The pros and cons of grammar schools

Education secretary Nicky Morgan has reignited the debate over grammar schools after giving the Weald of Kent the go ahead.


Has Nicky Morgan opened a Pandora's Box?

The Tory right are "thrilled" with the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, for giving the green light to what "everyone but her is calling the first new grammar school in 50 years", says Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. Officially, the new Sevenoaks campus will just be an extension of the existing Weald of Kent grammar in Tonbridge (seven miles away), "not the beginning of a nationwide resurgence for selective education", but that's not how everyone will see it. Whether or not she intended to, Morgan may be "opening an educational Pandora's box".

No she isn't, says Sam Freedman in the FT. Firstly, the decision will be challenged; secondly, many of the existing 163 grammar schools would not want to dilute their selectivity by expanding; and thirdly the government has shown no sign of wanting to abolish the 1998 Act that outlaws creating new grammar schools. Indeed, under David Cameron, there has been a shift in Conservative policy to "improve the system as a whole".

Take the pupil premium, which has redistributed money to schools with more disadvantaged intakes, or the system of pairing good schools with struggling ones. Grammars actually "reducesocial mobility". Disproportionately few children from poor backgrounds pass the 11-plus, in part because their parents cannot afford tutoring, and in local authorities that still have selection, poorer children do worse than in the rest of Britain.

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It strikes me as bizarre that grammar schools are the only type of school explicitly banned by law, says Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph. It's like "banning new bookshops because they make the illiterate feel inferior". The idea that it is "automatically wrong" that some people are richer or better educated than others is a "defiance of reality, of the power of incentives and of human freedom itself".

The "weirdest" thing about our attitude to schools is that we expect a uniform system. Why can't we accommodate every type of school from free schools to comprehensives, academies, church schools, state boarding schools and schools with fewer exams or little curriculum? Society gives itself a headache "if it tries to equalise opportunity. What it can do is maximise it. In the field of education it is hard to imagine this happening without more grammar schools."

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.