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Sunday, 30 July 2017 12:19

Politicians' Children and Grammar Schools: Canterbury Gazette, 4 August 2017

I find the criticism of a Labour Member of Parliament living in the selective county of Kent, for sending her children to grammar school when she disagrees with academic selection, quite bizarre especially as no alternatives are offered by her critics (the link is just one of many online articles). 

What follows is not, I believe, a political view but one that is purely pragmatic. In Canterbury, where this issue has arisen, 30% of the state school population go to grammar schools at the age of 11, well over the county standard of 25%. So, even the technically comprehensive church schools will have a limited number of children assessed to be of grammar school ability at that age, even assuming that a school whose philosophy is underpinned by faith is an option.

Whatever parents’ view on the principle of selective education, they still have a parental responsibility to do their best for their children within the system that operates locally. It would surely be perverse not to send an able child, assessed to be of grammar school ability, to the school best suited for their abilities. Certainly, when I was a grammar school headteacher I had children in my care whose parents disagreed strongly with the selective system, including Labour politicians. This did not present a problem for them or for me, as we all agreed that given this was the system, even though they would have it abolished, mine was the most appropriate school for those children.

It is clear after two general elections in which the only discussion about grammar schools from any party was about the possibility of expanding numbers, that there is no general appetite for a break-up of the selective system where it exists, especially with the greatest divide in education receiving no mention whatever. For it has always been a mystery to me why the Left in politics never refers to the biggest fault line, that between state and private schools, with the country’s private sector demonstrably undermining social mobility without being challenged.  Many academically selective private schools, benefitting from historic and private funding sources along with impressive tax breaks and ‘old boy’ networks, offer future life prospects for those able to afford them, that areas without grammar schools cannot hope to emulate.

The Canterbury Labour M.P. is not the only local parent to be publicly pilloried for expressing opinions on this matter, oddly perhaps in a university City that should create a climate of encouraging tolerance and rational debate. However, she should surely not be criticised, nor her children brought into the public domain, for choosing the most appropriate state education option for her children.  Also, strangely, I doubt given the experience of a number of other Labour MPs that she would have been equally vilified for sending her children to the alternative local option, one of Canterbury’s three private schools! 

Last modified on Sunday, 11 March 2018 17:07

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 August 2017 13:42 posted by Martin Hydes

    re Politicians' children

    Regarding your comment about private schools and social mobility, I should like to draw to your attention case in support of private education.

    I was brought up in a flat above a shop in Gravesend High Street in the 1960s. My parents ran a small business. Neither of them had academic qualifications. My maternal grandfather was an economic migrant from Germany. He was interned on the Isle of Man in 1915 after his shop was ransacked by members of the local community.

    My parents had aspirations for me and I passed the entrance exam to King's Rochester (as it happens I also passed the 11+ which my father insisted on in case the business went under).

    I enjoyed my time at King's and went on to become a teacher in state schools.

    I think this is a better example of social mobility being worked at rather than taking the benefits of a grammar school education when ideologically opposed to the system (and thus depriving more committed/aspiring families of places - even those whose child has passed the Kent Test with a very good score).

    So, I disagree with you on that one...but usually am in agreement with the investigations you undertake! PETER: Hello Again Martin (at least I assume you are the historian I knew!). You are quite right to flag up your personal exception to the hypothesis and be rightly proud of it. There will of course always be many such exceptions and scholarships, and long may they last. However, to suggest that a Labour politician should buy their way out of the appropriate state school for their child still sounds perverse to me.

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