Friday, 16 October 2015

Return of the grammar schools

By some legal sleight of hand the Tories have managed to give the go-ahead to opening a new grammar school in Kent. Despite their protests to the contrary,without a doubt it now opens the door to the completion of a rose-tinted vision originally  started by Michael  Gove that will take us all back to the selective education of his youth.

At the last election the saloon-bar experts of UKIP were cheerleading this vision with a slogan of 'a grammar school in every town'. Strangely the slogan that must inevitably accompany this - 'three secondary moderns in every town' - is never heard. 

Because quite simply selection meant that the majority of kids got a second-rate education: The Tories' latest decision  will mean the same - if not more so. Within a few years we will have with a second tier of schools filled up with unqualified teachers and kids taking highly dubious vocational courses in hospitality studies and retail service.

The selection process was unfair back in Gove's golden age - and it will be even more unfair now. In the age of the internet and an ever-growing private tuition industry class buys cultural privilege more than ever before. More young people may be going to university than ever before but this does not represent genuine social mobility. For many working class kids, the entry to the job market has simply been delayed by a few years and they then take up low-status, low-paid service jobs burdened with debt and qualifications of questionable value. The austerity crisis-economy of the 2010s simply doesn't need the new wave of technocrats that booming Britain did in the 1960s - and so the carrot of  social mobility has become little more than an illusion to placate the aspirational.

I get that whilst people might acknowledge this at a societal level, they still want the best for their own kids. That's the old mantra: parental choice. But where does this end? If you're white are you obliged to be racist because it maintains your  kids privilege? If you have sons should you be sexist so as to keep the gender imbalance in their favour? Because make no mistake, selection can only ever perpetuate social injustice.

And I have to acknowledge that I myself benefitted, albeit indirectly, from selection: My own school was a suburban comprehensive that had been a grammar within the memory of many of the teaching staff. So we had decent playing fields, played rugby and had a few teachers who had high academic expectations. We also had, I see in retrospect a social and educational apartheid that divided the O-Level and CSE streams. I am very grateful that nowadays I work  in a genuine comprehensive with a socially, ethnically and academically diverse intake. Long may that last - I fear we are an endangered species.

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