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August 08, 2016



i think this is a hard question.

There are two large towns near me. One has schools that gets excellent results and large numbers of people to top universities. A grammar school would be a pointless and possibly destructive change.

The second town has schools with very poor results in terms of university places. This is said by those who work there to be because the children have low standards and expectations. I can't help thinking a grammar school is just what this town needs.


Harkening back to a golden age is one of the few drivers for positive change that exists, as it is limited by what was once possible, and therefore has an actual understanding of humans as they really are. Much better than the Procrustean instincts of economists and radical ideologists as they attempt to build a brave new future without the benefit of the humanities.

Matt Moore

I'm a grammar school boy. This is a tough issue. I'm agnostic on the question of whether grammar schools raise some sort of average measure of social mobility.

But in my mind it is clear that they increase representation of the working and lower middle classes at the very elite levels of society, be it law, politics, the arts, sport or business. And this has hugely positive externalities for our society and culture.


It is hard, and I don't think current system of selection by geography is the answer. There are 'non-slective' primary schools near me with a catchment area of about 400m. All the houses within 400m are 1-10 million.
But in all govt stats it is a non-selctive school

and don't get me started on govt schools that select by religion

adding some grammar schools into the mix is hardly likely to make things worse

gastro george

Nobody ever says that they want to bring back secondary moderns.

Bill Bedford

That doesn't mean that they don't believe in them, especially for all those other kids who aren't half as good as their own.


"This mix of ignorance, atavism and wishful thinking is very much the same sort of thing that lay behind support for Brexit."

And can we say that a mix of ideology, arrogance and vested interest that is against grammar schools is very much the same sort of thing that lay behind support for the EU?


I'll quote D Cameron to confirm C Dillow's impression as to the origin of the demand for grammar schools, taken out of context, but quite related: «sharp-elbowed middle classes» «leg-up».

A colossal amount of stuff happens because middle class mothers go to great lengths to maximize the returns from their investment in their children, but so many men are too sexist to realize it.


«Nobody ever says that they want to bring back secondary moderns»

Excellent observation.

But give secondary moderns preferential access to Oxbridge or even just the Russell Group and and sharp-elbowed middle class mothers will demand their resurrection to give a leg-up to their children.

Sometimes I argue that if Oxbridge college admissions tutors had to be by law only academics raised in Gateshead, independent schools would do a few hours a week teaching geordie accent.

Because the role of independent schools and Oxbridge is to be gateways to the "good jobs", so that upper-middle class incomes be hereditary *statistically*, in the aggregate: some affluent children fail to get in, some low income children sneak in as tokens, but overall the "good jobs" are dynastic. The grammar schools are/were part of that system, even if a lot less biased towards the affluent than fee-paying schools.


BTW Here is the opinion on the matter by D Willets, which is surprising to me:

«Mr Willetts told the CBI: "We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids.
We just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it."
The willingness of middle-class parents to put time and money into extra tuition for their children meant a fair test at age 11 was impossible to design, he said.»

D Cameron also said something similar:

«He added: "In 18 years of Conservative government, we didn't create a whole big number of grammar schools because parents fundamentally don't want their children divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11."
He repeated his pledge that existing grammar schools would not be abolished.»

Richard Gadsden

Texas does university education by allocating an equal number of places at UT-Austin (the best school in the state) to every high school in the state, so the best way in is to be the brightest kid in a poor school.

(only three-quarters of the in-state places are allocated that way, the other quarter are a mixture of academic ability and legacies; rich-kid schools can generally get everyone in that doesn't get an Ivy League place, but middle-class schools have very high entry standards compared to poor-kid schools).


«independent schools and Oxbridge is to be gateways to the "good jobs", so that upper-middle class incomes be hereditary *statistically*»

A little story that impressed me: so I know this guy, middle aged, competent, capable, decent, mild mannered, very obviously upper-middle without the snobbery, and once he told me that his grandfather was still upset with him because of his rebelliousness when he was young. I was astonished, so I asked him very diplomatically what he had done that 20 years later he was still getting ranted at, and he told me that in a mad moment of anti-conformism he had applied to and read his degree in Oxford instead of the Cambridge college his father, grandfather and some previous generations had gone up to.



An erstwhile colleague lived in Kent, and was strongly in favour of the grammar-school system there.

He, and everyone he knew, employed tutors to get their children through the 11+ exam.


Education - as opposed to training and instruction - is an elite activity, which is why academic selection is useful. Which is not to be snobbish. Academic and practical intelligence are both valuable. Better to be a successful plumber than a media studies graduate, for example.


@Richard Gadsden: What are the outcomes of kids from bad schools who automatically get places at UT Austin? Do they perform like kids with the same SAT/ACT scores from better schools, or like kids with better SAT/ACT scores from better schools?


Grammar schools can only be contrasted with the social and educational attainments before they were introduced post war and what we have today. International comparisons are an absolute nonsense as you cannot compare the social class system of England with life overseas. To my mind they were the only good change to come into English education. My school with one of the most poverty stricken intakes in UK taught a future Prime Minister, Oxford Professors, international business leaders and leading UK Engineers etc. From other schools we got the Melvyn Bragg types and so on - hundreds of them. The evidence that it helped working class pupils to shine is overwhelming. UK was actually getting rid of the public school class system of being first in line for all the decent careers until the Cameron types came along and things went right into reverse. For those who had academic inclinations it was a chance out of the ghetto and they took it. UKIP for once to their credit are pushing for 50 new Grammar Schools in the most deprived areas.

