Grammar school revival is a flagship Tory divider

The reintroduction of grammar schools has been given the go ahead by the newly appointed Education Secretary, Justine Greening, with the strong backing of the newly unelected PM, Theresa May.

10 Downing Street / CC
10 Downing Street / CC

Remember school? Endless summers, innocence, the only worry of your day was making sure you got enough time in the playground. Back then we didn’t have to think about which Tory was the most immoral, or how undemocratic the Labour Party has recently been. Back then playground politics were as close as we got, and it normally involved sports; hide and seek; a grazed knee; and preparation for queuing throughout life when waiting for the water fountain. Imagine, among all this non-worry and childish daydreaming, you take a test at the age of 11 which contributes towards defining your life by splitting the successes up from the failures, separated by ability – grammar schools are the draconian measure we are discussing.

The ethos of grammar schools in the mid-1900’s is one I thought the modern elite would want to banish, to be able to continue their more subtle and covert, yet just as effective, mode of oppression. The successful 25% who passed these 11+ tests went on to a grammar, then an Oxbridge university, then the House of Commons, and eventually faced a public inquiry into some sort of cover-up. All others who failed were sent off to learn a trade at a much less academic school, felt a real shame and degradation in themselves, finished school at 15 and most likely became victims of elitism – which they could have thwarted if only their intelligence was higher aged 11. Michael Morpurgo, the author of ‘War Horse’, was one of the children who failed this means test, and he has recently recalled how this pressurized condemnation made him feel:

I was knocked back and went off in the other direction. I did sports and music, not academics, and when I came to exams I had no confidence, and I trace it back to failing the 11-plus so openly. Failure is the worst thing you can do to a child, it crushes their confidence. I condemned myself because of this failure, you were named and shamed, you knew you had disappointed everyone.

His example not only shows the emotional response to failing these tests but the fact he went on to become a literature genius exposes these tests as unnecessary and ineffective. The reintroduction of grammars emboldens an already two-tier system for opportunity; them and us; success and failure; winners and losers. This stokes the flames of division and ultimately makes sure the movement for equality stagnates further.

The aim of the 164 grammar schools we currently have in the UK does not meet the reality of the outcome, which sadly is increased division. The aim is to give working-class children, who are smart enough at 11, to be given a taste of private school life and ultimately to level the playing field of education. The problem is many wealthy families move to catchment areas for grammar schools, can afford tutors to educate their children, and as easy as that we have a rigged education system which fails the demographic it is trying to represent. This failure only enhances inequality and neglects social mobility.

Modern day politicians must make sure when announcing a new policy that they get all the buzz words and sound bites in their speeches, alongside this, they must make sure there is a generic statement behind them. In May’s case when announcing grammar schools, the words behind were ‘A country that works for everyone’. By everyone she means every one of the top 1% – she’s eloquent like that. The keynote part of the speech was also the most hypocritical, as May stated:

I want to see children from ordinary working class families given the chances their richer contemporaries take for granted, that means we need more great schools.

I find myself agreeing with this statement at face value. But why not fund comprehensive schools? Why not make them great? A competitive comprehensive school system, through investment and a revival of gratitude towards our teachers, would enhance social mobility; offer a genuine aspiration ladder to everyone, and ultimately act as a means towards equality. This is when the argument of ideology has to contend as the reason behind this policy – the Tories are the Party of the aristocracy, in their position it would be illogical to contribute towards the enlightenment of a generation. The status quo stays merrily defended and this policy strengthens it from the root.

The well-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies supports the idea that grammar schools are divisive. Their report, covering whether grammar schools improve social mobility, came to the conclusion that ”Grammar schools seem to offer an opportunity to improve and stretch the brightest pupils, but seem likely to come at the cost of increasing inequality”. Labour’s Shadow Education secretary, Angela Rayner, argued that grammar schools will only ”entrench inequality and disadvantage” – an accurate claim. Even Policy Exchange, a think-tank known for its Tory Lite opinion, published a study arguing grammar schools’ ineffectiveness. It showed that salary later in life becomes an issue as there is a ”considerably bigger gap between the wages of the highest and lowest paid individuals born in areas with a selective education system than in comprehensive areas”. The study also showed that grammar schools take wealthier students by a substantial amount – 98 out of the 164 remaining grammar schools have fewer than 3% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals and 21 have fewer than 1%. The most agreeable part of the study states that ”It is undeniably the poor who are losing out” – in the words of Tupac, ”I see no changes”.

Grammar schools are a fast route toward prejudice and discrimination. They’re part of an establishment which acts as a catalyst for churning out the same generic MP’s who govern us – like the ones who have decided to reintroduce them. Of course, not all people who attend grammar schools become part of this generic elite. Instead, they fall into the confused middle-class, who succumb to a never-ending game of snakes and ladders trying to climb up the broken aspiration ladders which the Tories forever claim to be offering. These phantom ladders were recently released when May argued ”I want this country to be a great meritocracy”. I’ll translate – ‘I want this country to continue its great aristocracy’. And that’s exactly the point – Theresa May is just another David Cameron. They’re both just an alternative Margaret Thatcher. It’s the cycle of elite manufacturing; elitism in power; and elitism being nurtured which needs to be shattered. Opposing grammar schools is a stepping stone towards this.

The continuous headlining topic of Brexit is the main focus in British politics at the moment. But if the ban on grammar schools is lifted, the opposition to this ideological decision will be strong. It’ll add yet another fierce battle to Theresa May’s already hectic to-do list

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Karim Dafallah 1 Article
Karim Dafallah is a political contributor for DARROW and is part of the courses team for a charity called Back Up, which supports people with spinal cord injury. He graduated from Coventry University with a BA in History and writes mainly on British politics.

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