As published in The Daily Telegraph
Prince’s battle for grammar schools; Charles privately urged ministers to back selective state education
Matthew Holehouse; Gordon Rayner
THE Prince of Wales wants more grammar schools to be opened in England, it has emerged, after a former Cabinet minister disclosed that the future king had lobbied the Government over the issue.
He privately urged ministers to support selective state schools so academically minded children from poor families would have the “opportunity to escape from their background”.
The disclosure by David Blunkett, the former education secretary, has delighted campaigners who say grammar schools are overwhelmingly popular with parents who want the best for their children but cannot afford private school fees.
Last night senior Tories urged David Cameron to “think again” about his opposition to selective state schools.
The Prince’s views emerged in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, which also found that the Prince “consorted” with Labour ministers to ensure tougher policies on climate change and genetically modified foods.
He also unsuccessfully lobbied to introduce complementary medicines on the NHS in England and Wales.
Mr Blunkett said the Prince made plain his disapproval of Labour’s commitment to comprehensive education. “I would explain that our policy was not to expand grammar schools, and he didn’t like that.
“He was very keen that we should go back to a different era where youngsters had what he would have seen as the opportunity to escape from their background, whereas I wanted to change their background.”
There are just 164 grammar schools left in England and 69 in Northern Ireland – down from just below 1,300 under the system’s peak in 1965. The law prevents any more from being built.
Mr Cameron, who was educated at Eton, provoked a furious row within the Conservative Party in 2007 after ruling out an expansion of grammar schools, saying parents did not want their children “divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11”.
Instead, the Coalition has sought to encourage the growth of academy schools, which are free to adopt traditional methods but are prevented from selecting pupils on grounds of academic ability.
But David Davis, a former Tory leadership contender, said a manifesto pledge to back selective education would win back lower-middle and working-class voters who supported Margaret Thatcher.
“Social mobility in Britain today is the poorest it has been in living memory, and one of the main reasons for that is the absence of grammar schools. The raw truth is grammar schools are the best way to give bright youngsters from a poor background a chance,” Mr Davis added. Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “Prince Charles frequently speaks common sense when politicians are missing the obvious points.”
Chris McGovern, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, which was set up following grammar school closures, said a pledge by ministers to fund new selective schools would be “hugely popular” with a majority of parents.
Mr Blunkett said he “didn’t mind” the intervention. “If you are waiting to be the king of the United Kingdom … you genuinely have to engage with something or you’d go spare.”
The disclosures, made in the radio documentary, The Royal Activist, shed new light on the Prince’s efforts to change policy. Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, claimed he worked with the Prince to push Tony Blair to take a more radical line on climate change and helped turn the prime minister against GM food.
Asked whether such lobbying caused a “constitutional problem”, Mr Meacher said: “Well, over GM I suppose you could well say that. Maybe he was pushing it a bit. I was delighted, of course.”
Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland secretary, said the Prince, a keen advocate of complementary therapies such as homoeopathy, was “frustrated” by his inability to persuade health ministers to offer the practices on the NHS. He was delighted when their use was authorised in Northern Ireland.
The disclosures coincide with a legal battle between The Guardian newspaper and the Government over the release of so-called “black spider memos” – hand-written notes sent by the Prince to ministers.
Ministers say the letters should remain private as releasing them would be “seriously damaging to his role as future monarch” because it means he could “forfeit his position of political neutrality”.
The Prince is not thought to have put his views on grammar schools in writing to ministers.
However, he has previously criticised a failure to instill “character” into pupils, warning that young people are left unemployable because they lack self-esteem or the ability to “look people in the eye”.
The Prince endured a Spartan regime of cold showers and morning runs at Gordonstoun School in Scotland, later describing the experience as “Colditz in kilts”.
A spokesman for Clarence House declined to comment on “private conversations”. But he added: “The Prince of Wales seeks to help people and communities both here and abroad in any way he can.”