There are no Secondary Moderns today so that is not the alternative. Even in the days of 11+ there were good alternatives such as Technical Schools and Building schools which led to excellent careers. All could take the 13+ or join Grammar School 6th Forms if late developers. Secondary Modern pupils did go on to University from those schools. Their demise was always from the middle classes who hated that their child had "failed" the 11+. Comparing with the present elitist system of private tutors, cramming holidays, public school and Oxbridge mostly the whole of England now fails the 11+ whether they take it or not. A* maths and English students having to take remedial maths and English grammar before they start University maths studies and so on.


«What are the outcomes of kids from bad schools who automatically get places at UT Austin?»

I would think it is a secondary issue: what really matters is the "brand value" of the institution, not what you learn at it.

Also, they don't quite "automatically get places", they are the top students of their schools, which means that they show unusual promise and ability.


«getting rid of the public school class system of being first in line for all the decent careers until the Cameron types came along and things went right into reverse»

What's wrong about that system is primarily that there are few «decent careers», and with not many positions in each.

Only secondarily that access to those few «decent careers» is unfairly distributed by class, and that grammar schools would only partially remedy that.

If the system was not "winners take all", with a small elite of "masters" and a vast bulk of "servants", whose children get into the "masters" group would not matter so much.

And if one supports a system where there are few «decent careers» and the rest have zero hour contracts, *inevitably* the mothers in the «sharp-elbowed middle classes» will ensure it somehow becomes mostly-hereditary, because they have the power and money to buy that.

Apposite example from "The Economist" explaining why the government should hand out hundreds of billions in welfare benefits to the wealthy spivs in the financial industry of the City of London:

«one of the world's most successful business clusters, and the best hope the next generation has of earning a decent living.»

I would take issue with «most successful», but the real message in the story is that "The Economist" expects only a minuscule percentage of the UK workforce to be able to earn «a decent living». Plus obviously the «next generation» alluded to here is not that coming from comprehensives in Consett or Swansea.


I recently had the choice of moving to an area with grammar schools or one without.

As there's no way my children would pass the 11 plus, it wasn't a difficult decision. I wonder how many parents would still favour grammar schools faced with the reality of their children's scholastic ineptitude.


There has been much talk in relation to Corbyn about failed policies of the past.

Is there a better example of a failed policy of the past than Grammar schools and is there a better illustration of the limited thinking of the Tories than this proposal?

Funny that the media do not state it in these terms.

If we think of all the changes to education in recent years, the revolution in technology, it is quite eye opening that May should look to a failed old policy as the solution to very modern issues.

It should also be noted that what this must mean in practice is that resources will be given to grammar schools and taken away from non Grammar schools. In other words most parents will see less investment in their kids education.

May cares about the poor, bullshit!


"This mix of ignorance, atavism and wishful thinking is very much the same sort of thing that lay behind support for Brexit."

You won't let go of that hobby horse now will you. The horrors of Brexit.

Because apparently you can only have Grammar schools with a single 11+ exam design. There are no possible other designs that allow academic individuals to be schooled in a school focussed solely upon academic achievement.

To get anywhere further down the achievement scale you have to spend *more* resources on the middle layer than you would on the high academic achievement grammar schools.

Grammar schools should have class sizes of 40 because you can efficiently teach cleverer kids in that sort of group size. That then allows you to get group sizes down to *15 or lower* at the other end of the scale and make a real difference.

The failure of comprehensives was simply to merge the academic grammar schools into secondary moderns to make the averages look better. They never fixed the problem. They just masked it.

An Alien Visitor

Another question is this:

Is it better, economically and for society in general, to throw educational resources at an 'elite' or is it better to raise educational standards generally?

I am suggesting the latter and rejecting Bob's view.


@Blissex: I asked about outcomes, not specifically about degree results. And of course it matters - the idea behind the policy is to counteract some of the inequalities in compulsory education (cf. redlining), and so we should ask whether it works. Does this policy benefit the good kids from bad schools that it's supposed to benefit?

Also, top 10% of a school isn't "unusual promise and ability" - it happens 10% of the time. That's no great shakes.


"Is it better, economically and for society in general, to throw educational resources at an 'elite' or is it better to raise educational standards generally?

I am suggesting the latter and rejecting Bob's view."

The problem is believing that there is a rich seem of intelligence in poorer households that won't get to grammar school.

Generally there isn't. It is very much the exception rather than the rule. It was overhyped before but certainly after 40 years of relative social mobility that those clever enough to go to grammar school come from families where the parents are clever enough to go to grammar school. Genetics determines intelligence and earning potential.

So the clever kid from a poor background is now very much the exception.

So called 'left wingers' that expect every strata of society to match some ideal percentage layout are going to be disappointed.

What I am saying is essentially poorer households tend to be filled with people who are not really academic, and have children that are similarly not academic. I suggest those children need small class sizes and a schooling system aimed at getting the best out of them. What a bastard I am.

As I said, the failure of the grammar school system has always been that it takes the focus off the real problem - why did the secondary modern concept fail the middle tier so badly?

The leftist approach of 'all must have prizes' and "let's bring half the nation down to the average' is insane. Seriously, fuck you guys.



"40 years of relative social mobility"

should be

"40 years of relatively low social mobility"

As Chris said:

"There’s also, as Angela Rayner says, an element of “harking back to a mythical ‘golden age’”."

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