Welsh Conservatives revive grammar school idea


The Welsh Conservatives said pupils should be separated by ability at 14 into academic and vocational streams

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"The best elements" of the old grammar school system would be revived if the Welsh Conservatives took power in Cardiff Bay, the party says.

It believes the move would raise standards although it is not calling for a return of the 11-plus exam.

The party said pupils should be separated by ability at 14 into academic and vocational streams.

The head teachers' union said the "intriguing" idea currently left questions unanswered.

There are no remaining grammar schools in Wales and only 164 in England.


The last grammar school in Wales went in the 1980s, and there are only 164 left in England. But their supporters say they helped pupils from poorer backgrounds to get on, and they pushed up standards.

The counter argument is that it was very divisive to have this exam at 11 years old, separating pupils out at that age into two streams.

Angela Burns isn't saying we should revive the 11-plus - but she does want to see pupils separated into two streams, one academic, one vocational.

Her reasoning is that various studies have shown Wales falling behind in comparison to other countries, and it's time to take radical action.

There are unanswered questions - not least whether there would be an exam at 14 to decide which stream pupils enter, or whether everyone would still take GCSEs.

But the politics is interesting too; grammar schools are a touchstone issue for the Tories - they're popular with the grassroots and many MPs, but they make the leadership nervous. David Cameron isn't in favour of expanding selective education.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the Welsh Conservatives' shadow education minister Angela Burns said: "I think it is time that we revisited the successful elements of grammar schools and sought apply it to a modern Welsh system.

"If we did that we might again see a Wales where excellence is championed in a dual education system."

Prime Minister David Cameron is not in favour of increasing selective education in England, a policy that has caused disquiet in the Conservative party and led to the resignation of front-bencher Graham Brady in 2007.

Under devolution, the Welsh Tories are free to set their own policy independent of Mr Cameron's party in London.

A Conservative Central Office spokesman said: "We don't have an opinion on Welsh education policy because it is a devolved matter."

If they were in power, the Welsh Conservatives would not adopt the old system of academic testing at 11, which Ms Burns concedes was divisive.

But she insists the dual education system would raise standards and help brighter pupils from poorer backgrounds.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said too many pupils were coming out of education with the wrong type of qualification for employers and it was about making the right choices - academic and vocational - at the age of 14.

Pupils would remain in the same schools where appropriate but some would carry on with academic subjects, while others would take vocational options.

Mr Davies told BBC Radio Wales they wanted to "bring the best elements of the grammar school system" and that the current system was failing in Wales.

"Ultimately you are good at vocational courses that would qualify you for the workplace in a vocational manner - or academia," he said.

"What we have at the moment is a system that actually constrains academic achievement and this homogenised blob that says everyone is the same.

"That's no good for the 21st Century. We have got to be pushing academics and we have got to be pushing vocational courses and have parity between the two."

He added: "If we're going to develop an economy that's fit for the 21st Century we have to have learners coming out of education with the qualifications that are robust and appropriate."

Ms Burns cited research from London University's Institute of Education which she said shows that the abolition of grammar schools has blocked disadvantaged pupils' "escape routes" to top universities and high-paid professional careers.

'Unanswered questions'

She added: "Instead of separating academic children from their more vocational counterparts, we could see the benefit of creating two equitable streams of education, one alongside the other, a dualling that begins at 14 - giving children the chance to develop important core subject skills before embarking on their chosen path."

Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis said he "thought someone was pulling my leg" when he was told of the Welsh Conservatives' proposal.

Mr Lewis wrote a series of messages on Twitter criticising the policy, saying the Labour-run Welsh government was "committed to excellent schools for all, not encouraging a parental scramble for advantage".

There were numerous unanswered questions about the Tory plan, he said, including whether pupils would remain in the same school after the age of 14 and whether all would take the GCSE qualification.

The head teachers' union called it an "intriguing development" for Wales, where grammar schools were a "distant memory for most."

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru said the proposals currently raised more questions than they answered.

"The grammar school system is remembered positively by those who benefited from it," she said. "That same system disenfranchised very many of our young people.

"Ultimately the test for us will be what system can give all pupils the best opportunity to learn and prosper."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I think some people have misunderstood or not read it properly or reacted because it was said by a Tory. Article calls for return of grammar schools WITHOUT selection so NO 11+ exam.

