Grammar Schools: a cunning plot?

We all know the DfE has been told to save money. After the bountiful years under Labour and the coalition governments has come the harsh Tory winter of austerity. However, surely nobody thought of grammar schools as a government economy drive? But, if the Conservatives do succeed in helping the disadvantaged and the just missing groups in society (hang on a minute isn’t there no such thing as society in a Tory world?) find a place a grammar school, then either grammar schools take a bigger share of the pupil population or some pupils has to be displaced.

That’s where the Tories cunning plot comes in. Who better to displace from grammar schools than those that can afford to pay for private education. Each one of these children driven from the state system saves £35-50,000 from the education budget over their lifetime of secondary schooling. Assume 500 grammar schools with 10 children displaced from each: that’s over £25 million saved in the first year alone. Be brave and displace half of grammar school present intakes into the private sector and the saving over the school life of a cohort runs to about a billion pounds after allowing for inflation in a fully selective system. That would certainly help the Treasury fund the growth in pupil numbers that is about to hit the secondary sector. There might also be a fall in primary pupils in state schools as well, as parents sought grammar crammers to help fight for the remaining open access places in selective schools

A fanciful notion? Well we will see what the Secretary of State has to offer displaced parents under her new proposals or whether she will increase the percentage of the year group going to selective schools. Either way, what the Secretary of State says about the rest of the pupils in our schools and their education will be just as important as what she says about grammar schools.

Even at the height of the drive for the three tier system in the 1950s the Conservatives had to issue a little recalled White Paper; Education for all; a new drive, ahead of the 1958 general election, to reassure parents of children attending secondary modern schools or still being educated in the remaining all-through elementary schools. Well, thanks to Labour, all-through schools are flavour of the month again: although not with me.  But, those parents that don’t win places at grammar schools for their children, many of whom vote Conservative, will need reassurance just as much as those the Secretary of State is trying to offer a grammar school place to in her speech.

In Oxfordshire, a well-educated primary population could more than fill traditional grammar school places and still leave many parents disappointed. In such areas it is difficult to see what the benefits of grammar schools are for the majority of the population.

In the 21st century, the Secretary of State has a responsibility to achieve a good school for every child. Putting the clock back is no way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Forster’s Education Act in 2020.


5 thoughts on “Grammar Schools: a cunning plot?

  1. Won’t those wealthier parents just make sure through more tuition that their children secure a grammar school place, John? Unless it’s cheaper to send them private?

    • I am sure that they will try to. In the end it comes down to whether the Tory promise to parents not currently gaining grammar school places is an honest one or not. Trying to adopt a strategy widening the social mix of selective schools when pupils numbers are at the start of a large increase is a really risky business. You only have to look back to my generation of baby boomers and the effects on parents of not getting siblings into selective schools and the push for comprehensive education in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A safer strategy would have been to acknowledge the increase in pupil numbers and expand existing selective school places to take account of the increase. Such a policy would have created grumbles at the national level, but largely, I believe, would have been accepted at the local level. After all, both Lib Dem councils, such as Sutton and Labour controlled councils, such as Reading, have grammar schools whatever their national Party views are.

      Private grammar grammar schools as I have dubbed them would certainly flourish and could take pupils out of the state primary system.

      Anyway, grammar schools are a mistake and would also probably see a return to single-sex secondary schooling on a much larger scale than at present.


    • That depends upon the selection methods. Can the government be seen to fail in terms of widening access to selective schools or is it just a smokescreen to allow more such schools to be created?


  2. What seems far more likely is that parents who struggle to afford to put their children through selective private education will instead choose to send their children to the new local grammar schools. Why pay for what you can get for free? A big loser from an expanded grammar system is the independent sector. Another big loser is the taxpayer. New grammars will cost the taxpayer dearly, but it will save money for the Tories and their ilk, who will now selectively educate their children at the taxpayer’s expense.

    • Nick,

      This depends upon the selection policy and whether there are, say, quotas per primary school or some other device to prevent what you suggest happening. I agree , however, that if the Tories don’t widen access to selective schools ,but build more, than once the number of secondary age pupils starts falling the independent secondary school sector will be at risk; especially the day schools. Conversely, private primary schools teaching to the selection procedure will thrive. Depends upon what tory policy really is. What it isn’t is good for England as a modern 21st century economy.


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