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We No Longer Live In A World Where It Makes Sense For Only A Handful To Have Access To The Best Education

12/12/2016 15:15 GMT | Updated 13/12/2017 10:12 GMT
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

Last week the OECD released an international study of academic attainment around the world which laid bare the consequences of the Tories' failed education agenda. 

The PISA tests, which are taken every three years, showed that the attainment gap in England between the poorest kids and their better-off classmates is just as big as it was in 2012. The gap between the brightest and lowest performing kids is eight years of schooling, one of the worst performances in the developed world. 

Following six years of turmoil and a major restructuring of the schools system we learned that we have not made any of the progress we were promised by the Tories. But perhaps the most disappointing outcome of the day was the government's response - that lifting Labour's ban and opening new grammar schools will make everything better.

We don't even have to look too far to see what might happen in another three years if we were to believe them. In Northern Ireland, where nearly half of children attend a grammar school, the difference in attainment between those that attend a selective school and those that don't is, according to PISA, as much as three years in schooling. And we know from decades of research the group of kids that suffer the most in selective systems. Less than 3% of grammar school pupils are on free school meals, compared with 18% in non-selective schools.  

The OECD are clear that education systems with grammar schools do not produce "superior results" and have found no evidence that countries with selective schooling systems are any better at helping disadvantaged children. They are even clearer that investment in early childhood education is the key for delivering the best outcomes for all children whatever their background. One of the arguments for why we need to bring back selection is that white working class boys are the least likely of any group to attend university, and that grammar schools can change all that.

But we know from their own statistics that selective systems actively drive down the results of these children, and make their chances of attending Oxford or Cambridge less likely. Analysis has shown that the opportunity gap between the most deprived kids and their wealthier peers is bigger where there are selective schools in the area, and these children are more likely to end up unemployed.

The Tory argument that lifting the ban would drive up education standards for everyone and be good for social mobility just doesn't stand on any evidence. Educationalists, Think Tanks, the OECD, academics, teacher and headteacher groups in selective and non-selective authorities, The Labour Party and even some MPs from their own benches are in universal agreement that bringing back selection at 11 will do irrecoverable harm to the futures of thousands of children.  Six months ago the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street with a promise of delivering a country "that works for everyone".

As the consultation for the Government Green Paper on grammar schools closes today, we are still waiting for an explanation of how an education system that only works for some is supposed to achieve this. We no longer live in a world where it makes sense for only a handful of kids to have access to the best academic education possible.

It is time the Tories recognised that their job is to build an education system for all, not just the lucky few. If they don't, by the time the PISA tests are taken again they will have wasted another three years on a reckless restructuring of the education system at the expense of investing in what we know actually works - excellent early years education and brilliant teaching. Our children deserve nothing less.

Angela Rayner is the shadow education secretary and Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne