Saturday, 10 September 2016

Another reason to be grateful for being a citizen of Wales

Mrs May is insisting on a return to grammar schools in England - and therefore, though this was only implied, sink schools for those who fail an intelligence test at the age of ten. She says that this policy is popular with parents. The parents she means are no doubt the ones she mixes with in the Conservative party, not those whose children will not make it into the top echelon.

It is depressing that the prime minister is continuing the strategy of revealing government policy to the media leaving her ministers to pick up the pieces in parliament. There does seem to be a schism between Mrs May and her Education Secretary Justine Greening. In a statement to the House last Thursday Ms Greening hinted that there would not necessarily be an extension of the eleven-plus exam beyond those counties which for historical reasons still have it. However, Mrs May's media presentation made clear that was just what she had in mind. Ms Greening said that the government proposals will be based on evidence and will not be driven solely by academic achievements. Academic achievement was foremost in Mrs May's mind yesterday.

Part of the evidence both need to look at is the historical record. The tripartite system (grammar, secondary technical and secondary modern) ushered in by the Education Act of 1944 was driven by budgetary and workforce constraints. Idealists in the Ministry of Education looked to a comprehensive scheme of secondary education for all, but had to recognise that the country at that time could not afford the level of staffing necessary. I do hope that Mrs May's government is not driven by similar economic considerations, aiming to save money by driving down the salaries of teachers in second- and third-tier schools.

The prime minister, with the support of Kate Hoey (Labour, semi-detached), put forward the selective system in Northern Ireland as a shining example to the rest of the UK. Mrs May also wants to increase faith schools. Since the six counties are home to the worst social divisions and job discrimination in the whole of the kingdom, I suggest that education in Northern Ireland serves as a grim warning against further selection rather than a recommendation.

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