You can get education in many flavours these days. “Bog standard comprehensives”, in Alistair Campbell’s famous phrase. Academies, Free schools, community schools, state boarding schools.
Those aligned with strands of religion for good or, as Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out in his conference speech, for evil.
You can throw your lot in with the state sector and, as in parts of Tower Hamlets, come out with a world-class general education. Or you can see your academic aspirations suffocate because you live in the wrong catchment area.
You can opt for a vocation and pick a school to suit – maths, performing arts, business and enterprise. With money, you can buy your child a top education at a private school, or buy a house near a strongly performing state school.
Or, if you’re poor, you can live without choice despite the concept being bandied about like Lost Property gym shorts.
You can do all this. What you can’t do is go to a new grammar school. There are grammar schools, particularly clustered in Kent (32) where they are embraced like grandchildren, but, despite a rolling problem of education revolutions, grammars are forbidden.
Labour passed laws in 1998 banning the creation of new grammars – which are selective state schools – but existing schools are allowed to expand if there is sufficient demand.
The reason is politics
The reason is political. The Left obviously want those playing fields that haven't been sold off for housing to be level. The Right, while happy to preach about “getting on” has found selective education a policy too far.
Both Labour (with academies) and Tories (Free schools) inch round the road block recognising, one hopes, that the exploration of a young person’s potential is on Page One of “How To Run A Country Well – And Make It Prosperous.”
Today that circumvention found a new route. The Weald of Kent Grammar school for girls in Tonbridge will provide an “annexe” in nearby Sevenoaks. Not a new school. An annexe.
The decision was approved by education secretary Nicky Morgan on Thursday (October 15) and will create the first new grammar establishment in 50 years.
Mrs Morgan said: “I am satisfied that the excellent quality of learning currently delivered will be replicated across the newly-expanded school.”
“It does not reflect a change in this Government’s position on selective schools. Rather it reaffirms our view that all good schools should be able to expand, a policy which is vital to meet the significant increase in demand for pupil places in coming years.”
Her decision has been greeted with dismay by teachers' unions. Imagine if a good school like Weald of Kent set up an annexe in some deprived borough of east London based on selection. There would be further uproar of this dilution, this them-and-us elitist patronage.
But it hasn't happened. And there was no uproar. Just good education.
The London Academy of Excellence near the Olympic Park in Stratford was founded by eight independent fee-paying schools including Eton College to provide a beacon in a deprived area.
And the result? In 2014, at least 73 of LAE’s first cohort gained places to Russell Group Universities, including six to Oxford or Cambridge. This exceeded the previous record for the whole of Newham.
Some 39% of LAE’s sixth formers secured AAB grades compared to 2.7% of Newham sixth formers and 10.4% nationally in 2012, and is a percentage that last year would have put it top of all the sixth form colleges around the country.
The discovery of a loophole in this scheme shows what an anachronism this anti-selection policy is. Why have a loophole when you can have a school?
The best performing state schools, generally, are in the rich areas of London and the south east; the poorest performers in the deprived “old industry” towns of the north. So much for vaunted “equality of opportunity”.
At a time when social mobility is grinding to a halt, a grammar school at least provided a blind, come-one-come-all mechanism to attain education excellence for those who might otherwise not have access to such a precious thing.
We already have selection. It’s just inefficient and layered with money. The existence of grammar schools would at least make the whole concept of choice more diverse, open and honest.