A recent ICM poll, carried out on behalf of the National Grammar Schools Association, reported that 70% of individuals polled, supported the retention of existing Grammar Schools. Meanwhile, 76% of those polled were in favour of the introduction of more state Grammar Schools.
These figures have been used by the NGSA to signal strong public support for Grammar Schools. The main political parties however, have been keen to state that they have no plans to introduce more Grammar Schools. So, are political parties out of touch with public opinion? Well, not quite.
In 2007 the Conservatives announced that they would not support the introduction of more Grammar Schools, if they win the next election. The rationale was that Grammar Schools did little to benefit children from poorer backgrounds, as if, until now, selection to Grammar School took place without any class bias. However, under the Conservatives, and their newly discovered concern for social justice, the remaining 164 Grammar Schools in England would be allowed to remain.
The Labour Government was committed to the introduction of Comprehensive Schools in the 1960’s. This was part of its agenda on social justice, it recognised that Grammar Schools favoured children from the middle classes; however an expanding middle class during the 1960’s excluded many middle class children from a Grammar School Education. Comprehensive Schools were introduced following middle class dissatisfaction with the 11+ system, and it is the middle classes who have benefitted most.
It has also been claimed that more Comprehensive Schools were created under the Thatcher administration than were created by the Labour Government. Again, this was not because of Conservative’s concerns of social justice. Thatcher believed Grammar Schools were popular and so, would prevail. Her administration allowed Local Education Authorities to decide whether or not to retain their Grammar Schools, and most decided to abolish selection in favour of a comprehensive system.
David Blunkett, at the 1995 Labour Party Conference stated, famously: “Watch my lips: no selection by examination or interview under a Labour Government”. This could have been taken as an indication that a Labour Government would rid the country of Grammar Schools. Certainly, if you had read Melanie Phillips’ article (Grammar Killing is the Last Labour Blood Sport) in the Daily Mail back in 1998 you would have believed this. The Labour Government has not, however abolished Grammar Schools, or selection by examination or interview for that matter. Once again it is up to local parents to decide on the future of their local Grammar Schools. As a result they are unlikely to disappear in the near future, protected by both a future Labour and a Conservative Government.
So, where they exist Grammar Schools are likely to remain, where they don’t, a form of selection still takes place. Politically, no Government wishes to take on the abolition of existing Grammar Schools. They are, after all, popular, with those parents who manage to secure places for their children. It is unlikely that any Government would wish to establish new Grammar Schools, despite the apparent 76% of the public who support such a measure. Selection, in some form, is however, likely to remain, ensuring the continuation of an education, class based, market place.