Right-wing propaganda tends only to be questioned when Labour challenges its figures, as was the case recently when the House of Commons Library corrected Cameron`s NHS waiting times. All too often, even when politicians like Gove, Duncan-Smith and Jeremy Hunt are rebuked by such bodies as the UK Statistics Authority for utilising incorrect data, their "message" gets through. This certainly seems to be true when support is given for grammar schools.
A recent article in the Guardian covered the conference of Young Independence, the "Farage Youth" wing of Ukip. (Guardian,04/08/14) Quotes like "Support for grammar schools brought me to Ukip", and "I believe in grammar schools" from delegates, clearly with no personal experience of such schools, revealed how important it is for Labour to de-bunk the myths surrounding them. This becomes even more pertinent when examining Gove`s assessment reforms, as many believe the end result of the education idealogue`s changes would be requests from academies to change dramatically their entrance requirements, with obvious results: schools with only 20% of their pupils capable of examination success will be forced to adopt less rigorous curricula, whilst schools with 80% will force out the minority so they can concentrate on changing their status to grammar schools and topping spurious league tables. Equally important, perhaps, are the results of a recent YouGov poll showing 13% of 18 to 24 year-olds with intentions to vote Ukip in next years general election; as Conor Pope and Mark Ferguson have both written in recent Labour List pieces, Labour`s failure "to deal with the Ukip threat" could lead to "disaster".
The grammar school myth can be challenged on a number of grounds, but especially on social mobility, examination success and teaching quality.
Of course, many working class students achieved success in such schools, and were given opportunites of advancement, but how many were denied one, and instead, given an inferior education in a secondary modern, because a test at the age of 11 had designated them as having no potential? In comprehensive schools, created in the knowledge that students` intelligence and potential continue to develop after 11, all pupils get an "opportunity". The fact that social mobility has decreased under this government has nothing to do with state schools, and everything to do with the blinkered and biased view taken by employers and universities to the privately educated.
Grammar schools` examination results were not as good as they should have been; in my two-form entry grammar school, half of the pupils were immediately written off and put into the B stream, where the teachers were even less enthusiastic, the subjects, naturally, "less academic", and the results woeful. Imagine what they were like in the secondary modern schools! Even where there were excellent grammar schools, 80% of the children were denied the chance to gain decent results, and in educational terms, largely written off. In comprehensive schools, improvements in results, caused by the hard work of teachers and pupils, have led to Gove`s assessment changes. His reversion to memory tests, abandonment of coursework and resits, and re-instating of end-of-course examinations are all indications of Tory unhappiness with the success of non-selective schools.
As for teaching standards, there can be no comparison; in the grammar schools of the 50s and 60s, discipline largely was based on corporal punishment, lessons were boring, and teachers too reliant on dictation and copying, whilst the schemes of work, lesson planning and inventive approaches in our current state schools all reflect the huge improvement that has taken place, in the last 25 years or so, in teaching quality, a fact even supported by Ofsted!
With the election ever nearer, it becomes more apparent that Ukip is going to hinder Labour`s chances of a majority, so every aspect of their policies has to be challenged. Ukip promises to bring grammar schools back, and Cameron is so desperate he might even do the same. It`s imperative for Labour to de-bunk the grammar school myth; they denied millions an opportunity and benefitted very few. Comprehensives and their teachers have to be supported by Labour. They give every child a chance!