Analysis: Hard to imagine return to grammar schools ever winning favour in Wales

Wales Online’s education correspondent Gareth Evans has written an article analysing the fallout from the Welsh Conservatives’ call for a return to the grammar school system in Wales. This is an extract…

…While Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns supports grammar school principles, her colleagues in Whitehall – considered far more radical, let’s not forget – have tried their best to shake them.

That itself raises questions and with Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure from some backbenchers to reconsider the policy, the Welsh Conservatives will either help or hinder.

Nevertheless, it is harder to imagine grammar schools ever winning favour in Wales than in England, which makes today’s announcement – revealed exclusively in The Telegraph (which is worth noting) – all the more extraordinary.

Phased out this side of the border in the 1970s, grammar schools are a throwback to yesteryear and few will remember fondly their 11-plus exams.

Traditionally, grammar schools are state-funded and select pupils on the basis of academic ability. The infamous 11-plus was used to determine where primary school pupils continued their education.

Fortunately, there appears universal opposition to that particular element of the plan. But the implication is that, should the Tories win power in Wales, selection would be at 14 instead of 11, as was previously the case.

Grammar schools are selective by nature, whereby the current comprehensive system, developed in the 1980s and a bedrock of educational equality, is not.

All political parties pride themselves on the promise of a first-class education for all. The temptation, in a selective schools system, is to separate the academic wheat from the chaff.

Grammar schools are hugely divisive, least not in Wales where high levels of deprivation remain a blight on our society. Pupils do not start from a level playing field and splitting them further – whatever the logic – would surely give cause for more division.

Tackling the impact of poverty and disadvantage on attainment is something of an enigma in Wales. And while Ms Burns believes grammar schooling can open doors for poorer pupils to top universities and higher salaries, there are doubtless others who will flounder within a more regimented regime.

Free schools and academies provide some middle ground and are as far as Prime Minister David Cameron is prepared to go. Neither, it is worth remembering, has won favour in Wales.

While grammar schools remain in England, there are currently no plans to build any more. An all-out return to grammar schools, as proposed by the Welsh Tories, is considered a bridge too far across the Dyke.

…Instead of separating academic children from their more vocational counterparts, Ms Burns wants to explore the benefit of creating “two equitable streams of education, one alongside the other”. How pupils plot their chosen course – or indeed, whether or not it will be chosen for them – is not yet clear.

The Welsh Conservatives are right to highlight Welsh Labour’s dubious 14-year reign over education in Wales and we must at least allow the opposition to flesh out its controversial plans for closer scrutiny.

The party’s leader, Andrew RT Davies, wants a debate on the issue. Rest assured, he’s certain to get one and the fallout from today’s announcement – from teachers and parents – will be telling.

More at:  Analysis: Hard to imagine return to grammar schools ever winning favour in Wales

The original Telegraph article from @AngelaBurnsAM provided very little in the way of detail and she had not yet made any further clarification. Can you see any merit in the idea of selection at 14 (possibly within the same school) – whether in Wales or beyond?

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