UKIP comes to the issue of grammar schools not from a position of ideology but from a belief in local democracy. In general where a decision can be made at a local level which will not adversely affect citizens living outside its boundaries then it should be. You don’t need uniformity across the land on such issues, which generally speaking are value-judgemental rather than technical. Let there be a multiplicity of choices and the comparison in outcomes will help to inform everyone. Other examples are fox hunting and the slaughter of halal meat. The geographical area will depend on how a community defines itself for the purpose, and can range from national (within the UK) to sub post-code. In addition we should perhaps think of allowing those outside such a boundary to challenge a decision in the courts if they think they themselves would be significantly adversely affected. If such an opt-out system had been in place in the EU then perhaps it might not have got itself into such a mess!
This however does not address the problem of the 11 plus. I myself failed my 11 plus all those years ago, yet went on to gain an honours degree in physics from Edinburgh University and to qualify as a Chartered Accountant with one of the big city firms. I am therefore among the foremost to say that you cannot judge a child’s potential at the age of eleven. Many otherwise bright children are at that age distracted by problems at home or other emotional issues which they then go on to solve or simply grow out of. I was lucky in having an independent school education, so it didn’t matter.
But the system was never designed to be like that. In theory you could move up to grammar school through the 13 plus or at O level or GCSE. The fact that this rarely happened was that the secondary modern schools were rubbish. They were not properly funded, managed or monitored, and made no effort to prepare the children for those exams. It need not be like that.
I propose that where a county or other community chooses a two tier system, then the lower tier schools should be given larger budgets per child. Maybe as much as 10% or even more. It is much more challenging to teach a slower child than a bright one. The latter pretty much teach themselves once you point them in the right direction, whereas less able or distracted children need more discipline in smaller class sizes, more one-to-one support, more pastoral care, different teaching methods and above all teachers with a much greater spread and depth of ability. These things are expensive and must be provided.
Ah, you will say, so where is the money coming from? Here I refer you to my proposal for a National Credit Card which would enable any citizen to access essential services from the private sector on a means-tested basis if they so wish. Using this, I propose charging the parents of grammar school children a proportion, perhaps 50%, of the school’s actual budget for their child. As most such parents are quite well off this will bring in a substantial income whilst not penalising the poorer parents. It will also sharpen up some of our grammar schools which are not perhaps quite as sharp as they should be!
Of course we must also guard against the type of mismanagement that occurred in the past. All state schools must be managed through a national schools agency along the lines set out in my earlier post entitled The Management of our Public Services.
Bright children will by and large end up on their feet one way or another. The less able children will not. They will end up as ‘NEET’s and a burden to both themselves and to society as a whole. It is worth making the effort to give them the attention they need through schools specially designed for the purpose, and better for them than comprehensives, for all our sakes.