On May 11 the government announced its plans to provide £50m for an expansion of the number of places in grammar schools, after their plans to open new grammar schools was dashed by their general election failures. Once again, the Tories are openly ignoring evidence that says that grammars offer no educational advantage to the country’s bright young students, and are merely trying to retain support from their traditional electorate through rose-tinted nostalgia from their formative years.
A recent study showed that there is no real difference in the standard of education between comprehensives and grammar schools. If a bright student goes to a comprehensive school, they are just as likely to achieve as if they were to be put through a grammar. So the notion that we should be sending our smarter students to grammar schools because they can foster their intellect better is simply false. Equally, parents forcing less intelligent children through the grammar school system isn’t going to make them any more likely to achieve than if they had enrolled in a comprehensive.
What does make the difference is that middle-class families, who tend to favour putting their child through a grammar school, can afford to facilitate their children’s education with extra-curricular activities, that make those students more well-rounded and educated to a broader level. It is a simple fact that, whilst I may have had the same standard of education as other students at my school, their parents could not pay for the music lessons, the extra tuition, the revision books, etc. that I and many other middle-class students have at their disposal.
I know from my school days there are students from low-income families who are just as intelligent as the brightest at grammar schools who do not do as well as their middle-class colleagues because they do not have this extra educational support at home. When we see the statements that grammar schools are higher-achieving and get more students into Oxbridge, it is simply because they are playing on the educational divide between income classes; they themselves are no better than the local comp.
The fact that the current government seems to be hell-bent on their advocacy for grammar schools seems to entirely ignore the problem that they are supposedly attempting to solve: the mismatch between a child being intelligent and a child doing well. Sending a bright kid from a low-income background to a grammar school will not give them any better an education, and will not allow them to achieve any higher.
If the government were serious about solving education inequality in this country, it would spend less time cutting school budgets – of which extra-curricular activities are hurt the most – and funding more grammar school places, and spend more time funding the parts of the education system that help those who, through no fault of their own, have been born into a low-income family to receive the same help as middle-class students would from their parents. All we should care about right now is finding money for music lessons, book funds, sports clubs, one-to-one tuition, and everything else that helps a bright student become a successful one. Education is the quickest catalyst for social mobility, but if we get bogged down with sentimentality to a system that no longer works, it will remain stagnant.