Bottom of the class: Justine Greening flounders in debate on grammar schools with Angela Rayner.

Bottom of the class: Justine Greening flounders in debate on grammar schools with Angela Rayner.

The only possible reason for politicians to be debating an end to the statutory ban on new grammar schools, it seems to This Writer, is to allow Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner a chance to shine.

She put an urgent question to the government this morning (September 8), demanding a statement on a plan to lift the ban in England – and then punctured Justine Greening’s answer in a few short sentences.

Ms Greening, Theresa May’s new education secretary, spent most of her answer discussing education in very broad terms and running down Labour’s record in government. All she could say to the subject was: “We are looking at a range of options, and I expect any new proposals to focus on what we can do to help everyone to go as far as their individual talents and capacity for hard work can take them. Education policy to that end will be set in due course.”

“Wow!” was Ms Rayner’s response.

“Despite that waffle, the cat is finally out of the bag. The Government have revealed their plans for new grammar schools in England, but not in this House—we did not even hear the word ‘grammar’ just then [check back and you’ll see she was right]. Instead, they did it through leaks to the press and at a private meeting of Conservative Members. So much for the ‘one nation’ Government we were promised! Will the Secretary of State promise today that future such announcements will be made here so that we can give this policy the scrutiny it so badly needs?

“Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us the evidence base for this policy today. Has she read the Institute for Fiscal Studies report “Entry into Grammar Schools in England”? If so, perhaps she remembers the conclusion: ‘Amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for’ free school meals ‘or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school.’ The OECD and the Sutton Trust, and even the Government’s own social mobility tsar and their chief inspector of schools, have all cited the evidence against this policy. In Kent, where we have grammar schools, the attainment gap is far wider than it is elsewhere. So can the Secretary of State tell the House what evidence she has to support her belief that grammar schools will help disadvantaged children and close the attainment gap?

“At a time when our schools are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, with thousands taught in super-size classes and schools facing real-term cuts to their budget for the first time in nearly two decades, pushing ahead with grammar schools shows a dangerous misunderstanding of the real issues facing our schools. What will the Secretary of State be doing to address the real problems facing our schools today?

“The Prime Minister has said this policy is justified because we already have social selection. Quite how making things worse by bringing back grammar schools as a solution remains a mystery. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us why she is not ensuring that all children get a decent education?

“This policy will not help social mobility but will entrench inequality and disadvantage. It will be the lucky few who can afford the tuition who will get ahead and the disadvantaged who will be left behind—a policy for the few at the expense of the many. I was told that the Tories know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I do not even think they know that anymore.

“Finally, the Prime Minister promised to lead a one nation Government. She said that her policy would be led by the evidence, and she claimed that she would govern for the disadvantaged, not the privileged few, yet this policy fails on every single count. It may be a new Prime Minister, but it is the same old nasty Tories.”

There’s very little point in quoting Mr Greening’s response because there was less substance to it than in her answer to the original question.

It was amusing to hear her saying Ms Rayner was “complaining about one aspect of our school system and then saying that we should not even have a debate about that element,” considering that the Shadow Education Secretary had asked no less than four challenging questions in an effort to move that debate along [they are in bold, above].

Perhaps the most telling part of the response was when Ms Greening referred to “the voices that I heard in my childhood”.

Perhaps she is still hearing the voices now. If so, I recommend psychoanalysis.

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