National Grammar Schools Association
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Conservative Fringe – Blackpool, 2007

Tuesday, 02 October 07 | DeHavilland Report - Event

Grammar schools, selection and opportunity for all


A selective school system was the best way to guarantee social mobility, Graham Brady MP argued today.

Mr Brady, who resigned as Conservative Europe spokesperson over his supportive views regarding grammar schools, was speaking at a meeting entitled 'Grammar schools, selection and opportunity for all'. The following also attended the event which was sponsored by the National Grammar Schools' Association:

·  Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools;
·  David Frost, Director General, British Chambers of Commerce;
·  Brian Wills-Pope, Chairman, National Grammar Schools' Association, (chair.)

Opening the debate, Mr Brady began by stressing that he had been 'hugely impressed' with the party conference, adding that he felt that the stances taken on inheritance tax and stamp duty were the right ones.

Turning to education, the Conservative MP welcomed statements from the party that they wanted to give headteachers more power, retain special schools and give more freedom to those wanting to set up schools in a community.

Although policy on grammar schools had not been altered, Mr Brady insisted that existing grammar schools were twice as safe under a Conservative Government than they would be under a Labour one.

Chartering the success of grammar schools, Mr Brady asserted that every ethnic group performed better in a selective education system. Selective local education authorities performed better in GCSEs and A-Levels than their non-selecting counterparts, he went on to argue.

Grammar schools allowed those from poorer backgrounds to succeed, the MP insisted, adding that they ensured a good education for bright pupils whose parents could not afford private education or to move into a catchment area for a top performing school.

Public demand for more grammar schools in some areas was apparent, Mr Brady went on to state. People should look at the evidence on grammar schools in order to assess their viability, the MP concluded.

David Frost began by drawing attention to what he saw as a common characteristic of businessmen that he met. They were primarily in their 50s, male and grammar educated, he pointed out, adding that the selective system had allowed them to make progress despite coming from predominantly humble backgrounds.

Parents wanted the best for their children and saw the economic challenges posed by developing nation such as India and China, Mr Frost asserted. Indeed, many parents took on higher mortgages to secure a property in a sought after school catchment area or used a private school to provide a good education for their children.

Moving on to business, the representative from the British Chambers of Commerce asserted that companies had argued that the current school system did not provide children with the skills needed for the world of work. Moreover, he highlighted that 147,000 children had left school this year without achieving any qualifications, providing them with a bleak future.

In addition, there were currently 500,000 18 to 24 year olds unemployed and on benefits, Mr Frost went on to point out, adding that it needed to be made clear that failure after eleven years at school could lead to a life on benefits.

A high level of craft and vocational skills were needed, Mr Frost insisted, pressing for a twenty-first century system of technical colleges to be created.

Backing up this view, he quoted a survey undertaken by Populus and the British Chambers of Commerce which found that 61 per cent of companies did not see schools as an adequate grounding for work.

Concluding, Mr Frost lamented the tens of thousands of young people who had been failed by their country.

Chris Woodhead began by highlighting how the Conference had been told it was the party of aspiration by the leadership yesterday. The Conservatives should adopt a selective grammar school system which was the best vehicle for social mobility, he argued.

Grammar schools were only colonised by the middle class at present because there were so few of them, Mr Woodhead insisted.

Together with more grammar schools, greater investment in primary education, particularly in the poorest areas, would level the playing field for all social classes going through the selection process, he went on to stress.

Those going through the grammar schools system from 11-14 years of age made better progress than those in comprehensive education, showing the added value that grammar schools gave, the former chief inspector of schools maintained.

Moreover, grammar schools pushed the brightest pupils, adding peer pressure on them to do well, Mr Woodhead stated. He went on to attack the Shadow Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, Michael Gove, over his comments that school selection created a two-tier system of the 'fortunate and the forgotten'.

In a selective system, it was crucial that to throw those who failed the eleven plus exam on the scrap heap, he argued, adding that Mr Gove and others should set about reinventing the secondary modern system of schools.

David Cameron had bought into the 'New Labour dream' regarding the creation of a multitude of different schools, such as city academies and specialist schools, but had ignored selection which had delivered in the past, Mr Woodhead concluded.

During the question and answer session, the panel was quizzed on how vocational education in a secondary modern system would provide the right skills.

In reply, Mr Brady insisted that the debate should not be framed around what had happened in the past. Elsewhere, Mr Woodhead attacked the Tomlinson proposals on 14 to 19 education, adding that a diploma that gave tasters in such disparate subjects as Greek and bricklaying would provide a mess which would not develop skills effectively.

Mr Frost called for vocational education to be given a clear structure like the GCSE and A-Level system, proving a recognisable route for skill progression.

On the number of agencies and quangos working within education, Mr Frost lamented the 'relentless change' in the structure of organisations. This had to be cut and simplified, he added.

Regarding city academies' ability to select ten per cent of their intake, Mr Woodhead stated that he did not know of any which had used the power. He went on to stress that the money used in the schemes could be better used elsewhere, adding that the full worth of academies was unproven.

Mr Brady added that the existing structures could be used to extend academic selection. Setting and streaming were steps in the right direction, he argued.

On how grammar schools could be marketed, Mr Brady insisted that the eleven plus exam should assess innate ability rather than favour those who could afford academic coaching.

In a further response, Mr Woodhead highlighted the system in Germany whereby teachers, parents and pupils engaged in a dialogue to find the appropriate school for an individual child.

On school exams, he claimed that A-Levels and GCSEs had been 'dumbed down', adding that the Conservatives should be committed to toughening them up.

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