UKIP is currently the only party in Wales which proactively endorses grammar schools. Former party leader Nathan Gill gave an impassioned plea before the Welsh Assembly elections that such an idea would improve overall educational outcomes, where they have slipped well behind the rest of Britain due to maladministration by a Labour-led government that has demonstrably failed to raise standards during their seventeen years of unchallenged power. I can understand why the idea of selective education might be so tempting to some – but all the evidence appears to suggest they have the undesirable effect of shutting young people out from accessing high-quality education.
Grammar schools will not give poor children a fighting chance; on the contrary, low-income families will be ostracised and discriminated against by a system that judges how well your children do in school by how much money their parents have in their bank accounts. Children who speak English as a second language and those with special educational needs will also be left behind by the intentional asset-stripping of state schools. Four times as many children in grammar schools attended an elitist fee-paying preparatory school (accounting for about 6% of ten-year-olds) than are on free school meals, the most common measure of socio-economic disadvantage.
Less than 3% of all children attending grammar schools are entitled to free school meals. This figure increases to 18% in other schools in their local area. The proportion of children with special educational needs (SEN) stood at 4.3% in grammars compared to 14.2% nationally, and for those with significant needs the national average makes up eighteen times the proportion in grammar schools. These stats matter because for every child that is selected, another four children are rejected. When faced with such indisputable evidence that grammars actively undermines overall social mobility, it is inconceivable that anyone could believe such a policy would ensure disadvantaged children are given a fighting chance to achieve an education deserved by everyone.
Within days of (unelected) Tory prime minister Theresa May announcing that her government will pursue reviving grammar schools, Andreas Schleicher of the OECD condemned the British government for “dramatically overplaying” the ability of selective education to improve social mobility standards. Mr Schleicher added: “What happens in most European systems is that academic selection becomes social selection; schools are very good at selecting students by their social background, but they’re not very good at selecting students by their academic potential.” Former education secretary Nicky Morgan, former justice secretary Michael Gove and former Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw have also raised concerns about the viability of such an outdated and socially malignant scheme. If we wish future generations to be the change we want to see in the world, the answer lies in ensuring our state education system is funded and organised through democratically agreed and co-ordinated planning.