Shelagh Fogarty is Leading Britain's Conversation.
James O'Brien on the problem with grammar schools
James explains exactly how new grammar schools will not help those who need them the most.
As the government discusses the future of grammar schools, James O’Brien explains why they will make education options more unfair, not less.
The idea of the grammar school - a place where the brightest pupils receive the best education regardless of background - appears fair and just on paper, offering intelligent children from poor backgrounds a greater chance to succeed in life. James explains why this is a fantasy undermined by wealth.
“If I now build a grammar school in an area that is not got any good schools, how long before probably prices go up?
“The kids that start year seven today, by the time they're in year ten, year seven is going to be full of middle class parents who've moved into the area,
“So they've got a relatively cheap house in the catchment area of one of these new grammar schools and because they're middle class and sharp elbowed their going to get their kid into it.”
In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that a vast majority of people - lower or middle class - will not benefit from grammar schools, they do enjoy a fair amount of support. James believes this is evidence of people’s comfort with the existence of unfair advantages when they believe they will benefit from it, even if it’s totally against the odds.
“This in many ways sums up British politics at the moment; people voting for unfair advantages without realising they're not going to get it.
“Seventy five percent of us will not benefit from a grammar school, so by all the laws of logic and democracy and arithmetic they should never ever enjoy popular support in a country. But they do. Why? Because you are appealing to the worst of us.
“You are appealing to our attitude to unfair advantage and you can pretty much divide the world into people who like unfair advantages and people who don’t.”
So while many hold grammar schools up as vehicles to increase social mobility, they could actually be reducing it.