This week Theresa May has released more details of the Government’s proposals to bring back selection in our schools.
Nationally around 5% of pupils attend grammar schools across England, which represents about 1 in 4 of pupils in areas that still have selection. Many grammar schools are excellent, and provide an outstanding education for the pupils who attend them. So why do Liberal Democrats say that there should be no further expansion?
The problem is for the three-quarters of children who don’t get a chance to access them. This week, many people have told the story about how they were told at the age of 11 that they were failures. That they were told they didn’t deserve the top education, reserved for the few, and how it affected them over the years. And how resources were skewed to grammar schools, leaving their schools under resourced.
Mrs May says she believes in inclusion. If she truly means what she says, then grammar schools are not the route. These days, grammar schools are the preserve of middle class, mainly white pupils, who have often had expensive private coaching before the tests. Sutton Trust research that shows nationally fewer than 3% of entrants are entitled to free school meals (a proxy for social deprivation and poverty). And grammar schools have fewer black pupils than other schools.
Liberal Democrats believe that we should have excellent schools for all our children. We believe that social mobility is absolutely essential to give all pupils the best chance to develop the skills and learning they will need in later life. That’s why we created the Pupil Premium (delivered in coalition) which is improving attainment for children from deprived backgrounds. This means we have to focus on the leadership and performance of all schools, not just a few.
In the mid 1990s I was the cabinet member responsible for education in Cambridgeshire. Ten years before, the Conservatives had abolished grammar schools, and the county council had worked hard to make the village and community colleges – all comprehensives – work and improve. Schools sent students on to universities and vocational training, including the top universities. As parents we chose the school for our children. It was only when I moved to Watford I saw the effect of even partial selection: don’t be fooled. Parents do not have choice with grammar schools, the power is in the hands of the schools. Too many parents who are enthusiastic about the principle of grammar schools realise this too late.
Surely as a country we need good local schools that teach and inspire all our children, not a few. Because our children – our future – deserve better. That is what Liberal Democrats will fight for.
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