The Conservative Party’s decision to withdraw its support for grammar schools will only serve to worsen the skills shortage – itself a creation of years of flawed policies on education.
The Tories lost their bottle when they discovered only 2% of grammar school pupils claim free school meals. Shock, horror! Grammar schools are middle-class institutions, far too right-wing for David Cameron’s ‘compassionate conservatives’.
Tory education spokesman David Willetts once acknowledged that where there were still grammar schools – for example, in Northern Ireland – pupils of all abilities outshine their counterparts in England. But now he’s decided that grammars do not contribute to social mobility, declaring his support instead for the city academies (what happens in towns and villages?).
Grammar schools are a good idea because of one fundamental issue: if you group clever students together, they will strive to outshine each other; group intelligent kids with thick ones and all those whose abilities lie somewhere in between, and collective peer pressure will steer everyone towards the middle.
The coolest kids in grammars are popular because they are clever, quick-witted and accomplished, whereas the most with-it kids in comprehensives will aspire to average grades, opting to be neither swot nor dullard.
Just as our children collectively strive for the middle ground, our political parties do the same. Anything too far to the right or left will only hinder your popularity.
So, let’s not try and address the grammar school system’s shortcomings. No, that’s far too radical. Let’s sign ourselves up to wishy-washy city academies and let industry struggle with the resulting skills shortage in decades to come – talent management at its worst.