Welsh Conservatives revive grammar school idea


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

Related Stories

"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."


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Putting all ability levels in one class bad: cannot deliver to everyone at the same time, some will always be bored or baffled.

    "selection by ability" good: can stretch the able or help strugglers - but not all in same class.

    Grammar schools can exist within a Comprehensive system, and serve all, regardless of income or social status. Better this than a system where only the rich kids benefit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    # 99
    This is hard to measure. The research is based on the ability at 11, but how that comparative study was undertaken is not clear. Ability used to be based on the 11 plus, but what have they used in this study & how does that relate to the 11 plus?

    Research studies are often flawed for a variety of reasons - MMR & autism for example. The fact the Mail reported it does not validate it

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    101. Academically bright children will thrive whatever system they are in.
    That is nonsense and I can say this as an ex-teacher myself. I witnessed mixed ability classes for the sake of 'inclusion' where bright pupils were acting as a replacement support teacher teaching other pupils how to read, thus holding them unnecessarily back. Their parents weren't aware of this hence I am an ex-teacher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    97. dodo777
    This argument is mere speculation. The Tories will never ever get a majority in the Welsh Government. We don't vote Tory and as for rolling back the years to selection at a young age (Making many feel inferior and a small minority, superior) forget it.

    Academically bright children will thrive whatever system they are in - proven - we need to ensure equality of education for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Read the article before commenting, this is about Schools in Wales where over a third of the Education Authorities are in special measures where pupils in Wales lanquish below other home nations on PISA results. Where the Welsh Government makes up its own exam results against wishes of regulator and marking board.
    Might not be right idea but something needs to change for these children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    @john bull
    Wrong- have a read of a study that even the daily mail published!!

    Again people using anecdotal evidence rather than research....

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Grammar schools delivered social mobility. The attempt to close them all was down to egalitarian ideology - they were selective & represented meritocracy. Instead, it was decided that everyone should receive an identical education. Result - less social mobility. And, the irony is that the people who most bemoan lack of social mobility are the same people who don't like Grammar schools

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    TORIES ,are definitely dragging us back to Dickensian life styles ,why not schools .

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I went to a famous old King Edward VI Grammar School with over 400 years of rich history until t was closed by Margaret Hilda Thatcher. The only school in the town that has since thrived is the fee paying private school. The Tories forget that Thatcher did more harm to grammar/selective education than any other PM.Free Schools are an unmitigated disaster "Don't trust the Tories on Education"

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Children can be discriminated on the basis of religion but not on ability???

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Apriring for the lowest common denominator is just not good enough. We must teach our kids to aspire for the best, that hard work and commitment pays. If you've a bright kid, why should their future be undermined by others? We should give them the best chance to shine, simple as. As for the kids who aren't bright but try hard, they should also be supported, but in a different environment

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    @91 Wakey638 - a 95% average would be something of a statistical oddity, though I'm sure children in any form of education would spot this.

    I find far more optimism in this idea than the notion that we should push a stupilated 50% of school leavers, regardless of ability or suitability, into University and burden them with the concurrent devalued degree and debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    At my school, it was the 98% of children who were failed by the corrupt and unfair 11+ exam who were the ones who had their 'escape routes' blocked, Ms Burns, not the 2% who hit the jackpot and went to grammar school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    It's shown that children aspire to meet their peers in education, so if you take away all the really bright kids what happens to the children who are left?
    There would be less ideas, enthusiasm and inspiration in the classroom for those left behind. Great for the 5% that will be in grammar schools, but not so good for the average ability 95%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I always find it interesting to see how views on Grammar schools split either side of the political divide. It's a meritocratic, wealth irrelavent system that allows and encourages bright, academic kids to do better, yet somehow sits uneasily with the left-leaning where the opposite, negative approach focusing on those that don't go to the Grammar school is often taken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    10. annieavatar

    The fact remains that we need to give ALL children an equal chance, and certainly labeling failure at 11 would be counterproductive to society.
    I see your point. But it's not enough.
    Giving ALL children equal chance should not mean pulling them ALL down to the lowest level. I am afraid this is the current strategy now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    85 HG yes but if you place equality above all else any selection on whatever grounds is deprecated by the left because of the disadvantage to those not selected. In broad terms that is the argument that lead to the abolition of grammar schools, the dumming down of the exam system, the abolition of competitive sport in schools. Result significantly reduced social mobility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    32 johal - certainly Wales is generally a bastion of the left, but economic output per head is well below the EU average and wales has more public sector workers than rest of UK. Due to left wing dogma the chances of grammar schools there are as slim as the development of a vibrant enterprise economy or the election of many Tory MP's. Accordingly social mobility is in long term regression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.


    I don't think mine were especially bright, they were very driven by the fact they didn't want to be poor. The only way out of it is to educate yourselves as best you can. It's not just down to the parents or the education system, but to the kid's themselves. They've seen me go from nothing to something with my own business and I say 'you only get out what you put in, so this cld be a factor

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Selection by ability must be a better system than selection by wealth, surely?


Page 5 of 10


More Wales stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.