Philip Hammond’s Budget on 7 March, while continuing plans for large overall cuts in school funding, allocated money for new “free schools”. Some of those, the Tories, indicate, will be new selective secondary schools, “grammar schools”.
On 19 March, Lucy Powell, Labour shadow education minister until last year’s post-23-June mass resignations designed to push Jeremy Corbyn out, joined with Tory former education minister Nicky Morgan and Lib-Dem Nick Clegg to oppose this move. “All the evidence is clear that grammar schools damage social mobility”, they wrote in the Observer. “In highly selective areas children not in grammars do worse than their peers in non-selective areas”.
They are right about that. A Social Mobility Commission report at the end of February found that “Free School Meal pupils make the least progress in selective Local Authorities”. But the campaign against new grammar schools should be part of an active, lively, grassroots general campaign against the cuts in school budgets, drawing in students and teachers, rather than an alliance at the top with dissident Tories.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s current shadow education minister, has stressed the class dimension. “This is an ideological attack on the working-class people of this country being able to get a decent education... it’s about sucking money out of the current state public sector”. Rayner, however, has failed to lead local Labour Parties into building the needed activist anti-cuts campaigns.