Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Selection: “character, judgement and consistency”

I know I wrote about this last week, but the Tory row over grammar schools and selection acquires ever more twists and turns.

It was kicked off by David Willetts saying that the party wouldn’t create more grammars:

“We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids. …there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it.”

(Although he illogically added that “we will not get rid of those grammar schools that remain”.)

David Cameron seems to agree, saying that school reform should involve “a bar on academic selection”, making sure that it’s “pupils choosing schools rather than schools choosing pupils”.

Although Cameron’s reason for becoming anti-selection seem somewhat different: it is “deeply unpopular with parents” and “a pledge to build more grammar schools would be an electoral albatross”.

But he also maintains: “Of course, we fully support existing grammar schools.” Of course? Why? Why support the entrenchment of advantage? Is there an ideological thread that unites keeping the existing ones because they’re great and refusing to build new ones because they’re bad? Or is it just fear of too big an argument?

For a bit of perspective, Willetts’s predecessor as Tory education spokesman produced a plan in July 2005 a “plan to boost the educational opportunities of children from poorer backgrounds”, of which one vital plank was: “Give schools freedom to determine admissions.” This hapless hack (one D Cameron) insisted: “The abolition of grammar schools reduced social mobility”.

Precisely the opposite of the new line. But Cameron has now given us some insight into the thinking of his naïve, backward self of very nearly two years ago:

“It's completely delusional to talk about these things in the future when we didn't do them in the past. We are debating something that we didn't do, we weren't going to do and even if we did do it, would have been undone.”

So, back then he was delusional (as now are 71% of Tory voters and 73% of Tory members). Or else he just didn’t mean it. Or else he doesn’t mean any of it now.

But, to be fair to him for his U-turn, there has been some important research out since then:

The Times has learnt that Mr Willetts carried out focus group research earlier this year to test his message that there should be no return to the 11-plus. Aides insist that he and Mr Cameron were initially taken by surprise by the reaction.

You know where you stand with David Cameron:

“Real substance is about… sticking to your guns. It’s about character, judgement, and consistency.”

(And today, presumably for a bet, “David Willetts said that he wanted to make it easier for specialist schools to select pupils.”)

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