Open new grammar school in poorest areas and let children shine

Open new grammar school in poorest areas and let children shine

Fifty years ago Harold Wilson announced he wanted every comprehensive school to be as good as a grammar school.

Half a century on and we’re still nowhere near to achieving that goal. How much longer do we leave it, another 50 years?

No, and that’s why I’m delighted that the government is proposing to put an end to what has become a selection system by stealth – and wealth – and I welcome their green paper.

Theresa May is quite right to say we currently have a state education system with little social mobility, which benefits the affluent who can afford higher house prices in leafy green suburbs where high-performing comprehensives reside. Or those with deep pockets who can afford long-term private tutoring to get their children into grammar schools that are so few and far between they can set the benchmark high.

I firmly believe that allowing new grammar schools to open – especially if they only open in more deprived areas – will bring new opportunities, that are currently denied, to so many bright young children.

The Department for Education has identified 65 local authority districts where fewer than 50% of secondary school applicants live within 5km of a good or outstanding school.

In 20% of districts, fewer than half of secondary school pupils have access to a good school within a reasonable distance of their home – this is frankly scandalous.

A policy of having a grammar school in every town and not a return to a fully selective system is, in my opinion, the right one.

We do not want to return to a selective system that decides the fate of all children at age 11, but we do want to increase choice and opportunity for all.

New grammar schools will increase the education options available for families and enable more good schools to open in areas where currently no good or outstanding schools exist.

Introducing legislation to ensure independent schools, grammar schools and universities all play their part in supporting the state education system should drive up standards across all schools.

The green paper also says new grammar schools should allow for three entry opportunities at age 11, 14 and 16 – something I have long called for.

This will put an end to the argument that a child’s fate is decided at such a young age and gives those students who develop later academically the chance to apply.

I’m also pleased to see the government recognising that the ‘free school meals’ benchmark does not reflect the true number of families who are struggling to make ends meet.

We need to ensure children from those families, as well as those who are entitled to free school meals, are given the best opportunities in life.

My only disappointment with the government consultation is that there is no call to return to the introduction of ‘technology’ colleges for 14 to 19 year-olds.

We all have different talents and those students who have the potential to be the next Richard Branson or Bill Gates should be given the chance to hone their vocational and business skills.

Not everyone should follow a wholly academic route through life.

If a 14-year-old shows great talent in technology, the arts or the digital world let’s get them focused on practical education, with the emphasis on vocational training combined with a good grasp of numeracy and literacy.

These students could be the driving force of our economy and their talents are not best utilised by forcing them to take 11 GCSEs.

For a truly mobile society, we need to maximise the talent of all our young people.