Mark Field, MP for Cities of London and Westminster, argues that our education system needs more elitism and choice to achieve excellence.
At our best the Conservatives are the party of aspiration, opportunity
and hope. We believe in choice because choice helps raise standards for
all. Conservatives promote excellence, rather than equality. We want to
see standards driven up to make the best available to all. This is in
stark contrast to the Left, whose obsession with ‘fairness’ manifests
itself in the levelling down of standards and opportunities to the
lowest common denominator.
As a product of the grammar school system, I have been a lifelong supporter of selective education. Indeed it is probably the single most important cause of my becoming a Conservative. Grammar schools entrench excellence. There is little doubt that the underachievement in lower socio-economic groups in England over recent decades correlates directly to the demise of grammar schools.
The contention by the current shadow Education Secretary, David Willetts, that ‘grammar schools entrench social advantage’ is simply wrong. Indeed if the elimination of social advantage in the education system is to lie at the heart of new Conservative schools policy, then presumably plans should be afoot for our Party to close down private schools forthwith.
I am deeply ashamed that the Conservatives have come forward with this shallow gimmick of a ‘policy’ which betrays a lack of confidence in promoting Conservative principles in this crucial area of public policy.
If modern Conservatism cannot reconcile the benefits of a grammar school education being more widely available, it will surely only be a matter of time before we water down our commitment to maintaining the 164 grammar schools that have survived decades of muddle-headed egalitarian thinking. For sure, too many of the remaining grammar schools are in leafy suburbs rather than our inner cities. This is largely due to the dedicated efforts of articulate parents in the 1960s and 1970s preserving successful grammar schools against the tide of closures which wiped out most inner-city grammar schools.
As a result, the attendance rolls of today’s grammar schools are dominated by the children of better-off, middle-class parents. As an inner-city MP, I wish to see the entrenchment of advantage and education excellence extended to my constituents. Let’s bring it on with a commitment to greater choice, whether grammar schools or academies, in our cities.
We live in a globally competitive economy. The offspring of the 2.5 billion strong Indian and Chinese population are hungry to take full advantage of all the benefits that top class education has to offer. The fact is that the British education system is not elitist enough. For this country to thrive in the decades ahead we must promote choice and excellence in our schools.