Question: England is to get its first ‘new’ grammar school for 50 years. In which year did the government ban new selective schools?
Answer: 1998 – Tony Blair’s Labour government introduced the School Standards and Framework Act.
The government has permitted a grammar school in Kent to build an ‘annexe’ in another town. This has raised fears that many other schools will be allowed to select their pupils by ability, with the Labour Party describing the decision as a ‘hugely backwards step’. But are grammar schools such a bad thing?
Modern grammar schools have their origin in the Education Act of 1944. This organised schools into two different types: grammar schools, which focussed on academic studies and aimed for most of their pupils to go on to university; and secondary modern schools, which were meant for children who would go on to have manual occupations.
Because of their selection of pupils by ability, many believe that grammar schools are a source of class division. However, it has been shown in studies that schools which choose their pupils by the distance of their homes are bigger social dividers than ones which choose by ability, with poorer families tending to live in different neighbourhoods than wealthier ones.
There are some who think that grammar schools belong in the past. The economy of the nation has changed dramatically since the 1940s-1960s, the heyday of grammar schools, when children’s futures were decided by the 11-plus exam.
In 1966 only 18% of pupils achieved five O-level passes and only 6% achieved the three A-levels necessary for a place at most universities. Compare this with today’s schools, where 80% of pupils achieve five good GCSEs and over 30% go on to university. With less than 20% of the workforce in agriculture and industry, there is more call for academic qualifications than there was in the past.
To quote Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools In England – “What does the country need more of? Schools that educate only the top 20% of students, 90% of whom get good GCSEs, or schools that educate 100% of students, 80% of whom are capable of getting good GCSEs? I think the answer is pretty obvious.”
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What do you think? Do modern comprehensives get the best out of our children, or would you prefer your child to go to a grammar school? It might be a subject you’d like to discuss with them – should we give the best education to the brightest children, or should we aim for excellence for all?