The Tories Are Harking Back to a Mythical 'Golden Age' of Grammar Schools

26/07/2016 17:03 | Updated 26 July 2016
Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Conservative Voice, a Tory activist group, has officially launched their campaign to lift the ban on opening new grammar schools, introduced by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair 18 years ago.

If Prime Minister Theresa May is serious about her recent rhetoric on the steps of Downing Street, when she said that her government would do everything it could to help "anyone, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you", then she will halt this divisive campaign in its tracks.

Some Tories argue for more grammar schools as engines of social mobility, which propel kids from working-class, low and middle income families up the social ladder. But the facts argue otherwise.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that amongst those identified as high achievers at an early age, children who are eligible for free school meals or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are sigificantly less likely to attend a grammar school than their better off classmates.

There are 163 grammar schools left in the country. In 161 of them, fewer than 10% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.

According to research by the House of Commons library, around 2% of children at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals.

So they are not being drawn from the poorest backgrounds.

It takes some gall to suggest that grammar schools, which divide children into 'successes' and 'failures' at the tender age of 11, is somehow good for social mobility.

Some Tories argue that grammar schools allow the tiny minority of kids from low-income backgrounds to shoot to the top of society, as perfect examples of social mobility.

Again, this is simply not true.

In the heyday of grammar schools, just 0.3% of grammar school pupils with two A-levels were from the skilled working class. A measly three children out of every thousand.

A third of all students in grammar schools who were from the most deprived backgrounds, left without a single O-Level.

That's why Labour got rid of them - because they were failing all our children. They sowed division in our society, left too many young children feeling second best, and put a cap on aspiration, ambition and opportunity for millions.

They left no room for late developers, or children whose family or social circumstances later changed.

And they failed to provide Britain with the dynamic, skilled workforce that we still need.

The professed belief that new grammar schools will suddenly take on huge numbers of working class kids and deliver fantastic results is patently absurd.

David Cameron said that those in his party who wanted to open more grammars were "splashing about in the shallow end of the educational debate."

If only the party he used to lead would listen to him.

I welcome Theresa May's words on social mobility, and what she, and her new Education Secretary Justine Greening, have said about education being the best engine we have for social mobility. I couldn't agree more.

But we need action, not warm words. Rather than harking back to a mythical 'golden age' of grammar schools, the Tories must work tirelessly to improve every school in the country, to work with teachers to drive up standards, and to give our schools the investment they need in the 21st Century.

That's what Labour stands for.

Selection belongs in the dustbin of history and has no place in modern society. There must be no going back.

Angela Rayner is the shadow education secretary and minister for women and equalities, and Labour MP for Ashton, Droylsden and Failsworth