A New Expansion in Grammar Schools?

Over the past week news has broken that the Weald of Kent School, a grammar school based on Tonbridge, Kent, is to open an annexe to its existing building having been given the green light by Conservative ministers.

This has been heralded as being the “first new grammar school” to open within the past 5 decades, which have been outlawed by the government since Tony Blair was Prime Minister with the Labour Party.

A blanket ban was made on the opening of so-called ‘selective schools’, which meant that no new grammar schools could be founded. This has caused a backlash from Labour supporters. However, Weald of Kent School argues, quite rightly, that they are not in fact building a new grammar school.

Despite being ten miles away from the original school building, the additional school building is in fact an annexe to the original. As Secretary for Education, Nicky Morgan, points out, this is not a new school at all, it is simply an expansion of the original Weald of Kent school building. Mrs Morgan has described the new building as being “one school – two sites”.

This is the case for many comprehensive schools which can be multi-site, and so the grammar school should have exactly the same right to expand if required. The school has plans to offer 450 places to girls in the area as well.

Grammar schools receive a lot of bad press, being lauded as ‘selective schools’, but the claims made about grammar schools are somewhat unfounded.

Grammars allow for social mobility of children. Admission isn’t based upon your proximity to the school building or the postcode in which the child lives. The grammar school admission process is based on the 11-plus examination system and as such provides opportunity for all to be accepted to the school.

According to the BBC “The grassroots Conservative Voice group is calling for an expansion of grammar schools to “enhance social mobility and present parents with choice”.” This is quite true. Parents from any and all walks of life can have their child sit an 11-plus exam and, providing they pass it, they will be accepted into a grammar school of their choosing.

Grammar schools have, for a long time, produced excellent students regardless of background. These students have gone on to be some of the most successful figures in our society. The likes of Alan Bennett, Margaret Thatcher and Richard Burton all attended a grammar school in this country and they can arguably be described as some of the most successful people in their fields of expertise.

This notion has been confirmed by Graham Brady, Conservative MP and advocate of the grammar school system. He is recently quoted as having stated that “Selective and part-selective authorities top the performance tables year after year. The other key is that many of us know from personal experience that grammar school gave us opportunities that are too often today limited to those who can afford a private education. That is why we see politics, the law, the senior civil service, even acting and the Olympics increasingly dominated by the products of public schools.”

The message Mr Brady is giving here is quite clear. Grammar schools generate an excellent breed of high quality student, which is proven by the fact that school leavers enter into very successful careers in numerous fields as Mr Brady has pointed out. These pupils are not in the grammar school because the belong to a social class, or because they can afford to attend – they are there based on their own merits as being a bright pupil, something which is decided by their accomplishments in the 11-plus exam.

Selective education, as reported in The Telegraph, “can propel pupils to the best universities.” This is true – children who show an aptitude for the 11-plus entry examinations will go on to show that same aptitude at their chosen grammar school, and upon leaving with these skills nurtured, will be fully equipped to tackle a course at university which will benefit their careers greatly.

The Telegraph then went on to report that “Tailoring their teaching to the right pace and ability, selective and partly selective areas frequently outperform neighbouring comprehensive areas with similar social and demographic profiles. Selective Northern Ireland, in spite of all its problems, comes top year in, year out. We also know from the Government’s own figures that children of every ethnic group do better in selective education.”

Additionally, they stated that “Of the top 20 local authority areas for state school students winning places at the Russell Group universities, 12 are at least part-selective. The only three areas outside London and the South East to figure in the list were selective Torbay, part-selective Bournemouth and selective Trafford.”

This makes it all the more evident that grammar schools play an important role in preparing pupils for life after secondary education. The figures shown illustrate perfectly that grammars are consistently out-performing comprehensive schools and that they certainly do this based on the merit of the pupil, not whether he or she lives in a terraced or a detached house.

The government consistently allows for the expansion of grammar schools, and so to those hoping to allow their children the opportunity to succeed in the grammar school system, the opening of the new annexe at Weald of Kent will be very welcome news. The ban on new grammar schools is an archaic notion and one which should be dissolved, allowing for new grammar schools to open where the demand is there.

Judging from televised BBC news reports which took place in the Sevenoaks area, parents of children who live there are welcoming the idea of the Weald of Kent annexe with open arms, surely this is indicative of the demand for more grammars across the country which will allow all students to achieve greatness.