We need more school places - but not in grammars

1 Jun 18

Expanding grammar schools will benefit children in better off areas rather than increase opportunity for all, says the Lib Dem’s education spokesperson Layla Moran. 

grammar schools


The government’s recent announcement it will invest an extra £50m to expand access to grammar schools will be seen as nothing short of an insult to parents and teachers up and down the country – and rightly so. 

I can see them now, heads in their hands - the thousands of teachers in local schools, struggling to deliver exciting lessons with dwindling funds, all because of the education funding crisis. 

This is not to mention the millions of parents and children who are seeing the quality of their education eroded because thousands of teaching posts have been cut, along with extra-curricular activities, IT, building repairs and books. 

Yes, we need more school places. But creating these places in grammar schools is the wrong answer to the wrong question. 

What question did the government ask? I don’t believe it was: “What is right for children?” It was: “What is right for the Conservative heart and heartlands?”

Most of these 164 schools lie in Conservative seats, and the money is only so they can expand. If ministers believed their rhetoric, they would open new grammars everywhere. It speaks volumes that they have not. Selection, is in effect, segregation – the type of segregation that speaks to the instincts of the Tory base. 

The argument that grammar schools improve social mobility is based on neither research nor reality. 

Grammar schools do not – as the government is so fond of claiming – improve opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Fewer than 3% of all grammar school pupils are entitled to free school meals, against an average of 18% in other schools in the same areas. 

Furthermore, children who are eligible for free school meals or live in poor areas are far less likely to enrol in a grammar school even if they score highly on key stage 2 tests. Let’s face it– their families can’t afford the tutors. 

“The attainment of pupils at grammar schools comes at the expense of the majority of children who do not get a grammar school place,” according to the National Education Union. Pupils in areas with a selective system who do not go to a grammar school do less well than those in areas with comprehensive schools only. 

The government has said pupils on free school meals are likely to do twice as well at a grammar school than they would do otherwise. But this was based on a sole report, which itself found the advantage was “certainly not large” and cautioned against “interpreting this as a strong endorsement of grammar schools”.

A study from the UCL Institute of Education, which came out days after the government’s funding announcement, said attending a grammar school had no positive impact on a teenager’s self-esteem or their future aspirations. 

The government’s evidence base for selective schools is itself rather selective.

Ministers have already done a U-turn on this issue. They dropped similar proposals soon after they failed to secure a majority in last year’s election.

Now they must urgently think again about whether they are really willing to spend this additional money for education on schools that will benefit few pupils.

This money should be spent on local schools so that every young person in the country can get the education they need to prepare for the future.

The government does not have the support for these proposals from their own party, never mind the country. 

They should listen to teachers and parents and stop wasting money on grammar school expansions. 

  • Layla Moran
    Layla Moran

    Lib Dem’s education spokesperson and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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