The UK government is currently proposing to bring back the grammar school system by allowing secondary schools to select students. According to the Prime Minister, this will ensure “Britain’s education system shifts decisively to support ordinary working class families.” The Foreign Secretary claims grammar schools are “a great mobiliser and liberator” that help the “brightest children from poor homes.” And the Department for Education claimed (falsely, as it later turned out) that “white working class boys” do better at grammars.
All this is rank hypocrisy. At the same time as promoting selection, the UK government is involved in cutting school budgets in real terms. A few ‘disadvantaged’ students might gain access to a new grammar school, but the vast majority of students eligible for free school meals face worse conditions with larger class sizes and fewer resources.
The government’s paternalistic approach allows it to present itself as a liberator. In reality, working class children who gain access to grammar schools are drawn into the establishment’s world view. Instead of developing into critical citizens, the ‘most promising’ are institutionalised and set up for a life of conformity. Big business benefits from the domestication of future managers; the political system survives through the promise of social mobility.
Although purportedly saving the ‘disadvantaged’, the only thing being saved is a capitalist system that has always brutalised and exploited the vast majority of students from poor backgrounds.