Opening new grammar schools will inevitably damage all the schools around them, the Ofsted chief inspector said this morning.
But he added that he was "broadly on the same page" as former education secretary Michael Gove, one of the leading advocates of the return to the grammar-school system, praising him as "one of the greatest secretaries of state for education".
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Sir Michael said: “If you have grammar schools, you take away the most able children from the all-ability comprehensive set-up.
“And I speak as an ex-head of a successful inner-city comprehensive school, an academy, in Hackney. I needed those top 20 per cent to lift everyone up.”
When Mr Marr asked him whether he believed that the expansion of grammar schools could not help but damage those schools around them, Sir Michael said: “Absolutely.”
Sir Michael, who was executive principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in East London, until he took up his post at Ofsted in 2012, said that his ambition in the school “was to get 70, 80, 90 per cent of youngsters through their GCSEs.”
He added: “I wouldn’t have been able to do it if those top, those most-able youngsters went to the grammar school, because it was their ambition, their excellence that affected the rest of the school community.
“And we need now more youngsters – in the sort of economy that we’ve got: the service, digital economy – to do well academically.”
Lucy Powell, former shadow education secretary, quickly tweeted her support for Sir Michael’s verdict:
Wilshaw is right: education vastly improved over 20 years, challenge remains long-tail of under-achievement, grammars harm not help #marr— Lucy Powell MP (@LucyMPowell) 30 October 2016
Sir Michael did, however, tell Andrew Marr that he believed that the English education system had improved significantly, since “it was in special measures, in intensive care, in the Seventies, Eighties and much of the Nineties”.
But, he added, it had a long way to go until it was able to match the achievements of South Korea, Shanghai, and some European countries.
“It’s six and a half out of 10,” he said. “Mediocre, but getting better.”