Jeremy Corbyn skewers Theresa May over grammar schools
Jeremy Corbyn has accused Theresa May of seeking to implement “second-class schooling for the many” as he attacked the Prime Minister’s plan to lift the ban on new grammar schools.
In one of his most effective performances at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Labour leader sought to expose Tory divisions on Mrs May’s policy by citing criticism from David Cameron and others.
He accused the Prime Minister of seeking to “segregate” children and expanding a system “that can only let children down”.
Mrs May argued there is currently selection in schools “by house prices” and said the Government was looking to set up "a more diverse education system that provides more opportunities".
She said: "He needs to stop casting his mind back to the 1950s. What we will be doing is ensuring that we are able to provide good school places for the 1.25m children who are in schools which are failing, inadequate and in need of improvement.
"When we look at the impact of grammar schools, if we look at attainment... the attainment gap in grammar schools is virtually zero, which it isn't in other schools.
“I know the Right Honourable Gentleman believes in equality of outcome; I believe in equality of opportunity. He believes in levelling down; we believe in levelling up.”
The Tory leader also noted how Mr Corbyn attended a grammar school, accusing him of now “pulling up the ladder” for everybody else.
“The two things the prime minister and have in common is we can both remember the 1950s and we can both remember going to a grammar school," he replied.
“My point is simply this every child, every child, should have the best possible education they can have, we don’t need and never should divide children at the age of 11 a life changing position where the majority end up losing out.
“It’s not about pulling up ladders; it’s about providing ladders for every child."
Deploying a quote made by Mr Cameron opposing creating new grammar schools, Mr Corbyn asked: “Isn’t he correct that we need investment in all of our schools: a good school for every child, not selection at the age of 11?”
Using all six of his questions to press Mrs May on the policy, Mr Corbyn concluded: “Isn’t this the case of a Government heading backwards to a failed segregation for the few second-class schooling for the many? Can’t we do better than this?”
His performance drew praise from moderate Labour MPs who are opposed to his leadership, including Mary Creagh, Lilian Greenwood, Lucy Powell and Wes Streeting.
Education Secretary Justine Greening presented a Green Paper on Monday proposing lifting the ban on new grammars brought in by Tony Blair in 1998.
She is also proposing to change the admissions criteria for state-funded faith schools and to force private schools to help the state sector.
Former Cabinet ministers Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers and Anna Soubry have all expressed reservations about the controversial plans, while former Education Secretary Michael Gove stopped short of giving them his full support.
The Government’s own Social Mobility tsar Alan Milburn warned it will herald a “social mobility disaster”, while the outgoing Chief Inspector of Schools claiming it is "tosh" to suggest grammars improve social mobility - a comment quoted by Mr Corbyn today.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have already announced their intention to oppose the policy, meaning the Government will have to rely on its narrow majority to get it through the Commons.
Ms Morgan, another former education secretary, warned earlier this week the Government faces a "real challenge" getting its plans through in their current form.
Even if it gets through the Commons the legislation would then face a bigger threat in the House of Lords, where the Tories are outnumbered by opposition parties who will be emboldened to block the plans by the fact that new grammars were not in the Tory manifesto.
Mr Corbyn has pledged that Labour would reverse Mrs May's plan to lift the ban on creating new grammar schools if he becomes Prime Minister.