Last night in the House of Commons, The Conservative Woman hosted a debate on grammar schools.

TCW Grammar School Debate Panel

Motion: ‘This House believes that a new generation of globally competitive grammar schools is essential for post-Brexit Britain’

Supporting: Graham Brady MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee and lifelong proponent of grammar schools.

Seconded by: Chris McGovern, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, former government advisor and TCW writer.

Opposing: Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Ofsted from January 2012 to December 2016.

Seconded by: Dr Andrew Cadman, data scientist and TCW writer.

Chair: Laura Perrins, co-editor of The Conservative Woman.

TCW Grammar School Debate Brady

Graham Brady MP, proposing the motion, noted how he “has the privilege of representing a constituency with one of the best state education systems in the country” and that comprehensive schools are lacking in getting pupils to achieve higher grades in tougher subjects.

This has a knock-on effect on social mobility, he remarked, meaning that many sectors are “disproportionally represented by private school pupils”. Brady powerfully explained  how he has a “fundamental, philosophical problem” with those who are against selective education – “shouldn’t we be moving on to a world where we have free choice on education?”, he asked. We must “give those who don’t have the freedom to pay, access to selection”.

Brady praised the recent Budget, saying that the new T-Levels announced will “raise the status of technical education” and closed his remarks by reiterating the need to “embrace the widest possible variety of schools”.

TCW Grammar School Debate Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw, opposing the motion, conceded than “comprehensive education has been botched in the past…but that was then”. Today, he said, the system has improved thanks to the previous ten to fifteen years of “radical change” which has ensured schools that were previously failures are now sending pupils to Russell Group universities in “scores”.

Many are now achieving “top GCSE results, and that is with a toughened standard” and “more poor youngsters are now going to university”. Sir Michael posed the question that since our system of mainly comprehensive education “is no longer broken…why throw a spanner in the works?” If you take the brightest pupils from comprehensive schools, Sir Michael remarked, “you do not lift everyone up”.

Sir Michael closed his remarks by arguing that students in areas of selective education experience “greater earnings inequality in later life” and that “we cannot afford the economic and social consequences” of selective education.


Chris McGovern, seconding Graham Brady MP, noted how the education system in Northern Ireland allows their grammar schools to “consistently get the best results” in their state education system. The lack of grammar schools benefits the private sector and also “benefits richer people who can buy a home in the catchment area” of good schools

“Everybody is a loser” from the comprehensive system, Chris remarked, since GCSEs are a “dumbed down” qualification – so much so that we would need to start GCSEs at 11 in order to catch up with standards in places such as Shanghai.

In the 1950s, “two thirds of grammar school pupils were children of manual labourers” and that element of social mobility has not been successfully rekindled because people have been “brainwashed that selective education is bad”. Closing his remarks, Chris said that the comprehensive system is a “dead horse…let’s have parental choice.”


Dr Andrew Cadman, seconding Sir Michael Wilshaw, produced a bold plan of action. “What a pity we have been talking about a lack of technical schools for so long”, and that for our new technical age, we need to reverse the bias against technical qualifications over academic ones.

Further, Dr Cadman argued that schools should be allowed to make a profit in order to “allow competition and the expansion of good schools” underpinned by a voucher system. The Government “lacks the courage to undertake such a bold move”.

Concluding, Dr Cadman said that merely reintroducing more grammar schools is “a narrow solution” and an “analogue solution for a digital age”.

Following a vote by the audience, the motion was agreed to – two thirds for, a quarter against and five abstentions.

You can listen to the entire debate below.

Our thanks to the panel and our excellent audience for their great questions.


  1. Check which subjects are being studied at Russell Group Universities by those from comprehensives. Too often it is arts degrees( excluding languages ) not numerical degrees leading to well aid jobs. What do you say to an arts graduate” Big Mac and Fries please “. Classics, languages or STEM undergraduate is often dominated by those from public/grammar schools or foreigners not comprehensive, as they do not offer Science Olympiads/ Further maths/STEP or Cambridge Pre- U. Historically engineering and applied science was dominated by grammar and not public schools.
    Manchester Grammar School is dominated by those reading STEM, languages, economics, accountancy, law, all read for well paid professions( especially finance ) and not arts/social sciences.

    Children at comprehensives suffer from poor advice from teachers on choosing subjects and careers which further creates a lack of opportunity compared to public/grammar schools. Taking double science GCSEs mean that a pupil can forget Oxbridge /Imperia and most top universities. Many leading schools teach IGSCEs which are similar to the old O Levels which are better training for A Levels or Cambridge Pre-U.

