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 184.

    Our town has one Comprehensive school, rated 'excellent'. There are no private or grammar schools closer than 45 mins travel. The school is brilliant and serves the whole community. I think it works because the school has no competition, there is no choice, and there is no middle-class brain-drain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    devided schools..devided societies. All schools should have full cross section of society
    But if the 2 streams were at the same school, surely there'd still be a cross-section of society, interacting in common subjects/clubs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    A Tory idea to foster elitism

    They’d consider this all very good for the other classes however, if one of their own little darlings didn’t make the grade they’d just buy the child a place at one of their precious little public schools

    The story here is that it’s good for everybody else but not for those with money or connections.

    Public schools should be forced to follow the same rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    financial barriers..average school uniform price difference between grammar and state school.
    ..school skiing trips and field trips abroad
    Do 2nd-hand shops for uniform still exist?
    Would've thought skiing trips at least aren't compulsory..

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    179. x15
    'The tenet is still sound:- selection in principle is not problematic and aligns ability and talent to education. I bid you goodnight!!'

    No it doesn't. Goodnight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    The 'we are all equal' term was indeed much seeded in the post war years. This ping pong tedium is about as gripping as reading all the education research since 1959. The tenet is still sound:- selection in principle is not problematic and aligns ability and talent to education. I bid you goodnight!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    172. x15

    'In the immediate post war years, as is prevalent today, the thinking is 'we are all equal' and this guides the 'research'. '

    As the 11+ wasn't introduced until the Butler Act of 1944 I think your comment about 'we are all equal' in the immediate post war years suggests that maybe you should do some of the Google research you dismiss so readily.

    177. Have I read the research? Yes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Yikes you have read every bit of research since 1959 on Grammar Schools. Sounds like gripping reading. I note you choose to ignore the other aspects of what I said. There is no problem with selecting children to align their ability with the best suited schools. The trick is not to label pupils as failures. I was really miffed that the grammar school did not do metalwork as I loved that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    The label 'grammar school' is not need. What is required is a proactive schooling system that is properly funded and staffed to provide a comprehensive subject choice for pupils at 14 with proper guidance from qualified staff who know the students and have time to engage with them and help them make good informed educational choices, whilst still letting them study things they are interested in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Also, what's wrong with a vocational career in this day and age. IT advances have been utterly changed the working environments. There's been plenty on TV this week regarding how Germany values both academic and vocational contributions to the economy & society and they're doing OK by the looks of it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    172. x15

    '171. I can only report my experience as I find it. I of course do not believe it to be wrong.'

    Sorry but that's ridiculous. You and a few mates think that grammar schools boost social mobility and so you dismiss all the research since the 1959 Crowther Report which was the first to note that mobility wasn't taking place. Every piece of research since has supported that position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Sounds eminently sensible to me. 14 is old enough for kids/parents to know whether they are academically or vocationally best suited. We need both to maintain our place in the world. We're in a world race whether we like it or not, India, China etc churning out highly motivated, highly educated kids, we need to get real and understand if the system isn't working it needs changing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    171. I can only report my experience as I find it. I of course do not believe it to be wrong. I would not regard Google research as sufficiently vigorous. The matter on both sides of the argument is influenced by political thinking. In the immediate post war years, as is prevalent today, the thinking is 'we are all equal' and this guides the 'research'. So I stand by my experience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    165 x15:
    Sorry but your experience is wrong. Google research into the subject and you'll see. The first major report (Crowther 1959) found a very low % of working class pupils in grammar schools. Or David Willetts, Tory Minister of State for Universities and Science: “academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it”

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Todays parents just wouldn't accept selection. There would be endless appeals as the middle class strove to push their offspring forward I cant imagine the poorer children getting the chance they did before. Grammar schools gave a totally different education, more classical we have changed so much as a society. Modern secondary education is all about passing exams and being moulded as a 'citizen'

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    168. Liquidfire

    ' years of the classroom being run at the pace of the slowest pupil'

    This is nonsense.

    'How can any teacher bring out the best of ALL pupils if some are way below others in interlectual ability by trying to teach them all at the same time and in the same way'

    They can't. They don't try. It's a myth repeated by people who haven't bothered to find out what goes on in schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    After years of the classroom being run at the pace of the slowest pupil, it seems a very good idea to now let the cream reach the top in state education. After all, we are not socialists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    ###165anglerfish...Tehy are your words,,not the words of dave owens. It is you who says "the chaff we throw away". How can any teacher bring out the best of ALL pupils if some are way below others in interlectual ability by trying to teach them all at the same time and in the same way. There is an old expression which is "horses for courses" which you m ight agree makes sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    164: In my experience they did and this is shared by many. Note the word experience here. The difficulty is not with grammar schools as they are conceptually excellent. It is how to address those that cannot attain the intellectual level to enter them. We all have a part to play and guiding those to what best suits them is the key. Lumping all together is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    135. dave owens

    'i was fortunate enough to be educated in a grammar school ... at least the system sorted out the wheat from the chaff.'
    And there you've said it all. Sorting the useless 'chaff' from the valued 'wheat'. At age 11 you're 'chaff' .. unwanted, not up to standard, a waste of time and effort. Something we throw away. Is that attitude what we really want for most of our 11 year olds?


Page 1 of 10


More Wales stories



BBC © 2014 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.