Right of Reply: David Willetts

The shadow Education Secretary responds to Roy Hattersley's attack on grammar schools

IN A speech which was reproduced in this paper, Lord Hattersley started a campaign for the abolition of Britain's remaining 161 grammar schools. In his address, the noble lord called for a "groundswell of support" for this cause, hoping this would trigger a series of ballots.

The arguments given by the militants for the abolition of grammar schools can be convincingly refuted. Potentially the most powerful is that grammar schools damage other schools that would benefit from a redistribution of grammar school pupils among all the schools in the area. Grammar schools, on this view, actually lower standards in education.

But abolishing grammar schools would at best bring only one or two academically gifted pupils into the average classroom in other schools. It is a lot to ask of this one academically gifted pupil to inspire a general increase in performance by his or her classmates. It seems more likely that this pupil might not realise his or her own full potential.

Abolition of grammar schools would therefore result in the opposite of what these activists claim. Increased uniformity and lower standards would be inevitable.

Some of the grammar schools might choose the private sector. Combined with the abolition of assisted places, this would have the effect of depriving children from less well-off families of one opportunity to enjoy high- quality academic education. When Lord Hattersley refers to "educational apartheid", I assume he is referring to this situation, which is likely to exist after the last grammar school has been abolished or forced into the private sector.

The campaign should be seen for what it is: the politics of dogma.

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