16 Oct, 2015

Grammar schools are not the answer: the road to a better life starts at birth, not at 11

The Guardian | Gaby Hinsliff | 15 October 2015

Abstract: A few months ago I visited Adams’ grammar in Shropshire, whose old boys include Jeremy Corbyn. Its new head has just changed its entrance criteria to try to give local kids from all backgrounds a head start over middle-class ones bussed in from miles away. Grammar schools in Rugby and Birmingham are experimenting with schemes to admit children on free school meals with a lower pass mark.

These heads deserve credit for trying to do the right thing despite parental opposition. If and when they pull off the miracle of turning their schools into genuine engines of social mobility – without destabilising neighbouring comprehensives whose star pupils they might poach – we could consider opening more grammars. But until that happy day, the road to giving poorer children a better start in life starts at birth rather than at 11.

It means early intervention where parents are struggling to parent, excellent early-years education, not plunging families into financial chaos by cutting in-work benefits, turning failing state schools (disproportionately likely to be found in poorer neighbourhoods) around, and somehow nurturing the creation of more decent well-paid jobs.