HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Driven by a desire to end the entrenched inequalities at the heart of schooling, the great Conservative reformer Rab Butler extended free education to secondary aged pupils with the 1944 Education Act. Butler’s landmark legislation created the 11-plus exam which gave pupils from all backgrounds the chance to attend a grammar school, so providing the opportunity of a first rate education for all which was previously within the grasp of only the rich.
The important principle –that merit, rather than wealth, should determine a child’s place at secondary school - was severely damaged within 30 years by misguided educationalists blinded by a selfish, egalitarian mentality, as thousands of grammar schools were shut.
Grammars remain only in a handful of counties - ours, of course, being one of them. I am proud to say that my sons both attend Spalding Grammar School, and along with the splendid High School, our town is doubly blessed with excellent grammars.
What’s not said often enough is that the schools that sit alongside the grammars also do excellent work. Take University Academy Holbeach, for example. There can be few schools anywhere with better facilities, leadership or a more powerful culture of achievement than this jewel in Holbeach’s crown. The Gleed School’s strong record of improvement also deserves recognition, as does the impressive Thomas Cowley School in Donington. As Member of Parliament I’ve visited these schools many times, as I have the Peele School in Long Sutton - meeting bright, committed and caring students.
Education must be a vehicle for social mobility, an engine of meritocracy which encourages and nurtures aspiration. Given my background, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for my excellent grammar school education. The inspirational teachers who taught me gave me chances that would have otherwise been beyond my reach.
That’s why I welcomed the government’s decision last week to announce the first grammar school to open on a new site for 50 years, in Sevenoaks, Kent. It’s also why I support the reforms started by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove which give schools more freedom over the curriculum, put teachers back in charge and provide new classroom places where they are needed. The new academy schools, like the Thomas Cowley and University Academy Holbeach, are booming; popular with parents, driving up standards, and delivering outstanding results.
These new schools are doing what grammars always have – spreading opportunity, so giving everyone the best chance to fulfil their potential, regardless of from where they come. For, as W. B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”