The last thing properly constituted Grammar schools will inhibit is genuine, positive social mobility. It is the poisonous ideologies of our many Establishments that are the inhibiting factors here: chiefly, a Tory clique that thinks money must be involved in provision; and a bourgeois Labour insistence on zero tolerance of differing individual metiers. As usual, the sterile debate involves regressive ideology rather than empirical philosophy.
I’ve been wracking my brains over the last two days trying to remember when Grammar Schools became something alleged to inhibit social mobility. I can certainly remember them being faded out by Labour after 1964. I also have vivid memories of going down the list of all those most keen to do it – Benn, Crosland, Crossman and so forth – and realising they were all guilt-suffused public schoolboys. (For the benefit of American Sloggers, I should point out that public schools are in fact ‘preppy’ private schools, and Grammar schools were free State-funded institutions. It’s another example of the ruling class in Britain trying to hide their privilege behind misleading terms like ‘middle class’).
I just don’t remember anyone of sound mind in the early 1960s suggesting that the Grammars inhibited social mobility. The main argument against the Grammar schools at the time was that competitive selection to ‘discriminate against’ the less bright kids was morally wrong, and that a flat-ability, non-streamed system would be both fairer and raise the standards of the kids with lower IQs and/or less educational aspiration.
Nobody was silly enough to suggest that such schools inhibited social mobility because – especially to Labour thinkers themselves – it was glaringly obvious that they had massively increased it. For the first time ever, lower-middle and working class kids like me got – absolutely free – a better education than that available in fee-paying schools….and above all, access to top-notch further education designed to train teachers, professionals and management at TTCs and Universities.
Political theologians who have re-written the history of those times would have today’s electorate believe that a new élite was created by the ’11+’ competitive examination system, and those who failed were tossed “on the scrapheap” – a favourite phrase of Barbara Castle at the time. That is utter tosh.
I was the first person – ever, in seven generations of family history I’ve traced – to go to University and get a good Honours degree. My brother failed the 11+, and went to a technical college to read science subjects: he then went on to University and got a chemistry degree, winding up a leading exporter of water treatment expertise to the US. Other kids went to so-called ‘Secondary Modern schools’ (an unfortunate choice of name I admit, but those were less obsessively sensitive times) and learned trades like woodwork, metal design, plumbing and electronics. Scrapheap? Are you being serious? If we had kept those schools, every technical tradesman today would’ve been born in Britain, not imported. And they would all have a fat living, and not be suffering under the disgraceful Long-term unemployed benefit policies of a public school dominated Tory Party.
Of the Beatles, three went to Grammar Schools. So did four of the Stones, David Hockney, Melvyn Bragg, Sir David Attenborough, Michael Portillo, the adorable Joan Bakewell, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett….and that ungrateful little shit, Harold Wilson – the first ever GS Prime Minister. But David Bailey (who is dyslexic) and the late lamented Terence Donovan went to secondary moderns… as did John Major. Almost none of the art directors I worked with in advertising went to public schools, and very few passed the 11+: they mainly took tech/printing/design exams age around 15, and made their way from there.
My point here is very simple: Grammar Schools invaded pursuits formally dominated by rich public schoolboys after 1960 en masse….and 11+ failure did not bar Tech and SecMod kids either. These tiered, State-educated children made the Swinging Sixties: without them, there would have been no Blow-Up, no Mersey Sound, no Carnaby Street, no Julie Christie and Terence Stamp film romances, no Ray Davies songs, no Late Night Line-Up, No Kes, no Wednesday Plays, no Likely Lads. It was an outpouring of hitherto squashed talent – squashed, be in no doubt, by old money – the like of which the 20th century never saw again.
It was, in a nutshell, social mobility – made easier still by free health and a better diet for the lower classes – on a national scale….and it was a resounding success.
This week, Theresa Hail Maysie full of grace has floated her intention to reinvent Grammar Schools. I think that, in most of her thinking, Mother Theresa is an ill person living in a bubble. I don’t mean she has to live in the bubble because she’s ill, I mean she chooses to live in the bubble because she is ill. We are not talking Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell here: this is Theresa May -one sick little bubble-gum girl, and the condition isn’t temporary.
Now as anyone with experience of real life will tell you, the provenance of an idea swiftly decides whether the Establishment is going to like it or not. Or put another way, “Not invented here is and always will be one of the biggest obstacles to progress”.
I’d be willing to bet that, had Pope Sixtus IV up and said one day when he had the Cardinals round for tea and crumpets, “You know, I’ve been thinking, and I suspect this bloke Copper Knickers has a point when he says the Earth goes round the sun” they would most definitely not have put 6tus4 on a bonfire, or even a rack. I mean they just wouldn’t, right?
There’d have been a-murmurin’ and a-mutterin’, the gist of which would’ve been “Sheeeit, this dude’s the Holy See. Whaddayergonna do, burn God’s messenger on Earth? You reckon that’s a good way to get into Heaven, huh? Are you nuts?”
