The recent league tables justify the need for new grammar schools

Children have been deprived of a decent education for too long. Grammar schools are now more essential than ever before.


Theresa May’s government understands which brave measure is necessary to ensure Britain progresses in the educational league tables, and that is the policy to reintroduce grammar schools.

When Justine Greening, the current Education Secretary, announced her plan, she met a flurry of criticism. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said grammar schools are “stuffed with middle class kids.” This is because parents from affluent families can afford to pay for tutors that can prepare their children for the 11+ exams and beyond.

Former shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, said they are “bad for social mobility and aspiration.” By the 1980s, only 25 per cent of grammar pupils gained five good O-Levels and 10 per cent of them gained five good A-Levels.

Yet the recent league tables justify Greening’s policy and prove that they are more crucial than ever before. The results serve as an international embarrassment to Britain. This nation has dropped seven places since pupils were tested in 2012 and we are now positioned 27 out of 72 in maths. We have struggled to compete with Eastern European countries like Estonia, Poland and Slovenia.

Despite this, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment discovered that Britain has witnessed minimal improvements in science rankings since 2006. But British teens still lag behind their counterparts in Singapore and Japan when it comes to maths, science and reading. Wales emerged as the worst performing country in the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland also struggling to perform in these subjects compared to English pupils.

However, English pupils are provided with a comprehensive choice of schools. They have free schools, academies, private schools, etc, all tailored to the skills and abilities of their attendees. Is it any wonder Wales has emerged as the worst performing country in the UK when children there are at a disadvantage, compared to their English counterparts, due to Labour’s ideological refusal to provide a variety of schools? Or how about the Scottish and Northern Irish administrations’ failure to embark upon creating new types of schools too?

But grammar schools provide children from poorer backgrounds with opportunities not available to them elsewhere. Yet they could only benefit from them if they attended a private school (which is a financial impossibility for them as we speak) due to Harold Wilson’s policy to ban the creation of new grammars in the 1960s.

Grammar schools enable teachers to push the brightest students’ abilities and achieve outstanding results. In 2006, England’s 164 selective schools produced more than half the total number of A-grade A-Levels in harder subjects than those achieved by pupils in 2,000 comprehensives.

Grammars have created an alumni of high-ranking achievers. These include Margaret Thatcher, Anthony Hopkins, Alan Bennett and former Tory leader Michael Howard, who rhetorically punched Tony Blair once by claiming that: “This grammar school boy will not take lessons from that public school boy.”

The necessity to be bold and radical in education reform must be completed by this Conservative government. They have already achieved so much in this area, but the job is not yet finished. The league tables only legitimise the demand for grammar schools. The education revolution has only just started.



  1. How can an article that mentions the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment not mention that the majority of high performing nations as measured by these rankings use comprehensive secondary education? If grammar schools are so good, why does Northern Ireland perform worse than England with these rankings when it is fully selective? Does this writer also not know that Poland and Finland abandoned selection at 10/11 and then did significantly better in the world rankings?

    The statement ‘grammar schools provide children from poorer backgrounds with opportunities not available to them elsewhere’ suggests that this journalist has not read a scrap of recent research which shows that grammar schools contain very few children from poorer families. There are 14% of grammar children previously educated in the private sector but just 3% with family incomes low enough to trigger free school meals. Even the head of education at the OECD said, “Academic selection ultimately becomes social selection. Schools are very, very good at selecting students by their social background but they are not very good at selecting pupils by their academic potential.” If you’re going to write about the OECD at least get their take on early selection, they have written a few reports about early divisions in school systems causing problems.

    Of course this article also ignores the research about the results of children who do not get into grammars, which include the problems caused when children are incorrectly allocated by the 11+ (22% are incorrectly assessed according to the Sutton Trust.) Divided education also causes problems for teacher recruitment in secondary modern schools (Education Datalab.)

    Comprehensive Hampshire has a similar profile to selective Buckinghamspshire yet manages to achieve better results for high achieving pupils, as do state comprehensives in London. It is a shame that the Conservative party are supporting a policy that has so little evidence to back it up. There is certainly a need to reform current grammar schools, and I’d argue that grammar sixth form colleges would be a good idea, but there should be no further use of the outdated and unscientific 11+ test.

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