Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cameron's Grammar Fightback

I have just recieved this e-mail from David Cameron trying to put thr Grammar School issue to bed. You might see this as desperate, you might see it as bold ... but I think what the general tone says about Cameron is what counts. I like what he has to say and I like how he says it. Bravo.

Last week, the newspapers were convulsed by a debate about something that the Conservative Party did not do when it was last in office; will not do when it is next in office, and even if it did do it - would almost certainly see it reversed. That's why I described the debate about bringing back grammar schools as pointless.

National selection was abolished because it was deeply unpopular with parents, who didn't want their children to be divided into successes and failures at the age of eleven. That's why in eighteen years of Conservative Government, neither Margaret Thatcher nor John Major created grammar schools. That's why Conservative MPs and candidates in areas without grammar schools do not campaign for them to be brought back.

If they did, parents would be left asking what happens to the large majority of children who don't make the grade - and those parents would be right. Far from being some winning slogan, a pledge to build more grammar schools would be an electoral albatross. That's why Labour want to hang it round our neck. They know it keeps us from joining and leading the real debate over their failure on standards, discipline and opportunity for all.

There is a kind of hopelessness about the demand to 'bring back' grammars, an assumption that this country will only ever be able to offer a decent education to a select few. I want the Conservative Party to rise above that attitude. It cannot be the limit of our ambition for some children to get a decent education; any party aspiring to government must aim to ensure a decent education for every single child. We will never be taken seriously by parents - never convince them that we're on their side and share their aspirations for their children - if we splash around in the shallow end of the educational debate, clinging on to outdated mantras that bear no relation to the reality of life today.

Parents want us to do something about the shocking standards in many of our three thousand secondary schools, not tie ourselves in knots over a grammar schools policy. This is a key test for our Party. Does it want to be a serious force for government and change, or does it want to be a right-wing debating society muttering about what might have been?

A serious party must understand the widespread crisis in education today and respond with a scale of ambition that is appropriate to the challenge. Behind the government's propaganda, it is clear that on literacy, numeracy, discipline, behaviour, we're falling way short of what we need. The challenge for our Party is to tackle educational under-achievement across the board.

When it comes to encouraging excellence, of course it's true that grammar schools can provide a ladder of opportunity for some - but far too few. We need to be the party of aspiration and opportunity for all. With Gordon Brown as our opponent, we can claim that vital territory. He still believes in a know-your-place society where state largesse, not personal responsibility, determine your future. That's not the Conservative approach, and that's why we're doing the serious thinking about how we produce an education reform plan that actually works.

That means no more confusion of ends and means. Every true Conservative believes in aspiration and opportunity for all. But that belief has been obscured by an outdated attachment to a few schools which deliver aspiration and opportunity to some.

I couldn't have put it better myself!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps David will dump down selection based independent school, well, like Eton?

Anonymous said...

IMO the greatest failure has been in the "Comprehensive" sector which has know streamed enough into learning styles and ability. There are over over 1200 of these in the UK. Some good, some average, but many trailing and non suiting the learning and development of the pupils. Teaching classes of highly differing ability in the lessons has become so complex, its clearly failing in many cases for teachers, low ability and high ability pupils in the same class. Poor lessons, low outcomes and behaviour become issues. Streaming to ability, targeting learning styles/ material should more prevalent, within schools and between schools; and be seen as a horizonal process for ability and learning, rather than a perceived vertical process.

To much attention is given over to schools/ models that work (Grammars/ City Acedemies) rather than school models that are clearly failing, and the underlying ability, parental and social reasons behind this.

Without the selection tag, the Grammar school brand is a success. True its relies in part from selection. Its not just the ability of the kids that go to Grammars. Many Grammars beat independent schools (Eton, Harrow, Radley) for education and results. The number of Grammars should be funded proportionately and extended from 150 to 200, whilst city acedemies should provide a larger share of the alternatives to "Comps". Sexy city acedemy should not be the sole direction for new government construction money. If there is a case for a Grammar, this direction should receive funding. Are we going to be left with a situation in cities where new schools cannot choose the Grammar School model, because the City Acedemy is the only model that receives construction money from the government? Is this choice or diversity in education, or contraction and control of choice?

Anonymous said...

Too many people pre judge Grammar schools as elitist. If one looks at them in a horizonatal sense, rather than topping a vertical tree, the Grammar school model engages and extends the higher ability pupil more than the comprehensive, secondary modern or city acedemy. My concern is that higher ability pupils, if not engaged and extended, make a pupil many more times as cunning and disruptive than low ability pupils if there intellectual needs are not met and harnessed. Believe me, I was one. Being part of a mixed ability class, with a less able/ mid calibre teacher would have disengaged me from learning, and into extremely disruptive behaviour. Comprehensive schools identify Gifted & Talented pupils, but can't fully satisfy them in the way the Grammar model does. G & T schemes exist in schools but are largely ticking thge box tokenism run by spare part staff, rather than heads and assistant heads.