MP’S COLUMN - Grateful for our grammars

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We should all be grateful that Lincolnshire as a whole was spared the ravages of the abolition of grammar schools, which is why we have such a successful state education sector: high in standards and free to all who qualify.

Getting rid of grammar schools across most of the country was probably one of the worst policy decisions of the postwar era, which is why I consistently defend the 164 remaining ones. The old system wasn’t perfect by any means – perhaps there could have been more flexibility to the 11-plus – but the extraordinary level of social mobility these schools provided was one of the greatest achievements this country ever managed.

The independent school sector then was on the verge of collapse because of grammar schools, whereas now private schools in England are thriving while charging exorbitant fees because in most of the country the state sector doesn’t provide an education as good as is available here in Lincolnshire. The predictable left-wing response is to try and abolish independent schools – better that no one is allowed to excel than for some to excel because their parents have worked very hard to send them to a good school.

I recently organised a debate on grammar school funding to discuss the recent changes brought in by Liberal ministers in the Department for Education which created a disparity in the way grammar schools (and other schools with large Sixth Forms) are funded. Conservative Minister Nick Gibb praised Caistor Grammar School and Queen Elizabeth’s in Gainsborough for their “remarkable high-quality, high-standard” results.

Great Britain is competing in a global race for excellence, and if we are to produce the doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals we need, then we need to preserve and improve those centres of excellence we already have, in addition to improving standards in other schools.

Grammar schools are only part of the solution. Education isn’t just for the academic-minded, and there is nothing more foolish than arbitrarily deciding that everyone, no matter what their natural talents, inclination, or ability, must have an academic-style education.

As a Conservative, I think one of the greatest legacies of this Parliament will be the creation of forty-four new Studio Schools and forty-five University Technical Colleges linked directly to businesses. These new initiatives will help young people prepare for work while getting the skills and qualifications they need.

Apprenticeship opportunities have also increased vastly. Here in the Gainsborough constituency alone we’ve had 3,420 people start apprenticeships since the last election, with over 40,000 starting across the East Midlands region this year – a nationwide total of over 2 million since 2010.

We are making real progress giving people real opportunities to learn the skills in fields that actually interest them, rather than just dumping them into ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses at university to keep unemployment figures down. To secure the future of the country this forward momentum must be kept going, which is yet another reason to make sure a Conservative majority is secured at the General Election.

Sir Edward Leigh

MP for Gainsborough