Ann Widdecombe likes Grammar schools. She is calling for the ban on Grammar schools to end, and wants new ones to be set up. Her statement on this issue was reported in this week’s Guardian, and comes prior to her speech at the North of England Education Conference.
Widdecombe believes, or wants to believe that Grammar schools offer the opportunity of social mobility to bright working class children.
This is an appealing claim. Who would want to deny a child from a poor background from fulfilling their potential, by receiving the best possible education? The notion that Grammar schools offer a rigorous academic education support this claim.
However, it is problematic, for several reasons.
Firstly, there is the construction of the bright working class child as something special, or unusual. Following on from this is the notion that working class children only deserve a good quality education if they are bright. Politicians would never suggest creating a sub standard type of school in which dim middle class children could be educated, and separated from their fellow middle class, but cleverer peers.
Widdecombe expresses the belief that Grammar schools are a route out of poverty for working class children. This is a belief that is often heard in defence of Grammar schools. However, those getting places in Grammar schools are more likely to be middle class. With parents employing class strategies, such as private tutoring in preparation for the 11+ in an attempt to secure a place for their child, working class children are likely to stand less of a chance at getting into Grammar school in the first place.
The notion that Grammar schools are unique in providing a good quality academic education is, I argue, a veiled attack on Comprehensive schools. It is a case of Grammar = good, Comprehensive = bad, despite the evidence to the contrary (I’m not going to list sources here right now, but it is there).
But Ann Widdecombe did say some Comprehensive schools were “pure gold”?
She did, but again she said others were “very large, incompetent and seriously disruptive” which suggests that she recognises that Comprehensive schools are not necessarily comprehensive. A report from the Sutton Trust, entitled: Worlds Apart: social variation among schools highlights the difference between Comprehensive schools, including their social variation. For “pure gold” read a Comprehensive school colonised by the middle class, or , at least located in a middle class community. A “very large” and “disruptive” Comprehensive school points to a school located in an urban area, tackling the social problems associated with poverty.
What about the ban?
The so-called ban is not so much a ban as a statement by the Conservative Party in 2007 to the effect that it would not support the reintroduction of Grammar Schools if it won the election. This didn’t signal a commitment to Comprehensive Schools. Certainly, with the growth in Academies, and Free schools selection is likely to increase, so there will be more segregation, not less.
Finally, for this post at least, her request that the Government does not stand in the way of Town Halls (which, surely, are Local Authorities) wanting to reintroduce selection and create Grammar schools is interesting. Is she not aware that the current Government is pledge to free schools from Local Authority control?