Comment | Why we need grammar schools
British education is failing. Our schools are failing our students and the future prosperity of the UK hangs in the balance. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have rated England’s 16-24 year-olds as being 22nd and 21st for literacy and numeracy respectively out of 24 countries. The children tested were educated under the last Labour government, who generated spectacular and never ending grade inflation as proof that education was getting better. As much as I would love to blame Labour for the mess our education system is in, the truth is that our problems started in the 60s and 70s as successive governments closed the grammar schools.
Today we have just 164 of these fine establishments left – bastions of social mobility and academic excellence. The building of new grammars is banned by law and both parties have said they will not re-introduce them. The significance of this mistake can’t possibly be overstated. We know that the future success of the British economy lies in rebalancing our
workforce towards differentiation between academic and technical skills – grammars provide the perfect opportunity to do this.
Opponents say they are socially divisive, elitist, and consign those who don’t make the grade to the dustbin. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forcing people without the gift of academic excellence to study qualifications they will never use and denying them the opportunity to learn skills which could make them a living in the process is nothing short of cruelty. Legislators must accept that a one size fits all approach to teaching just doesn’t work. The ‘medals for all’ approach of the past two decades has to end. Comprehensives breed mediocrity, grammars and secondary moderns breed success.
The evidence in favour of grammar schools is overwhelming: social mobility and diversity boomed while the grammar-educated generations were at the pinnacle of their economic careers. Since their closure the poverty trap has taken hold and social mobility has gone into decline.
In 2010 six of the top 10 local education authorities at GCSE level were either fully or partially selective. In the same year, one third of Oxbridge entrants came from just 100 schools, 14 of which were grammars and none of which were comprehensive (the rest were independent). The performance of ethnic minority students is markedly increased compared to the national average, as is the performance of those in receipt of free school meals and poor white males, who were recently marked out as being among the worst performers in the current system. The fact is that on virtually every indicator of social diversity grammars out perform their state counterparts.
If we want to solve the education crisis and to provide those from ethnic minorities and deprived backgrounds with the very best opportunities in life then we must stop tinkering around the edges. The living wage, tax credits and social intervention tackle the symptoms of education failure, not the cause. Grammar schools provide the best way to tackle the root of the problem.