The government is not about to fudge this: the PM wants proper old-fashioned grammar schools
There are those in education who seem to think that if they close their eyes really tight, the government’s plans to roll out grammar schools across the country will just go away.
They believe that a combination of near-universal opposition from the education sector (it’s almost impossible to find a head or teacher who thinks more selection is a good idea) and within Parliament will result in the idea will be shelved.
I wish it weren’t so, but this is wildly optimistic. The political mechanics of how it will be forced through are not yet clear, but when a prime minister really wants something, it pretty much always happens.
Let’s not forget that the speech in which the grammar school policy was unveiled was Theresa May’s very first on public sector reform in the afterglow of becoming PM. Such landmark speeches are not easily put on the backburner.
No 10 is, I understand, well up for a political scrap, too. They reckon that a year or two of battling the profession and the “liberal elite” on this one will probably play quite well in post-Brexit Britain.
Then there are those within education – especially within the academies and free school movement – who think that they can manage the whole reintroduction of selection in a way that would be a little more palatable to those who remain committed to the comprehensive dream.
They think that they will get away with creating ultra-selective special units for super-bright pupils, probably within multi-academy trusts. Sort of special schools, but for the extremely gifted and talented. These units might not even be schools as we would recognise them with fluid pupil-roll, and students treated on a need-by-need basis.
This idea is one iteration of the “non-binary” selective system that the DfE – not keen on the idea of more grammar schools – is keen to promote as a way of placating the opposition that has grown up around more selection.
One problem. This isn’t going to cut the mustard in No 10: not after Theresa May stood up and announced the policy; not after the story was briefed in the Sunday Telegraph as the return to grammars.
No, Number 10 and its senior people are going to want some red meat for the Tory faithful – something that looks, sounds and smells like a grammar school in every area.
So when the government’s response to the Green Paper is published in (I understand) March, that’s what you can expect. It may well feature some of the fuzzy-around-the-edges, non-binary options, but there’ll be plans for proper old-fashioned grammar schools, too.
Best get used to it.