Michael Wilshaw renews attack on 'socially divisive' grammar schools

Posted On: 
16th October 2016

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has condemned the Government’s "socially divisive" proposal to end the ban on new grammar schools.

Michael Wilshaw has slated the government's plans to reintroduce selective grammar schooling.
Credit: 
PA images

He said the Government’s plans would “reduce standards for the great majority of children” and were not in keeping with Theresa May’s pledge for “a country that works for everyone”.

The head of England's schools regulator is standing down from the post at the end of this year, and has expressed fears that the Prime Minister's policy could undo improvements in comprehensive education.

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Speaking to the Observer, he said: “If you had asked me 20 years ago whether comprehensives were working I would have said no. Ask me now and I would say in many parts of the country they are working extremely well. The latest research shows that the best comprehensives are doing better than grammar schools for the most able children.”

He added: “It will actually lower standards for the great majority of children. That is my view. And it is socially divisive as well.”

Mr Wilshaw said it would become more difficult for comprehensive schools to attract new teachers.

“Once you set up grammar schools and they’re seen as the high-status jobs, it’ll become much more difficult for other schools to recruit teachers. Look at Kent. Look at Buckingham”, he said.

“So rather than obsess about grammar schools, focus on whether we have enough good leaders who can lead systemic change, because that’s the direction of travel.”

The Ofsted chief argued that a greater emphasis was needed on vocational education to address a shortage in skills, and that this was now the "number one" priority in making a success of Brexit.

“If I was secretary of state for education I would insist that every significant multi-academy trust contained a university technology college from 14 to 19 offering core subjects – English, maths, science – but also a specialism," he said.

"And if you look at Germany and you look at Switzerland and you look at Norway, that’s the model that they pursue. They have a strong core but they also have specialist vocational schools, employer-led schools.”

Grammar schools were ended by the Blair government in 1998, and while some remain, Theresa May has vowed to reintroduce the system more widely to boost “social mobility”.

She said: “Where there is demand from parents, where they will definitely take pupils from all backgrounds, where they will play a part in improving the quality of all schools in their area – we will lift the ban on establishing new grammar schools.”

With opposition parties against the proposal, the Prime Minister could face the task of having to win over sceptics on the Tory benches - including former education secretaries Nicky Morgan and Ken Clarke and Education Select Committee chair Neil Carmichael - in order to get it through the House of Commons.