The topic of grammar schools has always been a contentious one - by having what is effectively an entrance exam, do they pave a privileged path for certain children, leading them towards opportunity and prosperity, and consign those who did not perform well enough on that one day, when they were only eleven years old, to a second rate education?
Many would say that this is being overly dramatic - there is, in theory, nothing subsidiary about state schools in comparison to grammar schools. A child of ability will flourish in any environment, as long as they are given opportunity: this is the power of education. Teresa May`s recent campaign to overturn the ban on creating new grammar schools has angered many people. Her most anodyne of opponents have stated that grammar schools do not actually provide better education, and a pupil who passes their eleven plus would do just as well if they attended a state comprehensive. The Education Policy Institute conducted a thorough data analysis, and concluded that `Once prior attainment and pupil background is taken into consideration, we find no overall attainment impact of grammar schools, either positive or negative.`
More vociferous opponents of Teresa May`s proposal have said that grammar schools only help to widen the divide between children from affluent backgrounds, and those from average or lower income families. With grammar schools tending to crop up in more prosperous areas, it is easy to see the correlation here. There is also evidence that many teachers are drawn to grammar schools, as they relish the opportunity of working with children who are more intellectually able; and so there is an ever greater impoverishment of teachers to supply the needs of comprehensive schools.
Teresa May has argued that increasing the number of grammar schools will enhance social mobility - a claim severely critiqued by many in the education sector. Malcolm Trobe, acting general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said, in reference to the Education Policy Institute report, `creating more selective schools will not raise overall educational standards in England and is likely to widen the attainment gap between rich and poor children,`
The decision by Teresa May to increase the number of grammar schools is a radical volte-face, going against the policy of the last five decades. Since the late 1960`s there has been a trend towards comprehensive schools. Labour`s Education minister Tony Crosland launched a vehement campaign to `destroy every *expletive deleted* grammar school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.` This impassioned policy was much to do with reforming the ideology of privilege, as it was to reform the secondary schooling system. It was a bold riposte against the conservatism of his opponents, and until Teresa May`s September statement, where she said she would end the ban on constructing new Grammar Schools, it was the prevailing opinion of almost every subsequent political party. By the 1980`s most of the grammar schools throughout the United Kingdom had either closed, or converted to comprehensives. In the 1995 Labour Party Conference, the Education Spokesman David Blunkett promised that there would never be an increase of selective schools under a Labour government.
The history of state funded Grammar schools has its roots in the mid 1940`s. RA Butler`s 1944 education reforms mandated that every child of ability should have access to further education. As innocuous as this sounds today, it was such an important reform, because it stressed the ability of the child, over the affluence and social standing of its parents.
The pertinent part of the reform here is `child of ability.` Only those children of sufficient intellect were guaranteed a place at a grammar school. The eleven plus exam was thus formed: if a child passed they would gain admittance to their local Grammar school; if they failed, they were for the local secondary modern school.
As of 2016 there are only around 160 grammar schools in the United kingdom. Of course there are many private schools that have a rigorous selection procedure, but the trend for assessing and segregating children for their admittance into secondary state schools has been unpopular for many decades. Will Teresa May`s decision to permit the construction of new grammar schools be see as a progressive move? Will her decision engender further division between the rich and poor, or is she courageously addressing the issue of the UK`s failing Pisa ranking (measuring maths and reading abilities), which in 2013 publications, had the UK reaching only 23rd position, falling behind Belgium, France and Germany?