The Prime Minister's reply to my September letter can be seen here. The letter fails to answer the fundamental issues raised by her policy to extend grammar schools.
In more than 50 years involvement in education I’ve never heard or read such a fierce public attack on an aspect of Government policy as that made by Michael Wilshaw on Theresa May’s grammar school policy on at least three occasions. Since the policy is very much her own, I think we are entitled to ask for a public response from her. I appreciate that she has a lot on at present, but this policy clash is of her making and it is time we heard a response from her to the person who knows more about the needs and achievements of our schools and their pupils than the PM, or any of her education ministers or DfE officials. One might also ask what is the point of having an adviser on social mobility if you ignore his advice.
I have challenged the lack of a comprehensive response in a further letter to the Prime Minister. The text of this letter follows.
3rd November 2016
Dear Prime Minister,
I hope you will understand why I do not regard the letter I have received from your Direct Communications Unit as an acceptable response to the letter I sent to you on 15th September. I appreciate that you are having to deal with a variety of serious issues at the present time, but since it is recognised that the proposal to extend selection is your own personal choice I suggest it is not unreasonable to expect you to give a personal reply to the questions and issues I raised in my letter, none of which was answered by your Unit’s letter, courteous though it was.
May I, therefore, put those questions and issues to you directly?
1. Although “social mobility” is not the sole, or even the main purpose of education, since you seem to attach so much importance to it, why do you disregard the view of your government’s adviser on “social mobility” who has said that “grammar schools are a social mobility disaster”? Do you intend to dispense with the adviser’s service? And why do you also disregard the significant research in this country that disproves the idea that grammar schools are the “engine of social mobility”?
2. You must know that a number of prominent Conservatives, including the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chairman of the Education Select Committee, and two previous Education Secretaries, have expressed serious criticisms of your intentions, so why do you claim that their criticism and that of many others is “ideological”?
3. You were an important member of David Cameron’s Cabinet and presumably supported that Cabinet’s policy of extending academisation of secondary schools, with no extension of selection. Will you explain why you have rejected that policy and confirm that you have no mandate or “manifesto commitment” for your new policy?
4. How can you justify your claim that there will be no return to a “binary system” when you must know that provision of new grammar schools has to be accompanied by the use of the 11 Plus selection procedure, with the division that inevitably creates? And why do you seek to mislead parents by saying that the Government’s approach “will ensure that every parent – no matter their income – can choose the right school for their child”, when where selection operates it is the system and the school that does the choosing, not the parents?
In my letter I said that, while you might decline to answer any questions I had put, I urged you to respond to the criticism of your grammar school policy by the Chief Inspector of
Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw. In my many years’ involvement in education I have never known a Chief Inspector to be so outspoken publicly on an aspect of government policy. I suggest you have a responsibility to say publicly if and why you disagree with his criticism. With respect, I suggest that he is in a position to know more about the needs of the schools and the likely consequence of the grammar school policy than you and your Ministers and any official at the Department of Education. Your silence in this connection says a great deal about the worth of your intentions, as well as their incompatibility with the honeyed words of your declaration on the doorstep of No. 10.
Finally, I would ask you, as somebody who believes in academic rigour, why you have said so little in your speeches on education about the achievements of the large majority of our country’s secondary schools rather than the very small minority of schools that use selection, the 163 grammar schools. It would be more appropriate if you were to acknowledge that the massive increase in the number of students in our universities and colleges has not come from the 163 grammar schools, but from our community schools and academies, while the foundations for the vast majority of students have been laid by our primary schools, none of which is selective. I do not deny that even better educational performance would be possible in many directions, but it will not be done by turning the education clock back as you favour.