Wilshaw: forget grammar schools and focus on vocational education

All multi-academy trusts should run a vocational school, says outgoing Ofsted chief inspector, who wants Theresa May to abandon plans for 'socially divisive' grammars

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Theresa May should focus on pushing forward a huge expansion of vocational education to help plug skills-gaps following the Brexit, rather than expanding “socially divisive” grammars, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.

Every multi-academy trust should run a vocational university technology college (UTC) for youngsters aged 14 to 19, he told The Observer.

This would need leadership from someone at the top of government who can “bang the heads of the CBI together, with headteachers, trade unions, to make it work”, he said.

“We need to say to youngsters, ‘There are other paths than university’.”

He added: “If you’re going to make a success of Brexit, this should be the number one priority of government. Not grammar schools … Otherwise we won’t have the skills. And the prospects for growth in the economy and productivity in the economy will suffer.”

He said he wants to work with former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker – the driving force behind UTCs - to push forward his agenda of embedding vocational education into the school system.

Sir Michael has also re-iterated his opposition to the government’s plans for more grammars. He said: "I came into teaching and I came into this job to raise standards for all children, not just for the few. And by their very nature grammar schools are for the few - otherwise why have them?

"It will actually lower standards for the great majority of children, that is my view. And it is socially divisive as well."

The government has promised there will be no return to the 11 plus entrance exam for prospective grammar school pupils and insists Britain already has a "postcode lottery", with richer parents moving to areas with better comprehensives.

Ms May has also stressed that new grammars will have to show they are "genuinely reaching out" to poorer pupils and that education is "not going back to the 1950s".

But Sir Michael rejected ministers' argument that new grammars would not mean a return to a "binary" selective system. "If you're taking away the best kids from the comprehensive system, you're creating, by another name, secondary moderns," he said.

"You can call it what you like. People will know that the brightest children, the most academic children, are not going there."

Several Tory MPs including former education secretary Nicky Morgan and Commons Education Committee chair Neil Carmichael oppose Mrs May's plan for new selective schools.

But because it would only apply to England, the government should have the majority required to get the plan through the Commons as the Scottish Nationalist Party would not normally take part in any vote. However, the SNP has indicated it may be willing to block the plan suggesting it has budgetary implications for Scotland.

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