Grammar schools offer an opportunity for a state funded but academically selective education. They work on the premise that, if a child achieves high enough marks on the 11+ examination, they will be offered a chance at a higher level of secondary education. This includes smaller classes, more attentive teachers and a more focused learning environment, traits usually associated with a private education. In theory, they simply provide an opportunity for children who cannot afford private school to flourish in a nurturing environment. In practice, this is simply not the case. The very notion of selective education is a continuation of social inequality. To direct funding away from state schools is to direct funding away from inclusive education, ultimately widening disparity under the façade of equal opportunity.
In the 2017 budget proposal, Phillip Hammond announced £320m will be sent on free schools set to have the right to become selective after the government passes legislation. On paper, this appears to offer a way of avoiding the social elitism that allows privately educated children to enjoy disproportionate opportunities following the end of their secondary education. Unfortunately, the truth of this ends on paper; Grammar schools still very much represent the elitist social order that has always been embodied by private schools.
Chances of getting into a grammar school are greatly increased when a child can pay for a tutor or attend a well-funded state primary school. Furthermore, the likelihood of living in a grammar school catchment area is significantly increased in the more affluent areas of the country. Good schools in local areas drives house prices up, meaning a minimum income is required for someone to even have the chance of attending a grammar school. All this results in your chances of a better education being improved simply because your parents have more money than someone else’s.
There are certainly benefits to Grammar schools themselves. Many children thrive in smaller classes where they would have underachieved in a state-school environment, so grammar schools allow children to flourish under conditions that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. But this does not mean state schools should go underfunded. The government should instead be ploughing money into the state education system to ensure that currently understaffed, undersupplied and underfunded schools can provide children the education they deserve, regardless of their intelligence or family income. Whilst grammar schools may help academically gifted children to excel, this should not be prioritised to such an extent that it leaves everyone else to vie for attention from poorly paid teachers in oversized classes, thus destroying any possibility of escaping the cyclical nature of elitism and bridging the inequality gap.
Ultimately, this government is spending to maintain the current social order. Though the debate on the pros and cons of grammar schools continues, there is no justification for prioritising them over the development of a better education system that is accessible to all.