  2. Grammars are fine, but the other 80% also need options.

    Options that are not controlled by the state.

    Vouchers would provide far better options for most children. Most State School places cost the taxpayer around £5000 – £7000pa and a Public Schools day place costs around £12000.

    Access to a public school with small classes for just £6000pa? Many parents would jump at the chance.

    Money is the real power. At the moment in the State School System it is Ofsted

    • Phil R many public schools have become expensive because I expect all the needless extras. All that is needed to teach Greek or Maths is a blackboard. Even much modern technology is not needed. Alan Turing managed to enter Cambridge without a whiteboard, over head projectors, etc,etc. When it comes to class sizes, India copes with 50 pupils because disruption is not accepted.

      For fitness all that is needed are ropes, pull up bars and places to run, not expensive equipment. Music centres and technology centres increase costs. What is needed are old computers and electronic equipment which pupils can take apart, repair and build new items. Electronic equipment more than 4 years old would be cheap to buy. Art, metal work, wood work, clothes making can be taught using basic equipment, in basic rooms. Teaching drawing is cheap. After all if one looked at the conditions in which Micheaelangelo undertook his apprenticeship, people would be horrified.

      Grammar and Public Schools only moved out of city centres in the late 19C to early 20C due to smog and water pollution. Prior to Arnold, in public/grammar the sports most commonly undertaken were boxing( bare knuckle which included grappling and throwing), cudgels, fencing, squash( played against the chapel walls), rackets and rowing which do not take up much space. The vast acres of sports grounds for cricket, rugby, hockey and football are a post Arnold development.

      Talking to a prep school headmaster, parents who had gone to prep schools do not want expensive frills only good basics. Parents who have not gone to prep/public schools and have made plenty of money want expensive frills. Mots prep/public schools pre mid 1970s were tough: cold showers, minimal heating, draughty, peeling walls, awful food but basics were well taught. Many public schools had worse sports halls( built in late 19C/early 20C) than the newly built comprehensives of the 60s and 70s but won the matches because the training was harder. When I complained about conditions at prep/public school m Father replied ” It’s good training if you are a POW”. Hist best was a POW friend survived the death marches at the end of the war.

      Would it be possible to provide the pre War Grammar School Education for £7000pa. Could University Technical College Education be provided for £7K pa.

      • I looked at a staff photo on the wall of the local primary school around a year ago.

        For 150 kids there were 51 staff. Only 12 of them were teachers and of the 51 staff, there were two men.

        • So, about one member of staff for every 3 kids. They have it tough in schools don’t they? My primary days had one teacher per class of 45 kids. Of the two men….was one the janitor and the other the local authority groundsman dragged in to make up the numbers?

      • State schools get between a half and two thirds per pupil of the cost of a day school pupil at a public school.

        If this money was transferable, far more children could get an excellent private education as it would bring the cost within reach of more families

        • But a private education was £12000 according to you, why is the same affordable at £6000with a “voucher”?

          Public schools are not going to offer a £12000 level of education for a voucher worth £6000.

          • No they are not. But at the moment the only way that parents can access private education for their children is by paying £12k

            Same with say health care, if you go private you effectively pay twice.

          • Those that want better options, have a chance to afford them on moderate incomes.

            It does not have to be private schools. Other options could be funded under this model. If parents control the money they have options and can to a greater extent call the shots.

          • Vouchers offer the illusion of choice. You talk of ‘options’ without outlining what they will be, but a voucher will offer nothing more to working class because the “schooling market” isnt going to give them more than they already have.

            If anything it will offer more stress, jostling and messing about over something that could be more straight forward for the working classes – and a way for the pushy middle classes to use the voucher (tax payers money) to pay towards even greater education – a widening of the gap between the rich and poor.

  3. Wilshaw saying that more and more comprehensive students go to uni and get degrees – yes but what degrees are they? And why are so many with degrees having to take jobs in fast food outlets? Is this because they are Mickey Mouse degrees? Let’s face it, given a choice most students will opt for the easy degrees and end up with nothing of use to anyone.
    But there has to be enough grammar schools to give everyone a choice otherwise we just stay in the choice by size of wallet.

    • ….or Minnie Mouse degrees. It might be ‘triggering’ for some students to be told their ‘degrees’ are in the Mickey Mouse category.

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