enter a grammar school the other 75 have no choice. Such was this adjudicator’s perverse logic. I am glad he never judged my children. They would have had to be stopped from doing anything if he could prove another child somewhere else couldn’t be doing it (even if they had chosen not to – after all not everyone wants to be an academic, not everyone wants to learn to play the piano or to speak French, any more than every boy wants to be a footballer). I suspect what he really meant was that 75 per cent will still be stuck in the school that was bad for the 100 per cent of them in it before. What an indictment of the comprehensive system that is.
Does he have so little confidence in the ability of the current system that to siphon off a tiny percentage is to disadvantage the rest? How many need to be sitting next to Stephen Hawking? Or are the brighter children simply there to serve their slower peers, as servants of the state so to speak, and deny themselves?
Sir Peter should rest easy with his knighthood. There’s no need for his sound and fury. Change will be no more a pimple on the educational haystack – not on £50million, unless he thinks Damian Hinds is a dab hand with the loaves and fishes and will have a Feeding of the Five Thousand moment. If only that were the case.
As to whether grammar schools increase social mobility or not – educational egalitarians’ next gripe – that depends entirely on your understanding or definition of social mobility. Are they referring to inter or intra generational mobility? The truth is that few have any idea.
They should calm down and stop depending on Alan Milburn’s dodgy analysis. If they examined the research for themselves they’d find that Britain is a more open society than he and Les Ebdon, the director of fair access to higher education, would have us think. The real problem, they’d find, lies in the strength and pervasiveness of the myth the Left have so successfully peddled – that in Britain class divisions are sharper and more enduring than in other western industrialised countries, and that social movement between classes is rare and difficult to achieve. It is not.
Another certainty is that spending £50million on a few new grammars is a darn sight better use of money than financing social mobility czars and their permanently unfinished social mobility revolution. Grammar schools help children get a leg up. Czars stifle ambition by feeding discontent and victimhood.
They’d do better to communicate the truth, which is that the positions individuals achieve have a lot more to do with their abilities and hard work than with the social advantages or disadvantages bestowed upon them by accident of birth. And no, not everyone can rise through the masses, by definition.
Unfortunately they operate on what Professor Peter Saunders calls the SAD thesis. They assume that ‘social advantage and disadvantage’ conferred at birth is what shapes destinies. This is directly opposed to the meritocracy thesis, which suggests that even children born into the humblest of circumstances can and do succeed if they are bright and they work hard – and especially so if there are opportunities for them to grasp.
What is misguided is not the grammar school plan, but the determinism that dictates educational uniformity with ‘access’ to ‘elite institutions’ by class or ‘identity’ quota rather than merit; all of which curtails those necessary freedoms – to compete, to choose or to select. And has a dulling effect.
Do we want to be a SAD society for ever or a meritocratic one? That is the question the country has to answer. The dogmatic education establishment is intransigent. There is to be no creaming off – not even for the brightest of the poorest children. That would be to send an electric shock through a stultified system.
As Chris McGovern wrote at the weekend, a bit of creaming off – having some real choice – is what parents aspire to, believe in and want for their children. But as with Brexit, there is a yawning gap between what the people want and what the Left liberal elite (safe on their government gravy train of hoovered-up privileges) think is good for them. That is, in this case, to keep them, semi-educated, in their place.
Let the cream rise to the top? Never. Not in resentful modern Britain.