From Britain’s Home Secretary to Britain’s second female Prime Minister, Theresa May has entered 10 Downing Street with a few radical plans up her sleeve, one of which is repealing Tony Blair’s 1998 ban on creating new grammar schools.
Recent news has also claimed May’s plans will be defeated in the House of Lords. Both members of the Liberal Democrats and Labour agree with the initial ban. Members from both parties argue that the restoration of selective schools is anachronistic and that grammar schools should stay in the past. Furthermore, the fact that David Cameron also agreed with the ban suggests that May is making a miscalculation in how the public will react to an issue seen as the epitome of the rich and poor dichotomy.
So should selective schools really be reinstated after being banned for 18 years?
The rationale behind a new generation of grammar schools is that children, regardless of their background, would have access to premium education opportunities. While May’s desire to give every child an opportunity which reflects their potential should be taken at the face value of her wanting to help, the issues which accompany grammar skills are many. Primarily, May and her government will likely face a backlash from the public who feel that they are subsiding a split in education that seems dated. Is this really worth it for the fresh-faced, British Prime Minister?
Ultimately, the question is not only political but pedagogical: is it right to categorise 11-year-old children based on their intelligence? One can infer that those children who try out for grammar schools but do not get selected will begin to question their academic intelligence; as a result, their self-confidence will suffer. Academic attainment is by no means the only value that children have and there is a particular concern that those with learning issues, such as dyslexia, will be left behind in the flurry to show off grades rather than personality and skills. May’s plans for new selective schools will have a brutal, emotional effect on prospective pupils who work hard but do not get selected.
The acid test in the coming months is whether May is prepared to look hard at the history of Britain over the last twenty years and accept it is not only politics which have changed, but also how we value the contribution of citizens and workers. Are grades everything to creating the one nation meritocracy she claims to cherish above all else?