    I think they want return of academic excellence for those who are academic. Mentions TWO streams i.e. vocational is positioned alongside grammar so that grammar isnt seen as favourable - like in Holland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Selection by ability ONLY no matter what the child's social status. I went to grammar school while living in a slum area and it enabled me to progress to good quals & ongoing better jobs worldwide. All being equal at the bottom common denominator has been shown to have failed but Socialist Guardianistas can't have anyone being seen to be better that others, except themselves that is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    So then, Grammar school lovers.
    Are you all happy for your own children to attend secondary moderns?
    Or are they just for the plebs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    @ James metcalfe
    You sound like a typical Tory politician- ignore evidence to decide upon policy. As other posters have stated the sooner politicians get out of running education the better. Look at Finland- no ofsted, no private, selective or church schools - one of the best performing education systems in the world. We need to stop tinkering around the edges and make real substantive changes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I have been in this country 15 years, English is not my first language and have struggle to learn it. When applying for secondary schools I was very upset to find out that the best were Church of England schools in Westminster. I decide to prepare her for the 11+ for private schools, put lots of time in. We made sacrifices and paid for some tutoring. She got into 4 top schools with scholarships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Amazingly the Beeb allows comments on this which excludes England and Scotland, rarely see comments allowed on issues that really matter.................why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    As Andrew Neil pointed out, between 1964 and 1997, all our Prime Ministers were state school educated. When the effects of grammar schools having be largely abolished came through 30 years later, all PMs have been privately educated. As Diane Abbott has said, closing them destroyed the Royal Road to advancement they offered the able amongst the working and lower middle classes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The problem is some politicians have, for the last 10+ years decided that every pupil should gain a degree (subject doesn't matter, just that you have one).

    Thing is some pupils would prefer to do more vocational training (many do the first chance they get e.g. sixth form college), especially in areas the country has shortages.

    I'd bet a good plumber makes more than a mediocre lawyer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Its simply common sense !

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.


    I work as a tutor. I have substantial experience of this trend. Living in a grammar school town, I am inundated with requests for maths/English tuition in the run up to the exams for the local grammars. Perhaps your own children were especially bright, but they are still in the minority rather than the majority. Seriously - go do the survey. You might be shocked by the results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    For someone like myself who had an undiagnosed learning difficulty until the age of 14 would have been much worse off in a two tiered system. Fortunately I had some excellent teachers in Coed-Y-Lan Comprehensive that really took the time and patience with me
    (pre/ post diagnosis)

    Without which I would never have passed GCSE's A's HE

    Still, I was a little envious of those in non comprehensive

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I think the main thing that should be done is to try to emulate what the very best education systems in the world do here, and that probably means an end to political meddling from all sides. What does Finland do, and how can this be introduced with minimal changes into the UK or Wales? Education is far too important for politicians to get their grubby incompetent hands on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.


    Two of my POOR children went to grammar school. . . . . .I DID NOT pay for extra tuition and if they had to be in the top 120, thats because that's all the places that were available. . . . . . . Why is that bad to you????

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Why do these privately educated politicians with their pointless degrees in pointless nonsense keep harking back to some Dickensian educational idealism. What next? Teachers wearing Beano style mortar boards and gowns, wielding canes?
    I have to look at my calendar to remind myself that this is really the 21st century.
    Such a shame that our education system is broken beyond repair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Are the Tories also stealing policies from UKIP on 'Bongo Bongo Land'

    Why 14?? Just another policy not well thought out

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.


    Yes - the pass mark is 'better than all but 199 of your peers'. What is so hard about that concept? - life is a competition.

    It is better that all have a chance even if the wealthy have a better chance (due to tuition) than that the poor have no chance and the rich pay for independent education.

    Unless you have a massive chip on your shoulder, anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    No doubt the "label children a failure at 11" brigade will be posting their usual comments on here.

    I agree, better to waste their time until they get a useless university degree with no job prospects and a £30k debt and then label them a failure, but at least they had an equal chance eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I have no doubt that many pupils who wish to get on at school have their chances wrecked by the minority who do not, however, damning 75%+ at the age of 11 is hardly the solution. The UK has a huge cultural problem with education.
    Finlad, the top European school performer, has neither grammar nor private schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Theres no rich or poor. They all get the same chance
    You are dreamiong. well off parents pay for tutors.
    "if they pass, they're in"
    NO THEY ARE NOT. "They" need to finish in the top 120 or whatever the admission number is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Looks like the BBC have started their UKIP smear campaign. Why are us plebs only allowed to comment on junk articles? Why are we silenced so?


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