A key advisor to the Department for Education has criticised the government’s plans to expand the number of grammars, describing it as a return to the 1950s.
Les Walton, chair of the Education Funding Agency’s advisory board, said “life was not the same” as it was then. His comments directly contradict those of Prime Minister Theresa May who said the policy would not take the country back to that era.
Mr Walton, who also chairs the Northern Education Trust, told a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in Liverpool that the government needed to speak to more people who did not enjoy their grammar school education.
“I hated my grammar school,” he said. “The trouble is, everybody who talks about grammar schools who wants them back are the ones who achieved well at the grammar schools. So we’ve got to start talking to people like me who didn’t do very well.
“We’ve got to get to the reality of what grammar schools were like. What I am saying here is, when grammar schools were at their peak in the 50s, you weren’t allowed to be homosexual, you would’ve been still able to be killed if you were a witch and we lost the Suez Canal. That is obviously a joke. But life is not the same, life is not as it was then.”
Mr Walton also raised question marks over government plans to force private schools and universities to set up and run state schools.
“We can learn from the private sector, we can learn from the independent sector, we can learn from universities, but why have we got such low self-esteem that as schools we can’t learn from ourselves?” he added.
His comments follow those of Oxford University’s vice chancellor Louise Richardson who said it would be an “insult” to teachers if universities were made to run free schools.
Mr Walton was also cool on the government’s ambition to turn every school into an academy.
“When I started there was 221, now there’s more than 5,000. There’s still 17,000 to go and you have to remember that means 17,000 schools are still not academies. We probably won’t get to 22,000 in the next five years so we have to be sensible about what we can and can’t achieve.”