As reported in the Sunday Telegraph:
Leading Tories call for more grammar schools pledge in next manifesto;
Senior MPs including Graham Brady, Dominic Raab and David Davis back Conservative Voice campaign calling for an election manifesto pledge to repeal ban on new selective grammar schools in England
A new wave of grammar schools should be opened across England to give more families access to the best state education, according to senior Conservative MPs.
Leading figures in the party will this week launch a campaign calling for an expansion of grammar schools to be included in the Tory manifesto for next year’s general election.
David Cameron and his education ministers have so far resisted calls to repeal a ban on the opening of new grammar schools, which select pupils on the basis of their academic ability through the “11-plus” exam.
But the grassroots Tory group, Conservative Voice, is building support among backbench MPs for a change in policy which it says would be popular with millions of middle-class parents.
There are 164 grammars in England. The best dominate secondary school league tables for exam performance, as their pupils outshine their peers in fee-paying private schools.
This academic success has made grammars, which are free as part of the state education system, hugely popular with parents and they are often over-subscribed.
In the 1970s, councils were given the power to decide whether selective grammar in their areas should remain open, with the result that many were closed.
Tony Blair’s Labour government passed a law banning any more grammar schools from opening and many Labour MPs want to close those that remain.
Leading Tory MPs and grassroots activists believe this law should be scrapped and Conservative Voice is calling for “a clear commitment to reverse the legislation” in next year’s manifesto.
The campaign is being backed by Graham Brady, the most senior Tory backbencher in the Commons, who chairs the party’s 1922 Committee, which oversees leadership elections.
He said the closure of grammar schools had severely damaged social mobility, entrenching the advantages of expensive private education across society.
“As most local authorities got rid of their grammar schools we have seen social mobility take a nose dive,” he said. “We have seen far fewer people from state educated backgrounds in law, the upper reach of the civil service, the judiciary and indeed in politics.”
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said grammar schools had given Britain “one of the best educational outcomes in the world” during much of the 20th century.
“We generated large numbers of Nobel Prize winners, we were fantastic leaders in science, and other disciplines, much more so than a country of 60 million has a right to expect. It was a huge success and a tragedy when we got rid of them.”
Dominic Raab, a member of the education select committee, is also backing the campaign.
“There’s no silver bullet to reviving stagnant social mobility in Britain,” he said. “But grammar schools are a key piece of the policy jig-saw, creating a ladder of opportunity for talented and hard-working youngsters from council estates and rural backwaters.”
The law bans the opening of new grammar schools but there is scope to allow existing schools to expand. Earlier this month, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, backed plans to consider the opening of a new “satellite” campus for a grammar school in her constituency of Maidenhead, Berkshire.
Don Porter, the founder of Conservative Voice, said: “Our followers are strongly of the opinion that new grammar schools will both enhance social mobility and present parents with choice, both of which lie at the heart of the Conservative Party’s values.”
Conservative ministers have previously praised grammar schools for the outstanding results as well as their educational ethos, which refuses to put a limit on the ambitions of local children.
Many of the most popular grammar schools attract 10 applications for every place.
In recent years, a growing number of parents have hired private tutors to help coach their children to pass the 11-plus entrance exam.
As reported in the Mail on Sunday:
Senior Tory MPs to tell PM to clear path for new grammar schools: Graham Brady and David Davis among those supporting campaign
Senior Conservative MPs will next week challenge David Cameron to clear the way for a new generation of grammar schools.
The chairman of the influential 1922 committee, Graham Brady, and former leadership contender David Davis are among those supporting the campaign, the Daily Mail has learned.
At present, the law forbids new grammar schools, whose intake is based on selection according to academic ability – only allowing existing institutions to open ‘satellites’ in new locations.
Theresa May, the home secretary, and Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, have broken ranks to back plans for new satellite grammar school campuses in their constituencies.
The option is being attempted by Conservative councillors in Kent, where Weald of Kent girls’ grammar school in Tonbridge has applied to open a site nine miles away in Sevenoaks.
But a poll this week showed that 54 per cent of voters say that they would support entirely new grammar schools in areas where there was evidence parents wanted them, such as petitions in support.
Don Porter, founder of Conservative Voice, the party pressure group which is behind the new campaign, said: ‘We want to ensure that in the Conservative Party manifesto there is a clear commitment to reverse the legislation preventing the creation of new grammar schools.
‘Our followers are strongly of the opinion that new grammar schools will both enhance social mobility and present parents with choice, both of which lie at the heart of the Conservative Party’s values.’
Mr Brady, a former frontbencher, said the closure of selective grammars ‘is one of the things which is building a less cohesive society’.
Mr Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said: ‘They [grammar schools] are still a motor for social mobility but nothing like as good as it used to be. That is all down to, I am afraid, a massive failure in public policy, a massive failure in confidence in high quality education for bright kids.’
Esher and Walton MP Dominic Raab, a member of the Commons education select committee, said: ‘There’s no silver bullet to reviving stagnant social mobility in Britain. But grammar schools are a key piece of the policy jigsaw, creating a ladder of opportunity for talented and hard-working youngsters from council estates and rural backwaters.’
Research for Conservative Voice found 84 per cent of people said that grammar schools are a valuable asset to the British education system. Some 80 per cent believe that grammar schools make the education system fairer.
Two thirds of parents say they would enter their child for an 11+ exam and send them to a grammar school if they passed.
David Cameron has long resisted calls to pledge to expand selective schooling in the Tory manifesto. The architects of the coalition’s school reforms hoped that controversy over grammar schools in the party could be put to rest by focusing on all-ability academies and free schools.
In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher – herself a grammar school girl – allowed local councils to decide themselves whether their schools should remain selective grammars when she was the education secretary.
It proved to be a political misjudgment, since many councils took the opportunity to end selective state education.
There are now around 160 grammar schools left in England – mostly in the home counties.