This is purely my personal opinion; Cornerstone has no corporate view.
This morning’s announcement by David Willetts that the type of academic selection exercised by grammar schools “entrenches advantage” [Daily Telegraph, p 4] is a symptom of a false debate.
I do not advocate a simple revival of grammar schools as the solution to our education problems.
What I do say, and have argued in the past [see ‘Set the Schools Free’, Cornerstone archive] is that schools must be allowed both the freedom to hire and fire staff and to select and de-select pupils. I also believe that pupils should be funded by vouchers, enabling parents to choose, if they wish, to send their children to those private schools that take part in the scheme.
Under the scheme I favour, very few schools would anyway become fully selective.
But we simply cannot, I believe, have an education policy which is identical to Labour’s – forcing all schools to be fully comprehensive.
Before all but a handful of grammar schools were abolished, they were a ladder out of the ghetto for people in inner city areas.
There were also, it so happens, significantly more students from state schools at Oxford and Cambridge.
And how popular will the policy be? According to Brian Wills Pope, chairman of the Grammar Schools Association, a recent poll shows that 70 per cent of people want a return to academic selection; the same result is confirmed in a poll by the Centre for Policy Studies.
If people knew the widespread evidence about the success of voucher-schemes across the world in giving poor children real opportunities for advancement, the remaining 30 per cent might be convinced as well. If you don’t believe me, read the Economist for May 3.
The subsequent results show that the children who received vouchers were 15-20 per cent more likely to finish secondary education, five percentage points less likely to repeat a grade, scored a bit better on scholastic tests and were much more likely to take college entrance exams.
[The article refers to a Colombian programme used to broaden access to secondary schooling, known as PACES, which provided over 100,000 poor children with school vouchers worth around half the cost of a private secondary school]
Edward Leigh is Co-Chairman of The Cornerstone Group