Stood on the step of Number 10 Downing Street on a warm sunny morning in July, Theresa May gave her first speech as Prime Minister.
She proclaimed her government would not be led “by the interests of the mighty, wealthy or privileged few” but would “fight Britain’s burning injustices” and prioritise the lives of “ordinary working class families just getting by.” Just six months into her reign it seems selective schooling and the reintroduction of the 11-plus have become her antidote to social prejudice. By converting to a meritocratic system can Britain finally regain education brownie points or have we completely lost perspective?
Grammar schools were introduced in modern day Britain in 1944. It was assumed they could focus on academic studies giving children the opportunity to attend higher education, while secondary modern schools would educate children intent on employment within trade sectors. It, however, became widely known that questions that appeared on the examinations were not usually featured in state primary education, therefore those who had been intensely tutored, in preparation for the 11 plus, tended to score better therefore obtaining a place. In 1998, the Labour School Standards and Framework Act forbid the establishment of any new selective schools, as it was suggested that rather than fostering social mobility, grammar schools and academic selective schools enforced class division and middle class privilege.
"We talk of choice; this becomes irrelevant when families are unable to pay for their child’s grammar school tuition preparation"
Heated debate has arisen following the recent Spring 2017 budget whereby £320 million has been promised for 140 new free schools that can select pupils on an academic basis. Theresa May declared “building a great meritocracy means children from ordinary working families are given the opportunity their rich contemporaries take for granted.” However, there is significant evidence showing that May is being more than a little misleading.
However, a study conducted by Bristol University, Warwick University and UCL, demonstrated that poorer pupils who perform well at primary school were less likely to get into grammar schools than affluent classmates who did not perform as well. It was revealed in 2016 that the most affluent 10% of children have a 50% better chance of getting a grammar school place, while children from deprived backgrounds have a 6% chance of attending selective education. It has also been revealed that 1% of pupils at grammar schools receive free school meals; not quite the interests of the ordinary working class rhetoric spouted by one’s Prime Minister.
"The most affluent 10% of children have a 50% better chance of getting a grammar school place"
We talk of choice; this becomes irrelevant when families are unable to pay for their child’s grammar school tuition preparation. Meanwhile Finland has year after year championed international educational rankings, by eliminating a private education system and adopting a simple one school system for all children.
Rather than taking such an elitist approach to education, we should be fostering a higher level of state education, so we can inspire the young child at the back of class room who believes literature is meaningless, or the young child who believes becoming an engineer is beyond their capabilities. Rather than righting off a child’s future at the age of 11 our government and education system should be funding all schools as a whole, therefore promoting equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity.