'Grammar schools are to education what homeopathy is to medicine'

8th September 2016 at 11:05
grammar schools and homeopathy
Henceforth any claims to 'evidence-based education policy' will be met with a weary sigh from the profession, writes one heads' leader

I know what it's like to miss the good old days, too. I can draw comfort from the remembered glory of an education vision with rigour and clarity. That rigour just vanished in a puff of distracting smoke from the chimneys of Number 10. Vanquished, ironically, by the very forces of populism that Michael Gove himself helped to unleash. 

Grammar schools. They don't increase social mobility. The various fixes proposed don't increase social mobility. They are not "inclusive". They are the very definition of exclusivity: they are designed to reject large numbers of 11-year-olds on spurious grounds. They are not an escalator for the "poor but talented". They are another barrier thrown in their faces by the middle classes. The evidence is there for all to see. 

But evidence doesn't matter, does it? This is about emotion. Nostalgia in particular. This is about anecdote and personal experience

In no other sector would this be acceptable. If the minister for health proposed to increase state funding for homeopathy on the basis that it did wonders for his uncle's irritable bowel back in the 1970s – and must, therefore, be right for everyone today – there would be an uproar. This is a precise metaphor for the expansion of grammar schools. It is educational homeopathy. 

Lost credibility

Because it is popular, the policy will provide electoral benefits. It carries a high price for the government's credibility with the profession however. Henceforth, any claims to "evidence-based education policy" will be met with weary sighs. The moral high ground has been surrendered. 

That may be a price worth paying for the government: professional unhappiness doesn't carry much weight. We need to take the argument on to that empty high ground. This is not about opportunity for all. This is another strategy by the elite to lock your child out, to put them in their place, to take from those at the back and give more to those at the front. This is not Robin Hood, it is King John.

The tragedy is that grammar schools are a distraction from raising standards for all. Every time, without fail, the government reaches for a structural solution rather than addressing the messy, thorny issues of teaching quality. Structural change looks good, costs a fortune and achieves little. 

A government serious about social mobility would apply the following test: does this policy help to get our best teachers in front of our most vulnerable children and does it help those teachers to do their job well?

Grammar schools fail that test. Let's stop this expansion before it starts failing thousands of children all over again. 

Russell Hobby is general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union. He tweets as @RussellHobby

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