Fire up the Austen Healey May wants to drive us back to the fifties. But I expect she'll swap it for a Dodge

11 Sep 2016 at 10:41

I still can’t make up my mind why May has decided to launch a policy so flawed and so politically and socially divisive as resurrecting grammar schools. I have an infallible test for whether a policy is a turkey or not. Is Peter Hitchens in favour of it? Not only is the Hitch creaming in his jeans at this piece of lunacy, Emma Nicholson is re ratting back to the Tories because of it. This spells catastrophe.

I am glad the eminently sensible Nicky Morgan was the first of the former education secretaries to hold her hands up in horror. I now understand why May removed her. But it will make it easier for Michael Gove to put the boot in tomorrow when Justine Greening announces her green paper. Nobody will be able to make the charge of sour grapes stick.

We should celebrate grammar schools as centres of excellence. But don’t let’s pretend that they are engines social mobility. They are not. Just look at the studies made in areas such as Kent. They have become middle class ghettos. Property prices are always higher near a grammar school. What do they do to give a deprived kid a foot on the ladder to academic let alone employment success? Precious little.

And then there is selection, which I find deeply offensive. In the seventies I taught at a secondary modern school. It was a depressing experience. These kids had been thrown on the scrap heap and they knew it. Grammar schools will herald a new class system. We will be creating a new elite.

All the evidence points to the success of academies and free schools as the real engines of social mobility, rigour in exams, discipline in the classrooms and good academic results. This will now be thrown into confusion and turmoil. There is only a limited supply of money. The fear is that it will now be sucked away from the many to the few. Are the creation of new academies and free schools to be put on hold or do they spend limited resources to ‘upgrade’ to a grammar? Heaven knows. The key to a good education for all is a great head who motivates his teachers. The May proposals are about structure, not substance. It is a terrible distraction from policies that are beginning to work. Worse, the Conservative party and the country are still horribly divided after the referendum. This will split us even more. And there is no guarantee that there is a majority for it in the Commons. As this is not mandated as a manifesto commitment the Lords will be free to butcher any legislation. It will be a massacre as you can’t swing a cane in the place without hitting a former education secretary.

So why is May setting herself up for a humiliating battle which she won’t win? Is it a distraction from the deepening row over Brexit lite? Is it a growl to the Tory right (remember Brady was sacked by Cameron for proposing a similar policy)? I really don’t know. But what I do know is that Bozo is on manoeuvres whilst Davis and Fox are floundering around in the dark. Bozo is up to his old tricks. A supportive speech coupled with an explosive briefing. Then followed by a round media appearances pledging loyalty to his leader with mystified shrugs as to why anyone could think of him of having a disloyal bone in his body. This must make Gove white with fury and make Cameron snort with nostalgic mirth.

The May honeymoon is now over. You can appear to be tough slapping down the Brexit trinity a few times, but if you do it too often you aren’t in control. It’s going to get rough and dirty and as Tories tend to be a pretty spineless bunch they will start attacking May’s brain, Nick Timothy. Simon Walters has already compared him to Rasputin. As Nick doesn’t have the power to cure haemophilia nor have a thirteen inch penis it’s not a great comparison; but he does have a beard so this might stick. I hope he has the skin of a rhino as he should expect a piece in the Mail (probably by Glover) saying that he is unelected and has far to much influence. And lots of anonymous Tories saying that his wings should be clipped.

So it appears that May wants to fire up the Austen Healey and take us back to the fifties. I suspect that she is more likely manoeuvre herself into a Ford Dodge.