Grammars are engines for social mobility

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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By South Holland and the Deepings MP John Hayes

At their peak in the mid-1960s, the number of grammar schools in England reached 1,300, educating almost a quarter of all pupils in state secondary schools. Today, sadly, just 163 grammar schools remain, serving only a handful of counties including, of course, ours.

When every town had a grammar school, children from disadvantaged backgrounds who passed the 11 plus exam were afforded opportunities beyond the reach of earlier generations. Grammar schools levelled the playing field, giving children from the poorest homes an education of the standard previously only available at expensive public schools. They opened up a world of academic and extra-curricular possibilities, meaning that for the first time many more kinds of people had the chance to go to university.

As the child of working class parents, going to a grammar school had a dramatic impact on my life chances. And it’s no coincidence that social mobility has declined dramatically since the -privately educated - Labour politician Anthony Crosland launched his crusade against Grammar Schools in the late 1960s. Numerous studies have now confirmed that those born in the 1970s have experienced far less upward social mobility than those born a generation earlier.

Many who oppose grammar schools claim to object to the principle of selective education, yet they apparently feel no such qualms about selection based on the lotteries of postcodes or wealth. Grammar schools are popular with parents who welcome the greater choice they embody.

The mistake that was made by post-War Governments, of all political colours, was to fail to give life to the other kinds of schools that were envisaged in Rab Butler’s 1944 Education Act. As well as Grammars, that great reformer saw a bright future for technical schools, catering for those with vocational aptitudes, and well-resourced secondary schools providing a high quality education for children that didn’t attend either of the other type. We must not make the same mistake – all children deserve their chances and all schools must be supported to provide them.

As Theresa May –a grammar school girl herself - recently made clear, Britain needs to do more to enable every child to rise as far as their talents will take them, with social background never acting as a barrier. That the Government are considering reversing the decades’ old mistake of banning new Grammar Schools is a reason to rejoice, for such schools are engines of social mobility, giving chances to children who would not have them otherwise.

I’m proud that Lincolnshire has many first rate grammars –Spalding’s excellent Grammar School (which both my sons attend) and the equally highly regarded High School are testament to that. All children deserve a first class education and the investment in non-grammar schools matters just as much. That’s why the new start at the Spalding Academy is important, like the further success at the Peele Community College and the excellent work at the University Academy Holbeach, the Deepings School and the Thomas Cowley High School.

Perhaps one day soon children in other counties will enjoy similar opportunities to achieve all they can.