Graham Brady has quit the Conservative frontbench over his opposition to David Cameron’s policy on Grammar Schools. Below you can read the article that the Altrincham and Sale West MP wrote for newstatesman.com two weeks ago in which he set out his views. It was subsequently picked up elsewhere in the media and subsequently led to his resignation.
Explaining his decision on 29 May Mr Brady said: “Faced with a choice between a front bench position that I have loved and doing what I believe to be right for my constituents and for the many hundreds of thousands of families who are ill-served by state education in this country, there is in conscience only one option open to me.”
Brady’s original article on Grammar Schools:
I am a product of Trafford’s outstanding selective education system. The fact is that if Altrincham Grammar School had been a comprehensive, my parents would not have been able to afford to buy a house in the catchment area.
In his book with Stephen Pollard, A Class Act (1998), Andrew Adonis (later to become Tony Blair’s Education Minister) says: “The comprehensive revolution, tragically, destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle class children now go to middle class comprehensives, whose catchment areas comprise middle-class neighbourhoods, while working class children are mostly left to fester in inner-city comprehensives their parents cannot afford to move away from.”
Social mobility has declined since the introduction of comprehensives; if we had tried to invent a system to entrench social inequality I cannot think of anything which would achieve it quite so effectively as the so-called comprehensive revolution.
It is certainly not a charge which can be aimed at the remaining grammar schools. Grammar schools were abolished in inner city areas where a high proportion of pupils qualify for free schools meals, so the fact that a relatively low proportion of pupils at grammar schools qualify for free school meals is not all that surprising.
The point is that where children from poorer backgrounds do attend grammar school they do extremely well. Indeed, where selection survives, the evidence is that it works best for all children – in high schools as well as in grammar schools – that is why selective authorities top the league tables. In the Greater Manchester borough of Trafford over 70% of children get five or more good GCSEs, in Bury, with a similar socio-economic profile the figure is 59%, in leafier Cheshire it is 61.9%.
According to DfES figures, selective systems also deliver better results for every ethnic group with some doing extremely well; the percentage of Indian children getting 5A* – C grades at GCSE in comprehensive areas is an impressive 68.9%; in selective areas the figure is 81.2%. For Bangladeshi children the numbers are 55.8% in comprehensives, 70.9% in selective areas.
In a really effective selective system such as that in Trafford where 40% of children go to grammar schools and those who do not, go to an excellent high school; the effect of the exam at 11 means that the standards across the primary schools are high.
It means that at the age of 11, standards in Trafford are at the top of the league tables, on a par with leafy Richmond-upon-Thames. The difference is that by GCSE Richmond has slid down the achievement tables whereas Trafford remains at the top and is at the top again for A level. At Wellington School in my constituency, last year 72% of pupils got 5A* – C GCSEs; the national average was 59%. Is it a grammar? No, a high school, with rigorous teaching and high standards, where the top 40% of the ability band has gone to the local grammar school.
People have said that grammars are dominated by the middle class. The fact is that because so many grammars were closed, those that remain in pockets like Sutton or Kingston are hugely oversubscribed and fought for by desperate parents who want a decent education but cannot afford school fees. It is still a fairer system to select by ability than by the price of your house. There are no grammars left in our inner cities and I agree that, of the schools currently available in our inner cities, the academies are probably the best way forward for raising standards. However I believe that if grammar schools were available in our inner cities it would have a major impact in raising standards and on the number of bright pupils from poor backgrounds going on to university. Those who argue that grammar schools are somehow irrelevant to the debate would do well to come and examine the way selection works for all pupils, across the board, in Trafford.
Graham Brady is shadow minister for Europe and MP for Altrincham and Sale West