Saturday, October 01, 2016

Labour sucked into a rather trivial Grammar School debate - but whatabout the Brexit chaos?

Theresa May has expressed a view that approval should be given to the creation of new Grammar Schools. It is not Government policy and many Conservstives are opposed to the idea including previous Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. 

Of the approximately 3100 state secondary schools 163 (5%) are Grammar Schools. In some areas they play a significant part in the state system - the county of Kent has 33 for example. But overwhelmingly the state system is comprehensive. This means that they do not select their pupils and are open to all children irrespective of ability. A Grammar school is a secondary school that is selective on ability at 11+ - that is its distinctive feature.

You might think that the addition of a few more Grammar schools to the few that exist is hardly a matter to take to the streets about. Even if the number of such schools doubled (very unlikely) it would only have a small effect on Britain's education system. Whether that effect on the margin would be good or bad depends on your view as to whether or not it is beneficial for a small percentage of our schools to be selective. However there is no general threat to the principle of comprehensive education. 

So what is going on and why is Labour in protest mode? It's rather like the protests against the so-called "privatisation" of the National Health Service. The NHS is not being privatised - although the process of contracting out and competitive tendering started by a Labour Government is continuing. But the NHS remains a publicly owned system staffed overwhelmingly by public employees. 

We are in "thin end of the wedge" territory here with education and with the NHS. More grammars and more contracting out in the NHS, although minor in themselves in the short or medium term, could indicate trends that are "undesirable". Selection in secondary education, and more involvement of the private sector in the Health Service. However the reality is that the massive edifices that are our Education system and our Health Service would take more than a bit of tinkering on the margins (for that is what it is) to change. Do we really seriously believe that the Government really wants to reintroduce selection on a major scale in education or dilute the principle of our NHS being publicly owned? Apart from anything else there is no mandate as there was no manifesto commitment for either.

So what is going on here? It's politics innit? The accusation that there is "segregation" in education planned is disingenuous. And note the use that most emotive of words - "segregation" - with its awful intimations of apartheid and institutionalised discrimination.

The utter confusion of Theresa May and her Government over Brexit is an existential crisis of unprecedented proportions. The recent Labour Party Conference only briefly discussed this in plenary session as they chose to unveil their domestic left wing agendas - on the NHS and Education (among other things). But Labour does not look like a Government in waiting but under Jeremy Corbyn it has become a protest movement. It's an abrogation of their duty as Her Majesty's Opposition. 


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