THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Edukashun, Edookayshen, Education

Link: Willetts must have known it would horrify Party | Dt Opinion | Opinion | Telegraph.

All three comment pieces in the Daily Telegraph today were about the Tory Party and grammar schools. Alice Thomson says it best however, with these words

The Tories seem to have ditched what they always held dear - a belief that those who worked hard and were talented would be rewarded - to embrace the socialist principle that all must have prizes

Boris Johnson, usually the Conservative Party's voice of sanity, for all his Eton-nurtured capacity for intellectual wrangling is unable to save the party from Willett's appalling gaffe. It was a speech that did not need to be made. No potential Conservative voter is pleased by it. Secretly, I suspect that, despite the huge opportunity presented for mischief - a goal so open that even the talentless Prescott couldn't miss it  - few Labourites are either.

For Conservatives, health is the third rail of British politics. In our hearts, we know that only Labour could ever reform the National Health Service. The Conservatives have only to mention it for voters to panic. One day, God willing, it will be Labour's destiny to clean up the mess it made of British healthcare. The last 10 years have simply shown us that it is not yet that day.

That is not true for education. Comprehensive schools are a greater disaster for Labour voters than for Conservatives. The working classes of the North of England have no hope of buying themselves either into a private school or the catchment area of a less foul State school. A Conservative government could, by reforming schools, do something for them that Labour never can, because education is for them as the NHS is for us. They are secretly waiting for us to solve the problem.

Until Willetts put his foot in his mouth, that hope alone kept alive minority Tory votes in Labour heartlands that could one day have been built upon. No-one even seems to have noticed that many of our immigrants in the past 20 years are from communities, such as the Indians and the Chinese, who value education much more highly than the native English. Their votes are up for grabs too. Immigrants are naturally more aspirational; naturally more Tory.

Boris tell us that the end of Grammar schools was politically inevitable in a democracy because;

it became an arithmetical and electoral certainty, over time, that the rejects outnumbered the successful

What tosh. He should not fall into the elitist trap of describing those who failed to get into Grammar Schools as "rejects." In doing so he  defames the work of generations of dedicated teachers  who were able to provide excellent education to those who went to Secondary Modern schools; education carefully targetted to their abilities.

I was taught by some of them. I took the 11+ but my area went comprehensive that year and I was never told the results. Instead, I was sent to the local secondary modern school - rebadged as a comprehensive. There were some superb teachers there, doing their best. They were as bemused by me as no doubt the Grammar School teachers in the next town were by some of their new intake. However, they had long shaped the destinies of the majority of children in my town. Their former pupils were respectable, hard-working and better-educated than their children and grandchildren are today. They are the ones failed by Anthony "I will close every fucking grammar school" Crosland's public school ultra-leftism, every bit as much as people like me.

As for the electoral arithmetic, what defeatism on Boris's part! The kind of ignorant chavs who think that selective schools are wrong because their little Shane, Wayne or Sheena will never pass an exam will not only never vote Conservative, but will probably never vote at all. They are irrelevant. It's all about triangulation, Boris. Margaret's policy to steal Labour votes was to sell council houses. Everyone was astonished by the aspirational instincts she unleashed in the Labour heartlands. Your equivalent could be the restoration of educational opportunity to the working class.

No-one, in their hearts, truly believes in comprehensive schools. Don't listen to what Labour politicians say about it. Look at what they do when it comes to their own children. Cherie Blair, Diane Abbott, Ruth Kelly and Polly Toynbee would be secretly delighted if selective State education was brought back. Of course they won't say so. They will kick, scream and defame, but so what? Triangulate them and move on.

Willetts has a point to precisely this extent. It is best not to hark back to the past. We should not speak of "Grammar Schools" or "the 11+". We need new branding and some less crude (and less final) selection mechanism. If he will apply his two brains to devising such a system; one that Kent Conservatives would accept instead of their Grammar Schools, he will be on to an election-winner.

More than anything else, this is what the Conservatives can do for Britain's future. No nation can long survive the huge waste of human potential represented by the present system. To compete in the world, we need to maximise the potential of every pupil. Even the Socialists know it in their hearts. Even as they ranted against us, they would be secretly, guiltily glad that we had saved their grandchildren from Crosland's evil legacy.


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I think it is you who has missed my point. In theory, Grammar schools are a good thing. However, there is, as always, a gap between theory and practice. Of course some students from poorer backgrounds will manage to get in, on their merit, but it will be wealthier kids who have had a good deal of training who make up the majority and who largely won't deserve to be there. You say that few parents paid for training then but in the UK now, parents have got used to the idea that private education is the best way to success, since the education system has grown so poor, and so the result of Grammar schools would be different to the impact of the original institutions. It would be foolish to believe that the re-introduction of Grammars would allow for money to be spent on state prep schools to be brought up to a high enough standard to prepare children for entrance exams as they did in the past. However, they were a much more successful system than the present one, which I never denied, despite the truly ridiculous system of testing children at 11 years old. If they were to be brought back, I would advise a system that tested children at 13 and then gave them an opportunity to move up if successful in GCSEs or other work, since judging a child on their abilities at 11 seems silly. Anyway, there is little point in discussing the previous success of these institutions since it was againt the re-introduction of Grammar schools that I protested. Cameron is right to think of it as a "chain around the Tories' necks" in that it is a very unpopular policy and money and time would be better spent on sorting out the existing schools which would suffer if new Grammars were to be introduced. There is no point in harking back to the past since it never does any good to go backwards even if the policy was once seen as successful. Perhaps they were once successful but a great deal of schools which have the potential will be neglected if all the money is to go on helping just a few children.


Dear Anon at 10:31pm, thanks for your comment. I think you may have slightly missed my point. Grammar schools were (still are in Kent) State Schools which were free to anyone who passed the selection process. The effect was (still is in Kent) to allow children from all backgrounds (including the less prosperous) the opportunity to have an education tailored to their abilities. This allowed for probably the greatest social mobility in Britain's history. There were more Oxbridge entrants from State Schools in the 60's and 70's than now, because of grammar schools. Comprehensive Schools have reduced the opportunities for poorer children, not increased them.

I am old enough to remember that few parents paid for "appropriate training." State primary schools prepared their pupils for the entry exam.

Tell me something, since when was having parents able to afford appropriate training to get into a better school a fair way of measuring intelligence? Grammar school merely encourage this system of expensive prep schools or tutors designed to get the well-off kids into good schools and letting anyone without the means or who develops in a different way suffer the consequences of poor schooling. When did equality of opportunity become a nasty phrase, not to be spoken by anyone but far-leftists? If Cameron wants to sort out schools then he should focus on bringing all comprehensive school up to scratch not on widening the class and wealth distinctions.


Excellent post. The aspirational middle classes only dominate existing Grammar schools because there are so few of them yet whilst recognising their importance.

Whilst working at my previous company in the South East, I was amazed at how many normal workers were striving to get their children into the local grammar schools. The Conservative Party has now shattered any remaining reason for such families across the UK to support them in future.

The Conservative Party should offer solutions to the problems families face, not be part of the problem!

They should be ashamed of themselves!

Jeremy Jacobs

Excellent post TP. Round here it's all private and religious schools, they don't fall into the equation. But, you're right one has to look at the majority of schools. Although no longer a Conservative supporter, I really can't believe they've actually become Blue Labour.

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