Although Nicky Morgan suggested yesterday that the government could be about to water down its grammar school proposals, Justine Greening showed no such signs in her conference speech. The Education Secretary received a standing ovation as she went on the offensive in defending Theresa May’s plans for a return to selective education.
In a sea change from her claim this summer that she was simply ‘open minded’ to the idea, Greening put in a fiery defence of the proposal to lift the grammar school ban. After paying tribute to her own comprehensive roots – as the first ever Education Secretary to attend a non-selective state — Greening explained that education was at the heart of the government’s plan to create a meritocracy. She said grammar schools could do this by creating a ‘level playing field’ for children. Greening even managed to go one better than May at PMQs — actually coming up with a statistic to back up her words:
‘I talked about a level playing field, grammar schools have a track record at closing the attainment gap between children on free school meals and their better off classmates. That’s because in grammars, those children on free school meals progress twice as fast as the other children so the gap disappears.’
For those in the party who oppose the idea, she did at least offer an olive branch — stating that local areas that wish to stick with the system they currently have can. However, in a clear sign that the government would not pander to opponents, Greening accused Labour of ‘rank hypocrisy’ over their opposition to the idea. Complaining of ministers who had criticised the plans but sent their own children to grammars she said it was ‘classic Labour — do as I say, not as I do’. However, Greening ought to tread carefully with this line of attack. After all, Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn is so opposed to the idea that he separated from his wife over her desire to send their son to one.
While the speech is unlikely to change the opinion of naysayers, it does show that Greening — and the government — are not prepared to give up on their plan for grammars without a fight.