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August 18, 2010


Denis Cooper

So he'll be bringing back grammar schools, then?

Ultimo Tiger

Well Denis, Chris Huhne is allegedly going to make a U-turn on coal power so maybe a Tory U-turn on Grammer Schools isn't so absurd?

Stephen Bishop

It is absurd though to think that Grammar Schools promote social mobility.

Ultimo Tiger

What makes you say that?

Although I will add that I think some people on here display a kind of "sumg elitism" about those who go to Grammar Schools and those who don't.....

Denis Cooper

Well, there's no doubt that they did promote social mobility when they existed in greater numbers, by selecting their intake on the basis of ability and aptitude irrespective of social class. Or perhaps it would be more exact to say "almost entirely irrespective of social class", as no doubt there were occasional cases where a bright working class child was indirectly deterred from accepting a place at an apparently rather snobbish grammar school, if not on his own volition then on that of his parents.

Malcolm Butt

I think the Lib Dems have got themselves in an impossible position with regards social mobility. Things have become so skewed under Labour against Social Mobility and the Lib Dems having positioned themselves as champions for many groups with opposing interests are going to find their version of Social Mobility hard to achieve.

Denis Cooper

No response from Stephen Bishop so far. I can't believe that he thinks that an intake of grammar school pupils selected by an accurate measure of their ability and aptitude would not cut right across social boundaries, and would not include a high proportion of bright children from poor backgrounds who would then have a much better opportunity to rise above their original socio-economic class. Of course it could be pure coincidence that the recent period of reduced movement between classes, as illustrated in graphs shown yesterday on Newsnight, started after the Labour party and then the Tory party acted upon their misconception that academic selection for secondary education was A BAD THING, with the expected time lag. There is of course one way to investigate this, and that would be to at least partially reverse their experiment of bog-standard, comprehensive, non-selective, secondary education, and see whether it leads to greater social mobility.

Stephen Bishop

Denis Cooper

Do do this justice would take more than a simple post but here goes in an albeit brief way.

The Grammar Schools were an elitist construct brought about by the impossibility of giving all children a 'real' education due to lack of resources. So 80% of the population were not allowed to take exams, this reduced to around 60% in the 60s. So Grammar Schools produced a 'class' of people who became the administrative class of the UK. This was a disaster because the assumptions that an IQ test was a good measure of intelligence has been shown to be false and it was also considered to be something which was inherited and therefore the 55% middle/upper class intake into grammar schools was expected.

It must be born in mind that social mobility does not mean moving people up or down the class system. It is meant by liberals to mean more of a flattening of classes. Grammar schools encourage the development of a two class system (not counting the private schools).

I'm sure you can research this yourself as there are many books which describe the mess that selective education created.

Stephen Bishop

Denis Cooper

I've just had a google around and found the wiki. This might help people to understand some of the weaknesses of the Tripartite System.


Denis Cooper

"It must be born in mind that social mobility does not mean moving people up or down the class system."

That's exactly what it does mean in my view. Somebody can start out life at the bottom of the socio-economic scale and by virtue of their personal talents, energy and hard work they can rise to the top. And vice versa - if they are born at the top but lack talent and energy and are lazy, then they should be allowed to fall to the bottom on their own demerits.

IQ tests are inevitably an imperfect measure of intelligence, and intelligence itself is not all, but longitudinal studies have shown that there are strong correlations between the results of childhood IQ tests and later success in life, in terms of high status occupations, material prosperity and a range of other parameters. Nonetheless I would certainly not suggest that academic selection should be based solely on an IQ test.

It is also clear that intelligence and many other characteristics are indeed partly inherited and are partly the result of the environment experienced during childhood. However for the purposes of secondary education it is less important to know the precise causes of the variations in ability and aptitude than to recognise that they exist, that in each generation talented children will appear throughout all levels of society, and that it is supremely wasteful not to make the best use of those talents.

Oddly enough I don't recall this country having an administrative class which was a disaster as a result of their grammar school education. I'd be more inclined to pin the disasters on the products of public schools.


The greatest contribution to social mobility was definitely the Grammar Schools.
Thousands of working class children had their lives changed for the better and went on to careers and a standard of living far exceeding the quality of life of their parents.
Arguments about selection and unfairness are irrelevant and a denial of the excellence of Grammar School education.
The Coalition will do well if Academy Schools do as well.

Denis Cooper

My own wikipedia reference to the famous Anthony Crosland quote, strongly suggesting that his own opposition to grammar schools was not based on a careful and rational analysis of the nation's educational needs but was instead driven by a twisted and vindictive ideology, seems to have been de-posted.

What he said, as reported by his wife, may be read in the "In Government" section here:


and it's hardly my fault if a Secretary of State for Education and Science felt that it was appropriate either to refer to grammar schools in that obscene way or to form the intention of wantonly destroying them.

Stephen Bishop


I agree that grammar schools did promote some mobility but are entirely inappropriate to today's world. Universities tend to perform that role now.

Here's a bit more from Nick.


Stephen Bishop


Anthony Crosland wasn't the only Secretary of State for Education to move away from the grammar school paradigm. Margaret Thatcher closed more grammar schools than any other.

Denis Cooper

Comprehensives aren't turning out enough pupils of the standard required by the universities. So the answer is not to think again about secondary education, but instead press ahead with the job of wrecking the universities as well.


I've no idea who Stephen Bishop is but he clearly isn't someone who is likely to allow facts to get in the way of shallow and bankrupt dogma. Whatever its faults, the grammar school system created an open elite based on ability and actually punched a hole in the glass ceiling in the way that comprehensive education has totally failed to do. It is comprehensive education which is totally inappropriate to today's world.

Clegg has no real interest in social mobility because it would threaten his vested interests. He represents the worst kind of elite: one based on vast inherited wealth and nepotism and above all closed to those outside the narrow social circle to which he and Cameron belong.

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