Now, it is a myth that there is only one Establishment in the United Kingdom. Indeed, so infested with establishments is contemporary Britain, it’s getting hard to find the space to be disestablished. Especially if the sign over the door has to say This is the House of Disestablishmentarianism.
There are, in no particular order, the Eton, Oxbridge, politically correct, LGBT, Feminist, Globalist, Blairite, Bennite, Europhile, Brexit, Green, Progressive, Multicultural, Legal, Medical, Architectural, Police, Celebrity Luvvie and Teaching Establishments.
The last of these is the most relevant to this particular subject, albeit far from the most powerful. It is, however, solid Progressive Labour Establishment (PLE)…and thus by far the most vocal in its opposition.
A socialist whom I like a lot for his courage tweeted as follows last Thursday:
“We’re discussing Grammar Schools. What next – hanging?”
I don’t want to fall out with this bloke, because I genuinely believe he’s one of the whitest hat-sporters around…with more balls than most on the Left. But to be blunt, this is an example of the PLE reacting to utilitarian areas of social policy in a manner utterly removed from any kind of natural way in general, or sane parallel in particular.
It is akin, I’m afraid, to the wild hysteria that greeted the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox…a death at the hands of an English Nationalist loon which the following day had Labour Remaindeer activists yelling “Murderers!” at Brexit campaigners.
It is equally on a par with the ocean of self-pitying undemocratic piffle that followed the result in favour of Brexit. The Leave campaign, we were told, had irrefutably lied; those nasty old people had once again shafted the poor young kids; we had driven Britain over a cliff; the result was invalid; the 48% was right really; disaster was round the corner.
Everything the Remaindeers claimed during the campaign has turned out to be lies. The suppression of eurozone bad news is an established fact. Opposition to the Brexit result is being led by a PR group owned by Blair and Campbell…two men officially reviled by the “new” multifaceted Labour Party.
The simple truths about Grammar Schools are these:
- If reintroduced along with FREE scholarships, they would reverse the anti-mobility effects of neoliberal wealth inequalities within a generation. Labour will oppose this because socially mobile electors (they think) will stop voting Labour
- As with its narrow definition of ‘equality’ for the sexes, classes and ethnic minorities in Britain (Progressive Labour doesn’t ‘do’ ageism – not sexy enough) so too on education, the PLE simply refuses to grasp the difference between discriminating against a group, and discriminating between abilities
- Labour abolished Grammar Schools after 1964 following a naked appeal to the politics of envy as it perceived it. But the perception of envy was the obverse side of a snobbery coin which had by then become the currency of a middle class Labour Establishment ie, one that looked down upon tradesmen.
- Had Grammar Schools been retained, the Labour Party – and the truly élite-dominated new Toryism – would not exist today.
And yet, the Labour-liberal Establishment thinks itself progressive. Whereas in reality – and what a rare-Earth material that is in 2016 – it represents a profoundly regressive catalyst within the rapids driving us at ever-increasing speed over the waterfall.
Now for the payoff ending that should silence the blinkered ideologists who have me labeled as a closet Tory. The chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, Robert McCartney, had this to say last week:
“[The Government] will have to introduce some conditions that prevent these schools being swamped by families with money.”
He is, of course, absolutely right. “The new Grammar Schools expansion is not a return to the past”, said one unconsciously ironic Conservative MP yesterday. He too is correct – and this is the reason: they will not be free to all those with the necessary ability.
Rewind the tape to a paragraph near the start of this essay, involving the utter estrangement of former Grammar School product Theresa May from her roots….and her self-imposed imprisonment as Daft Bubble Bint. There is no way on Earth that this myopic woman is going to reinstate the Butler/Macleod 1944 blueprint for postwar Grammar Schools – an ideal totally in keeping with the NHS so admired by Labour: free to all those with an obvious right to it.
But what we all need to remember is this: Labour would oppose the idea even if the schools were cost-free for bright kids regardless of background. And the reason they’d give? “It would discriminate against the children of homes with dysfunctional parents”.
Such households existed when I took the 11+. But the level was nowhere near the profusion of them that exists today. And that profusion is the result of mistaken social engineering undertaken by all our myriad Establishments.
Over that 57 year period, we had 28 years of the Tories, 27 of Labour…and 5 of a Coalition including Left-leaning LibDems.
During six decades, all the so-called ‘major’ Parties have initiated and/or collaborated in the creation of a mess.
This is why I am a radical in favour re-forming the Westminster lineup before any constitutional reform is attempted: because doing it the other way round won’t change anything. It will do nothing more than persuade the tunnel-vision ideologists that they have done enough.
We will – non of us – have done enough until they are all gone forever. I retain my long-held view that Barnacle Bill the Failure can only be removed from SS Britannia by starving him of the brine that ensures he stays stuck to the keel, a useless dead weight that slows any real progression into a future for the entire crew. That adhesive brine is called munnneeeee.