Monday, June 12, 2017

Liberal Democrat attitudes to existing grammar schools

The Liberal Democrat manifesto was in no doubt:
The Conservatives want to take us back 50 years, to an outdated system of grammar schools and secondary moderns, ignoring all the research and expert advice that show it will damage the life chances of so many children.
And Tim Farron was certainly in no doubt after the election result was known:
"Even a modest extension of grammar schools is still unacceptable. It is a betrayal of the principle of comprehensive education. It needs to be thrown out of the window. 
"This election delivered a message to the Conservatives, people do not want to go in this direction. Theresa May needs to axe her plan for grammar schools like its architect Nick Timothy has been axed. 
And he added: "People want a country that is fairer not the rose tinted spectacles of the 1950s."
Both quotes, it is true, are about the Conservatives' plans to open new grammar schools. But if the evidence is so clear, and if feelings are running so high, you would expect Lib Dems to campaign locally to close the existing grammar schools where they still exist.

I once asked if this happens, but received no clear answer,

A clue to the position on the ground came in a New Statesman article about Tom Brake's campaign to hold on to his Carshalton and Wallington seat:
From there, it was north through the heart of Wallington, formerly part of Surrey, where three of Sutton’s five grammar schools are found. 
“Sutton is very popular because of the grammar schools,” Brake says. “Parents often make a point of moving to Sutton to access them. The downside is they are selective in their nature. It means that unless a child does well – not just well, but really well – in the 11-plus exam or the equivalent, then the fact that you live in Sutton is no guarantee that your child will get a place there. They are very high performing, there’s no doubt about that.” 
Theresa May has paved the way for more grammar schools to be set up. Is Brake pro or anti-grammar? 
“Well, I think provision of schools is something that should be locally decided,” he says. “Our party position, and my personal view, is that it’s something local councillors should be allowed to make a decision on.”
I am not getting at Tom. He did tremendously well to hold his seat and I am very glad he did.

And if that is the party position on selection, I am happy to support it. It certainly was the the old Liberal Party's view back in the 1970s when this was last a live issue.

But given how few powers local authorities now have in education I wonder if it now makes much sense as a policy.

There does tend to be a disconnect between Liberal Democrat national and local campaigning. The former calls for the extension of the market: the latter is concerned with protecting the victims of that extension. I wonder if our policy on selection in education is another example of that.

You may that such a disconnect is inevitable in the rough and tumble of elections, but I think it might do the party good to face up to its existence.


Anonymous said...

As a Lib Dem PPC in Kent I was more or less arguing in my campaign that more grammar schools all over the country would be bad for OUR Grammars (well it would mean les money for them at least) and Lib Dem's on Kent County Council actively support building more grammar schools in the country to boost the supply of spaces.

Personally I hate the 11+ and would love to see all grammar schools abolished, but there is a real sense around here that that is just not something you are allowed to say. I just hope we move outy of the county before my kids reach age 11!

Phil Beesley said...

I sympathise with Anon Lib Dem PPC.

We should stop talking about a Grammar school system. It is a Grammar school and Secondary Modern school system, with pupil direction determined by examination. Secondary Technical schools were originally part of the model.

Grammar pupils in the 1950s were taught Latin and Greek because the languages were a requirement at many universities. Grammar schools were one way -- aside from joining the armed forces and earning a commission -- to get a university education.

When extending their intake, universities dropped the Classics expectation. I learned Latin at a Grammar school in the 1970s and have used it ever since to take a stab on Italian restaurant menus; had I subsequently studied botany or zoology, Latin may have been a smidge more useful to me.

Everyone who has experienced the Grammar and Secondary Modern system has a different opinion. And there are so many opinions and facts.

Oxford University dropped the requirement for knowledge of Latin in 1960. The requirement for Grammar schools thus ended in 1961.

Anonymous said...

I was in a grammar school back in the forties. You got their by being brighter not fairer. The state wanted lots of STEM students. The state valued education to the extent of providing scholarships. This enabled me to go on to university.
Being well rounded paid no tax and invented nothing.
It is strange that these days athletes are very competitive but young students are not allowed,