Friday, February 01, 2013

Do Liberal Democrats campaign against grammar schools?

When I asked this question on Twitter a few days ago I received only one reply - a slightly plaintive observation from someone that, where he lived, the Liberal Democrats don't seem to campaign countywide on anything. So let me try again here.

Liberal Democrats are pretty solidly against selection in education. That has been borne out this week in the Lib Dem blogosphere. While everyone agrees it is the Cleggs' business and no one else's whether they educate their children privately, a piece in the Financial Times by Chris Cook citing research that questions whether grammar schools make any contribution to social mobility has been widely welcomed.

Despite this near universal opposition in the party, I cannot recall hearing of any Liberal Democrat campaigns against grammar schools in the counties where they still exist, let alone Lib Dems taking action to end selection where they have power.

Do such campaigns exist? It would be interesting to know.

Back in the 1970s when selection in education was still a major issue, the old Liberal Party had a clear view. It believed that the matter should be settled locally.

Perhaps that was an example of the Liberals' instinctive preference for local decision making. Or perhaps it allowed them to say the right thing nationally without upsetting local voters who were rather keen on selection.


Neville Farmer said...

I'm sorry I missed your tweet the first time round, dear Bonkers but I'm happy to answer now. My first political act at the age of 10 was to gather signatures on my Tory/Teacher father's petition in favour of comprehensive education in 1970. Margaret Thatcher had done a deal with Sir Tatton Brinton MP - chief amongst the carpet barons of Kidderminster, to retain the 4.5 / 95.5% Grammar/Secondary Modern ratio that gave him the educated management and blissfully ignorant shop floor staff he needed to run the town.

I subsequently passed the 11+ and went to King Charles I Grammar School for Boys along with 60 others. The rest, including some much brighter kids from my primary school were doomed to duke it out over the woodwork benches of Harry Cheshire Secondary Modern School for thugs.

However, contrary to popular belief, my education wasn't remarkable. We didn't send many kids to Oxbridge - a couple but not many. And what was also clear was that some of us had peaked our intellectual superiority at 11 but developed little thereafter. Some at Harry Cheshire doubtless peaked too late.

Most of the arguments I hear from parents about the good old days of Grammar Schools are based on the assumption that their child will get in. Well, life's not like that and we should not pander to such foolishness.

There are two reasons why retaining Grammar Schools is illiberal: 1: It is elitist and guarantees a worse education for the majority of kids and 2. Deciding a child's future at 11 is patently irresponsible.

What we should be aiming for is flexibility within schools to allow children to flourish according to their own talents and their own timescale. It is not difficult but it does require a lot more trust from parents and a lot less meddling from Whitehall.

Let's not fall into the Tory trap of seeking some rose-tinted good old days concept that never really existed.

Simon said...

Lib Dems in Kent voted in favour of opening a new Grammer school in Sevenoaks. I think local policy on selection in general is to sit on the fence and let everyone assume we agree with them.

Since, like most middle class parents, I confidently expect my child to sail through the 11 plus I find it hard to disagree

I do feel kind of guilty about it though.