Stop Your Silly Class War

Here is a speech I gave in the House of Commons about the government's proposal for more grammar schools:

If I may, I’d like to start by offering some advice to the Government.

Stop your silly class war.

Well, Mr Speaker, that reaction is interesting, because that wasn’t my advice, 

It was the advice of the last Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Member for Witney, when asked about Tory MPs wanting a return to grammar schools. 

He went on to say: “I think it is delusional to think that a policy of expanding a number of grammar schools is either a good idea, a sellable idea or even the right idea”.

He was the future once – but the new Prime Minister just wants to hark back to the past.

Where once, under Labour, we had education, education, education this government's mantra is segregation, segregation, segregation. 

So perhaps the Secretary of State can start by telling us when the Prime Minister told her what her education policy was going to be.

Because, Mr Speaker, when she came to the House just last Thursday, she told us that there was nothing to announce. She said: “we have not yet actually made any policy announcements; they will be made in due course” and she assured us she was “looking at a range of options”.

Yet low and behold, just 24 hours later, the Prime Minister unveiled their policy in full. 

Apparently it did not take long to look at those options, Mr Speaker.

This is not a surprise. 

The Prime Minister’s plan seems to be that we need grammars, secondary moderns, and technical schools.

This is a line directly taken from the Conservatives’ 1955 manifesto. Hardly an education policy for the 21st century.

Was the Secretary of State unaware of the Prime Minister’s speech, or did she forget to tell the House? Perhaps the dog ate that bit of her answer.

And today’s statement is another sorry excuse. So I have some serious questions that she’s yet to answer.

Will she confirm that the new Prime Minister has absolutely no mandate for this policy? 

Not only was no such pledge in their manifesto, but the former Prime Minister, the then leader of the opposition, promised precisely not to bring in new grammar schools. He said: “It’s not something we would do if elected.”  

So we will vote to hold them to that and the country will hold them to that promise. 

When the Prime Minister’s predecessor was asked whether he would cave in to his backbenchers over grammar schools, he said: “I lead. I don’t follow my party, I lead them.” 

He was able to do this for over six years. His successor has hardly managed to last six weeks. 

And, Mr Speaker it is not just the former Prime Minister who opposes these plans. The Right Honourable Member for Loughborough has said of the creation of new grammar schools: “I believe that an increase in pupil segregation on the basis of academic selection is a distraction from serious efforts to narrow the attainment gap.” 

The Conservative chair of the Education select committee said last night, “We have serious issues about social mobility and I don’t think that having more grammar schools is going to help them,” and went on to say, “I think that the creaming off of the best is actually detrimental to the interests of the most.” 

So, Mr Speaker, will the Secretary of State now apologise for dismissing all opponents of her plans as placing dogma over pupils and opportunity?

Because all the major research shows that where there are grammar schools today, access to them are limited to the most well off.

It also shows that education attainment in grammar areas for those who fail to get into grammar schools is below the national average. 

So given the overwhelming academic evidence that grammars fail to improve the standards for the majority of children, what research is she basing her decision on and will she lay it before the House?

And can she explain just how this policy is going to work. She seems to be saying not only can every new school be a grammar but that every existing school can convert to a grammar as well. I may be a comprehensive girl but even I can see the flaw in thinking you can let every school in the country select through an exam. So can she tell us just how she will decide which schools will be allowed to segregate pupils and which won’t?

We are told that the new grammars may be free schools. But free schools are not free to the taxpayer.

How much of the schools budget will be put aside for these new grammar schools? And has she received any extra funding from the treasury, or will this have to be taken away from existing schools who are already facing the first real terms cut in decades?

Page 25 of the Government’s consultation document says that for schools to become grammars, one requirement they may have to meet is: “Establish a new non-selective secondary school, with capital and revenue costs paid by government.”

Perhaps the Secretary of State can reassure the house that this will be paid for by a new funding arrangement she has reached with the Treasury, rather than being another squeeze on a schools budget facing cuts for the first time since the last Labour government took office.

The government has suggested that our universities will be allowed to charge higher fees in exchange for sponsoring new academy schools. The Higher Education and Research Bill is going through this House now but this is the first mention that we have heard of this. Can she tell us how much higher they intend to allow fees to go, and exactly what requirements will be placed on higher education providers in exchange?

She has talked about parental choice. Will she acknowledge that the effect of bringing back segregated schools is that the schools choose who they think are the right pupils, rather than pupils or parents choosing what they think are the right schools?  

Does the Secretary of State not agree with Members on all sides of the House that our goal should be providing an excellent education for all children at all schools, and that the segregation of children at age 11 will undermine this goal? 

The Prime Minister has already pledged an additional £50 million to help existing grammar schools expand. Can the Secretary of State tell the House if this is new money agreed with the Treasury, or if it will be just another cut to the current schools budget? 

The Prime Minister promised on the steps of Number 10 to govern for the many, not the privileged few; to be led by the evidence when making decisions; to be a one nation leader.  

Yet now we have a policy that is aimed not just at serving a privileged few but entrenching that advantage over the rest of society

A policy which flies in the face of all evidence. 

A policy that is all about partisan politics and old Tory dogma. 

Labour will not stand by and allow hundreds of thousands of children to be cast onto the heap of failure because of a test at the age of 11. 

Labour stands for education not segregation and will oppose this bill

I ask Honourable and Right Honourable Members from across this House to join me in ensuring all children can enjoy the excellent education they are entitled to, by opposing these proposals. 

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