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How long can the government ignore demands for free grammar schools?

19 July 2012

19 July 2012

The argument about grammar schools had been stuck in a rut. Opponents argued that the division between grammar schools and secondary modern was too binary. But with the advent of free schools this argument has lost its force. There is now a diversity of provision meaning that there’ll be no return to the old stark grammar/secondary modern split.

Free grammars would also boost the number of state school children going to our best universities and unleash a new wave of educational philanthropy. As Terry Leahy, the former boss of Tesco who has as good a claim as anyone to the title of Britain’s most successful businessman, tells The Spectator this week, ‘I’d be saying choose Liverpool and see if a good selective school could make a real difference to how those kids from the very poorest backgrounds do.’

I understand that Leahy is far from alone in his desire to set up a new free, grammar school. There are many other people in Britain who believe that they owe their success in life to the vehicle for social mobility that the old grammar schools were and would be keen to set up modern equivalents if they were allowed to. The question for the government is, why is it standing in the way of the creation of a set of new schools that would boost social mobility, one of the coalition’s key priorities? Defenders of the government’s position are always quick to point out that post-16, schools can select. But this rather misses the point. There’s a reason why the Jesuits never said give us a child at 16 and we’ll give you the man.

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