Toby Young: Not Much Evidence New Grammars Will Help The Poorest

They 'wouldn't be great' for his Free School
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Leading Free School campaigner Toby Young has warned that Theresa May’s new grammars will cause “a wave of disruption” and may not improve social mobility.

Young, a strong supporter of Michael Gove’s education reforms, said that the impact of creating more selective state schools “wouldn’t be great” for non-selective schools such the secondary he co-founded in London.

The journalist and author added that “there isn’t much evidence” that grammars helped poorer children, and predicted that May’s plans for quotas and ‘tutor-proof’ tests would be “politically and practically difficult”.

His remarks came as Education Secretary Justine Greening prepared to set out details for the plans for a new generation of selective state schools in a Green Paper consultation document.

Amid fears that the plans could be derailed by the House of Lords, Tory MPs such as Ben Howlett were today due to meet in Downing Street to express their concerns.

Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan
Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan
Nick Ansell/PA Wire

Greening’s predecessor Nicky Morgan slated the proposals at the weekend, warning that they could “undermine six years of progressive education reform”. Gove himself will not oppose the plans, the Times reported.

Young spoke of the impact a new grammar would have if one opened near the West London Free School he co-founded, and which two of his children attend.

“It wouldn’t be great. We along with many of the other local schools are competing for the most able children,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.

“We want them to come here because I think in schools where you do have a genuinely mixed ability cohort you do see a transfer of social and intellectual capital from the most affluent and the most able to the least affluent and the least able.

Theresa May outlining her plans
Theresa May outlining her plans
Nick Ansell/PA Wire

“That’s the underlying rationale for comprehensive education, or one of them. And one of the things that we’ve been trying to do at this school is to try and create what we call ‘a grammar school for all’. A school with a grammar school curriculum, grammar school standards of behaviour, but for children of all abilities, not just the most able.

“There isn’t much evidence that grammar schools either did much or do much to boost social mobility.”

Young stressed that he was not a “dogged opponent” of new grammars, but added: “I think there are good arguments for new grammars, it’s just it’s not a social mobility argument, it’s a parental choice argument.”

Education Secretary Justine Greening
Education Secretary Justine Greening
CHRIS J RATCLIFFE via Getty Images

However, the Prime Minister declared last week that the driving force behind her reform plans was to create a “truly meritocratic Britain”.

Young’s father, the late Labour peer Michael Young, coined the term ‘meritocracy’ in the 1950s, as a satire on the idea that aristocratic elites should be replaced by elites based on ability. Much of his social research fuelled the abolition of grammar schools.

Young told Radio 4: “There is a danger if you introduce a whole raft of education reforms when the previous reforms introduced by Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan are just bedding down, you are going to create another wave of disruption and make it harder for head teachers and governors to do their jobs.

“Within the teaching community, new grammars aren’t going to be very popular. Most schools will be concerned that if a new grammar opens next door to them it’s going to have an adverse impact on them, and there are good grounds for thinking that.”

Young has had frequent clashes with his opponents in the past, with many teachers outraged by his fierce criticism of state schools and some seeing him as a lightning rod for their wider opposition to Gove’s own reforms.

Free Schools, which are outside local authority control, can choose their own curriculum and other rules, but are seen by Labour and some teaching unions as a distraction from the need to create more school places in areas of high need.

The Spectator journalist and author found himself trending on Twitter earlier this year when the Evening Standard ran a story headlined ‘“Toby Young: running free school was harder than I thought”.

He said that the story sparked ‘the worst day of my life’ as critics elided his remarks in an interview with news that he was stepping down as chief executive of West London Free School Academy Trust.

Young insists that he and other Free School campaigners are offering greater choice to parents, while raising standards for pupils across all ability ranges and backgrounds.