Parents across the UK want grammar schools

Morning View
Morning View

The announcement of the first new grammar school in England for 50 years is a welcome development, both for that country and for Northern Ireland.

The decision demonstrates that parents across the UK will send their children to grammar schools if they have the opportunity.

That parental inclination is a reflection of the patently obvious: that the abolition of academic selection in Great Britain has been a disaster, and has led to reduced social mobility.

Abolition in Northern Ireland, as is the determined intention of Sinn Fein, would be a social disaster here also.

Some degree of social mobility based on ability would be replaced by almost zero mobility, and every family that could afford private schooling for their children would choose it.

In England now, the highest levels of professional life are dominated by ex-public school pupils.

In Northern Ireland, barely any of the most successful professionals have been to private schools because they have typically had such a good grammar school education.

The new grammar school in England is an extension of an existing grammar in Kent. Regrettably, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has said it does not represent a change in the government’s position on selective schools. However, there are other worthwhile things going on in education in England, where successive Tory ministers are trying to drive up standards in schools, after decades of grade inflation.

John O’Dowd has shown no such enthusiasm for a return to academic rigour in Northern Ireland.

Unionists have at times seemed sluggish in their opposition to Mr O’Dowd’s relentless, multi-pronged attacks on grammar schools. The DUP’s able education spokesman Peter Weir, however, does seem to be signalling that the party remains unequivocally in favour of academic selection.

Such firmness will be needed if Northern Ireland is to avoid educational ruin.