By Peter Hitchens for The Mail on Sunday
It’s not every day that a Prime Minister steals a soundbite from me, and I’m pleased that she has done. What’s more, she is welcome to use it again, and I have plenty more where that came from.
She rightly swatted away narrow-minded enemies of grammar schools, saying: ‘We already have selection in our school system – and it is selection by house price, selection by wealth.’
I’ve been making this exact point for many years, as part of a lonely campaign to restore our lost grammar schools. When I started in the 1990s I was told it was a lost cause. Nobody’s saying that now. It’s winning because it’s right, just and wise.
If Chairman May has really decided to bulldoze aside the nasty, spiteful egalitarian garbage which blocks the road to good state schools, she can count on my total support against all who get in her way. I haven’t been keen on her before, and wasn’t even sure she cared, but her bold strike on Thursday night was impressive politics.
It is national madness to refuse to select children for the best schools on academic ability. We must have wasted oceans of talent thanks to the idiotic comprehensive system. We should not waste another drop.
I have this picture in my mind of the desolate faces of clever boys and girls trapped in howling, chaotic classrooms where academic excellence is actively despised, resigned to failure and disappointment, and going off into lost lives of needless mediocrity, from which their parents were powerless to rescue them.
If people ever wonder why we lack the talent, skills and competence that used to be normal in this country, it is because our state schools threw them in the bin in the name of ‘equality’.
And even now the enemies of promise are still ganging up to hold back the talented but poor.
The BBC, to its lasting shame, is running what amounts to a campaign against grammars – which it is forbidden by its charter to do.
Its reporters are allowed to intone at the end of reports that ‘many people’ doubt that grammars aid social mobility, weasel words which they can use to smuggle their own opinions into what is supposed to be impartial journalism.
Many people, I can assure them, think the opposite and have evidence to prove it. But they rarely get asked on.
The Corporation, ever the reliable voice of the smug, wealthy Left, has readily swallowed the anti-grammar propaganda which concentrates on the tiny number of untypical grammar schools which still survive in a few areas.
These schools are besieged, and no wonder, when seven years at their private equivalents would cost a minimum of £120,000 in post-tax income.
The top comprehensives, secretly selective in various clever ways, are actually more socially exclusive than these hopelessly oversubscribed grammars. If there were, once again, more than 1,000 such schools all over the country, this pressure would drop away. Lots of other things would happen. Standards would rise.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of English schools, bafflingly opposes grammar schools despite having gone to one (and would this son of a postman have risen so high otherwise?).
Yet he admitted in a recent speech: ‘The fate of the most able pupils in non-selective [i.e. comprehensive] schools is particularly depressing. Some 60,000 youngsters who achieved the top levels at Key Stage 2 did not achieve an A or A* in English and maths five years later.
‘Indeed, only a quarter achieved a B grade. According to the Sutton Trust, 7,000 children a year who were in the top ten per cent nationally at age 11 were not in the top 25 per cent at GCSE five years later. These youngsters are drawn disproportionately from the white working class.’
Why is this? Well, these facts may help. Grammar schools, where excellence is encouraged rather than bullied or ignored, get better results than comprehensive education.
In 2015, no less than 96.7 per cent of pupils in England’s grammar schools got five good GCSEs. Only 56.7 per cent of pupils at comprehensives (in fully comprehensive areas, not in any way ‘creamed off’ by grammars) did so, whatever their background.
And what about those supposedly dreadful secondary moderns which comprehensives are meant to have saved us from? Almost half (49.7 per cent) of pupils at non-selective schools in grammar school catchment areas won five good GCSEs.
So, after 50 years and billions of pounds, comprehensives have only a miserable seven per cent advantage over today’s equivalent of despised secondary moderns. But grammars still have a 40 per cent advantage over comprehensives.
Smashing up the grammars did not help a single child in a secondary modern. But it ruined the hopes of many who might otherwise have gone to grammars, but were dumped in bog-standard comprehensives.
Closing the grammars because the secondary moderns were bad was like cutting off a man’s left leg because his right leg is gangrenous. In short, it was mad. Let us welcome this long-awaited return to sanity, even if the privileged rulers of the BBC refuse to do so.
Theresa May needs the support of all of us to do this good thing, and to take it further.
Originally published on: The mail