In recent weeks, the debate upon the merit of grammar Schools has been reignited after the government recently proposed investing £500 Million in “free schools”, that could become grammar schools at a later date when the ban on building new grammar schools has been lifted. The fact that there even is a ban on the building of grammar schools in the United Kingdom should tell you straight away that this is a controversial issue.
In 1997, the socialist Labour government of Tony Blair enacted legislation to prevent any further building of new grammar schools by designating to define the 167 state schools which were entitled to maintain academic selections as a means for enrolment. The left is now more against selective education than ever, an argument for which they produce the most bizarre statistics with suspicious lack of source to demonstrate that selective education has ‘no baring on outcomes’. This is a very strange point to attempt to make, considering the pupils of 164 grammar schools in the United Kingdom make up more than 50% of the ‘A’ grades in more difficult A level subjects (set against over 2,000 comprehensive schools).
The arguments of the right however, do not hold much greater merit than those of the left. Conservatives have always attempted to make the argument that selective education aids social mobility, particularly for children from poorer backgrounds. Whilst this is true of a some cases, the ‘rags to riches’ stories of the overachieving boy from the council estate are most definitely of the minority. The figures back this up; only 3% of students attending grammar school are entitled to free schools meals (widely considered to be a good indicator of poverty), compared to 18% of students amongst the population at large.
The truth of the matter (as we shall explore later on) is that children from extremely poor backgrounds generally will achieve the same outcome in life as their parents. This is not because of lack of opportunity or ‘the racist government’ as our supposedly learned friends on the left claim, but for the most part a matter of genetics and more broadly, Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest.
So if it does not particularly improve social mobility, then what is the purpose of selective education?
Quite simply, selective education serves as a means to ensure that the natural order or, if you like, Darwinism takes it proper course. Grammar schools are a way of complimenting and assisting the natural circle of life, whilst also acting as a way of picking up the anomalies to ensure that talented students never fall by the wayside (the small number of ‘rags to riches’ stories, as mentioned previously).
This is because IQ, the best indicator of one’s ability to learn and process new ideas, is largely hereditary. All major studies conducted on this topic have found the heritability of IQ to be somewhere between 0.7 and 0.8, with scientists usually agreeing on a mean of 0.75. This means that effectively, where you will figure on the chart of intellect is 75% decided before you’ve even uttered your first words. The remaining 25% is generally accepted to be influenced by your environment and social group.
The relevance of this to the grammar schools debate is that children with a high intellect and capacity to process and adapt to new ideas should be given the chance to nurture those attributes in a complimentary environment. This way, the 25% of intellectual capacity that is accepted to be influenced by one’s environment can be complimented rather than negated, as would happen if a high IQ child were to be in an environment of predominantly low IQ children. By separating children based on intellect we will avoid a situation whereby otherwise intelligent children will be brought down and have their potential sucked out by less intelligent peers and a poorer standard of education.
This is not to say that we should not strive for the very best across the board. Children who are not amongst the ‘elite’ in terms of their natural intelligence should not be written off as one large bloc of undesirables, for within this group there will be a great many children who are within a band that have a strong enough base level IQ for a positive environment to lift them to a high standard. This is why having a choice only between grammar and comprehensive is a bad idea, there should be a middle ground for those who have reasonable ability that can be complimented by a positive educational environment.
We are all well aware that non-selective state schools, mostly within the major cities, are of a very poor standard indeed with the failure rate at GCSE and A level quite frankly a national disgrace. This further enhances an argument for a greater focus on selection and a broader choice for parents, who could for example have the choice between sending their child to a ‘middle ground’ school as opposed to lumping them in with lower IQ children simply because they didn’t quite make the cut for grammar school.
It is also true that we have too little flexibility within our selective education system. The problem is that we only select children at the age of 11 (if at all), whereas the scientific data would suggest we should put blanket selective examinations on all children at various stages in their education. This is because the heritability of IQ has been found to be lower amongst young children (0.2 in infancy, 0.4 age 3-6, etc) compared with that of older children, so selecting once at the age of 11 is perhaps not the best idea.
An idea that could work better for example, would be to put children through a standard test of their responsiveness to new ideas and theories upon entering the school system at age 5, then testing their abilities again at the ages of 11 and then 14 in preparation for their GCSE examinations and so on. This would ensure that ‘late bloomers’ did not slip through the net and could access the very best in terms of educational standards, whilst also ensuring that the best schools were not carrying under-performers who invariably negatively impact the environment for the brighter students.
Having said this, it is an undeniable truth that some educational selection is better than no selection at all. The left disagree, seemingly on the grounds that they dislike anything natural and completely disregard Darwin’s theory in typical Marxist fashion. They desire state-enforced equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity as they claim, because deep down they know that man is not born equal. True equality of opportunity arises from selective education, for every child has the opportunity to sit the examination for grammar school and try to be a part of the cream that rises to the top.