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 124.

    I went to grammar school 1954-61. It was a great experience which I'm well aware was not shared by three-quarters of all schoolchildren from age 11, who went to secondary moderns instead.

    The unwritten rule then was "work hard in school - grammar or modern sec - and you'll get a job". It doesn't apply today, which is the biggest problem facing today's school-leavers and their teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Once you've divided the students into 'academic' and 'vocational' sets, where will the effort go?
    The Germans have High Schools and Technical schools, the curriculum in the Technical schools is every bit as rigorous as in the High Schools.
    In the UK, 'vocational' has always meant a 3rd rate education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Is it not more appropriate to reconsider everything that we teach and when. For the vast majority of us things like algebra, pythagorus' theory and even the periodic table were last used at school. A proper evaluation of modern day skills is needed to make sure our children are employable with the advanced levels teaching the more specialist skills

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    You might want grammar schools back, but as someone who went to a Secondary Modern I can tell you you do not want them back. A small number went to the decent grammar school and most ended up in the dustbin of a secondary modern. Terrible system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    What a bunch of rabid small 'c' conservatives on here spouting drivel glorifying grammars. So full of ego, so full of confidence, so full of bluster, so full of nonsense! A good education stems from good educators and willing pupils. This happens in societies with a culture of participation in education. If you have difficult pupils its usually to do with their broken families/communities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    schools need away of seperating the dross from those that have it.i remember state schooling,especially comprehensive.it was basically a zoofilled with feral children who had no interest in learning and would happily disrupt classes for years at a time.segregation is a good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    There is much wrong with education. Is it wise for kids of any ability to spend about 10% of their time learning a language that they may never use when they are struggling with the common language or maths? How can you strive to achieve when competition is out of fashion? Better to have strengths and weaknesses than just be average at everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    @ 108. Biased innaccuracies mate, you're known for your anti-welsh rhetoric.

    WRT Grammars and social mobility - yes of course they had an impact as pupils from poorer areas were able to go. The unfair aspect is in the simplistic division made at an age where it is not clear how a persons' academic ability will unfold. Surely the answer is to provide the best education possible in all schools!

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Still unable to see many responses on here from people who would want their own children to attend Secondary Moderns.
    If you support Grammar schools then you support Secondary Moderns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    "if the Welsh Conservatives took power in Cardiff Bay"...Hilarious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    113.Bear in the Bull This assumes parents have the knowledge, ability and understanding so to do. Risk is children can be accidentally misinformed or (worse) intentionally misguided.
    I think you find some of the curriculum topics quite misguided anyway. Having taught Globalisation in Geography the curriculum resembles nothing that happens in reality- in fact it provides a VERY false image.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Neil [110]: "Simple solution, parents should spend the time to tutor their children"

    This assumes parents have the knowledge, ability and understanding so to do. Risk is children can be accidentally misinformed or (worse) intentionally misguided.

    A properly-functioning, state-provided school system delivers the best for all, regardless of wealth or background, with all abilities catered for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    We took our daughter out of the local school when she was continually telling us who she'd been helping with their maths or English (she was 8 at the time and already having some lessons with older kids) She would create her own homework around topics they'd done in class. The teacher told us it was great but she just didn't have time to look at it all when there were 30 other kids in the class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Ian, please get your facts right. The Labour Secretaries of State for Education who deliberately destroyed the Grammar Schools were Tony Crosland and Shirley Williams. Margaret Thatcher became Education Secretary only after the damage was done. She introduced a rule that enabled the remaining Grammar Schools to survive, as they still do today, in, for example, Kent and Buckinghamshire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Comments on private tuition? Simple solution, parents should spend the time to tutor their children instead, encourage education instead of watching Eastenders or Pop Idol.
    Labour education didn't work, we slid down the international league table fatser then a tea cup on the Titanic, that's lefties for you, equality to the lowest denominator.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Where the UK Grammar versus Secondary Modern system failed was that there was no room for pupils who excelled AFTER the 11-plus to be moved "up" - or for stragglers in Grammar to be "moved down".

    What is needed is flexibility, to move according to achievement, yet also to differentiate classes, so teachers can help every pupil best, according to ability and need. It works well in Germany.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Welsh Tory red herring to divert attention away from the real issues!

    More improvement could come from scrapping compulsory Welsh from 3-16 and being more honest about the lack-lustre overall performance of highly funded WM ysgols which are now being shown to under-perform their EM equivalents by 2-4 %age points when compared on a like-for-like basis including FSMs and EAL parameters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    101.annieavatar - "......Academically bright children will thrive whatever system they are in - proven......."

    That is one of the best laughs I have had in years....!!!!!

    Old system:

    * confined to EITHER grammar or secondary modern at 11

    * if oncfined to SM only allowed to sit CSEs, not O Levels


    ....nope, evidence NOT on your side.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    105.annieavatar I am also a teacher and I categorically disagree. I've been an educational adviser in England.
    Then I suggest Annie you are part of the fundamental problem. Our education system is as corrupt as the NHS and I wrote to my MP telling him what was broken with explicit examples. Either you take an ostrich attitude pretending everything is fine or you are incompetent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    102. Paul
    I am also a teacher and I categorically disagree. I've been an educational adviser in England, and I know from the experience of working in hundreds of different schools, provided the school system is sound, ALL children will thrive.

    Enthusiastic teachers really make the difference, regardless of pupil background, so I am not surprised you are an ex-teacher.


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