David ‘two brains’ Willetts warns PM against grammar schools

Written by David Singleton on 7 September 2016 in Diary

Senior Tory said the trouble with grammars is that ‘social mobility suffers’.

Theresa May has been urged not to pursue plans to open new grammar schools - by one of her party’s major intellects.

Former universities minister David Willetts said the selective state schools benefited richer families and damaged social mobility. 

Having gained a first class degree from Oxford and begun his career working as a civil servant at 10 Downing Street under Baroness Thatcher, the former MP was nicknamed ‘Two Brains’ by his colleagues due to his background and his serious approach to policy formulation.

He was made a life peer in 2015 and is now the chair of the Resolution Foundation thinktank.

Lord Willets spoke out on the Today programme after a government document snapped by a photographer yesterday confirmed the Department for Education was drawing up plans to lift the 18-year ban on new grammar schools.

He said it remained the case the grammars schools were bad for social mobility.

“I’m afraid that was the evidence then and it still is the evidence...

“It’s a very serious problem in these selective systems: they do tend to be captured by the better-informed, more affluent parents... They’re doing the right thing for their kids but the trouble is social mobility suffers as a result.”

He added: “If you look overall, not just in Britain but around the world, at those school systems we admire that have got high performance and high standards, from Shanghai to Finland, by and large they don’t put their effort into trying to pick which kids they educate; they put their effort into raising standards for all the kids.”

Lord Willets also highlighted comments from Sir Michael Wilshaw, the outgoing boss of Ofsted, who launched his own attack on the failure of grammar schools to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children.

“When it comes to the best education policies we should look at the evidence and we’ve got some very good evidence close to home: look at the transformation of schools in London,” the Conservative peer continued.

“Those are really tough areas in London where they’re actually achieving higher educational standards than in Kent and without selection.”



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