Ban grammar schools? No, bring back the Butler Act
A great deal of fiddling has gone on with the schools system in recent decades (academies, free schools and so on). However, it is clear from the recent Ofsted annual report that substantial problems remain.
The best thing the government could do to repair the situation is to revisit the Education Act 1944, also known as the "Butler Act". This, of course, provided for tripartite provision in the secondary sector: grammar, technical and secondary modern.
Reviled by the PC /pro-comprehensive lobby, this monumental piece of legislation has been unfairly traduced.
Subsequent governments did not adhere to Butler’s wish that all three kinds of school should have “parity of esteem”. As a result, secondary moderns (there were not many technical schools) came to be seen as less desirable than the grammars.
Of course, the crude 11-plus was unsatisfactory. Of course, now we have a more nuanced view of child development. However, the “one-size-fits-all” of the 1960s comprehensive revolution has clearly been a failure. (Interestingly, one of the younger members of my family has just graduated with a first from university after an excellent education at a secondary modern in Kent.)
Whenever this kind of argument is advanced, we hear the cry of elitism. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. My own children (with special needs) have benefited from what for them was appropriate schooling. It is appropriateness that must be the test for assessing provision.
Discipline, too, remains a major problem. Indeed, I recall how in my own career in teaching it was the teacher increasingly rather than the pupil who was blamed if problems arose.
Schools are for teaching and learning – period. They are not, and are not equipped to be, young offenders’ institutions. The motto of one famous English school – “Learn or leave” - should be the watchword.
Prime minister Boris Johnson should use his massive parliamentary majority to enact a suitably updated version of the 1944 legislation. We would then see things improve considerably.
The Rev Andrew McLuskey