Nicky Morgan, Nick Clegg and Lucy Powell to lead grammar schools debate

Three political opponents will lead a debate on social mobility this afternoon after joining forces to fight the government’s plans to open new grammar schools.

Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, Lucy Powell, the former shadow education secretary and Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader have secured the debate, due to begin at around 3pm.

Officially, the debate will centre on the findings of the Social Mobility Commission’s latest annual state of the nation report, which last year warned of a large gap in the quality of education available to children in the poorest areas and those in the richest.

There is a lingering dissonance between the lip service paid to social mobility in government and policies such as new grammar schools

However, much of the discussion is likely to focus on the government’s plans to expand selection in England, a proposal which has prompted opposition from across the political divide and spurred a cross-party effort to block the ban on new grammar schools from being overturned.

In its report released last November, the Social Mobility Commission, led by former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, said schools in the country’s ten lowest-performing local authorities should be forced to undergo improvement programmes to ensure none are rated inadequate by Ofsted by 2020.

The commission warned of a “deep social mobility problem which is getting worse for an entire generation of young people”, and highlighted a widening geographical divide between “the big cities” and the counties across the country that are being “hollowed out socially” and economically.

Powell said social mobility had for too long been “about the council house to cabinet table story, leaving far too many people on the scrap heap”.

READ MORE: Tories could delay vote on grammar schools ban until after 2020 election

She said she and colleagues would “champion what works to improve social mobility”, including better early years services and good quality teaching, and would  “work to stop the expansion of selection in our education system which will not solve the social mobility crisis we face, but set it back”.

Morgan, who was sacked as education secretary by Theresa May last July, said education was a “key driver of social mobility” but warned that there are parts of the country where there is “little educational aspiration” and “under-performance is entrenched”.

“Tackling this should be the focus of government, not expanding selection,” she said.

Clegg, who established the commission five years ago when he was deputy prime minister in the coalition government, said there was a “lingering dissonance” between the “lip service paid to social mobility in government” and policies like new grammar schools, which, with system-wide budget cuts, “point in exactly the opposite direction”.

“This debate today provides an opportunity for MPs of all parties to signal to the prime minister that she must do more to close the yawning gap between her rhetoric and action when it comes to social mobility.”

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. I think that grammar schools are not the 21 century answer to the problem of social mobility. By offering a small hand-up to a few poor bright kids, grammars enable pushy parents to steer their offspring towards what they regard as free schooling for the priviledged elite. Maybe some kids are perceived to being brighter at aged 10/11 years because of better diet, consistant homework checks, autumn born-advantage, tutoring, home resources such as enrichment trips and materials, having parents that believe in their learning. Therefore, surely, by the very nature of the argument, these are the things that national taxpayers should be funding, i.e. catch up support for summer born kids, or those children with an autism for which early intervention can be life-changing. Why not just sent the truely ‘gifted’ 2% to independent schools would will receive them with open arms and use charitable status to fund-assist their places? The infrastructure is already in place, then concentrate on improving a cohesive, flexible and well-funded state system for ALL our precious children.

  2. Chalkface

    Theresa May and Nick Timothy went to Grammar schools. Timothy reportedly became a Tory at a young age because the Labour controlled Birmingham City Council wanted to close the remaining grammar schools in the city. Presumably this is why they want to bring them back in some misguided nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of the 11 plus. It’s no way to plan for the future of this nation’s schools system in the 21st century. You’ll not find many people who think that more grammars are the answer to better outcomes for all our children and young people.

    • Mark Watson

      I’m sorry but however much you wish it to be the case that not many people support grammars that’s not the reality.
      YouGov carried out a poll in August 2016 which came out with:
      62% of respondents would get their child to sit a grammar school entrance exam.
      67% of respondents would send their child to a grammar school if they passed.
      35% of respondents think grammar schools are good for social mobility, 27% think they make no difference and 19% think they’re bad for social mobility.
      Every poll shows there is substantial support for grammar schools from the general population.
      My opinion is that this doesn’t actually mean they are a good idea. ‘Public opinion’ does not automatically make something the right thing. Proper discussion and debate is needed on the issue. However those who are opposed to grammar schools need to start by accepting that general public opinion is currently in favour of them. Not accepting this means that your arguments won’t be taken seriously.

      • Chalkface

        Mark – flip the question around. Ask respondents whether they would like their child to go to a secondary modern school and note the response you would get.

        • Mark Watson

          That’s a good point, and one which perhaps YouGov should have asked. But the point I’m trying to make is not argue whether grammar schools are a good idea or not. Quite genuinely I’m still undecided on the point because I see validity in the arguments being made on both sides.
          What frustrates me is that from what I see and understand the overwhelming majority of people within the education sector are against grammar schools. However the majority of people within the general population seem to be in favour of grammar schools. I’m not saying that makes the central principle right or wrong, simply that in my view pretending that the Government is trying to railroad through a programme that is universally disliked is not correct.
          Like it or loathe it, grammar schools are a popular concept. If you fall into the ‘loathe it’ camp then accept that your challenge is to change the opinion of the majority. It can be done, but not by starting from the point that everyone already agrees with you.

        • Mark Watson

          Incidentally, I know it’s not a direct answer to the point you make, but according to the YouGov poll, when asked if grammar schools, improve social mobility, damage social mobility, or
          made no real difference – those people who went to a secondary modern school were twice as likely to say grammar schools improved social mobility (30%) as damaged social mobility (15%). Albeit with a sizable chunk (33%) who thought they made no difference.
          This same group of secondary modern school attendees were also keener for the government to build more grammar schools (33%) rather than scraping them all (23%).
          Now it is clear that secondary modern school attendees are not as supportive of selective education as those that went to grammar and private schools (not exactly surprising I would suggest), but more of them do seem to support the grammar school system than oppose it. And these are the people that actually lived with the flip-side of grammar schools.

  3. Janet Downs

    It’s become a truism that education is ‘key driver’ of social mobility. But education’s role in social mobility is actually limited. Social mobility, if measured by raising people out of poverty, is more dependent on the supply of secure jobs which pay a fair wage and social policies which help lift people from poverty. If, however, social mobility is measured by children being in ‘better’ jobs than their parents, there must come a time when social mobility stalls. The more parents who are professional or in ‘middle-class’ jobs, the less likely it is that their children will reach higher levels of employment.

    • Mark Watson

      Oooooh, you can sense the glee behind that post can’t you?!!
      Of course as usual we’re not getting an entirely objective analysis of the figures. Although only one grammar school didn’t have to take any second-choice preferences to reach their PAN, one other needed to take one pupil, two needed to take three pupils and one needed to take four pupils.
      It also might have been slightly relevant to point out that Lincolnshire seems to be rather unusual looked at objectively given that over the whole county there are 1,035 vacancies (over 11% of the PAN). Not that reflective of the national picture I would suggest.
      And is it too obvious to point out that just because this is happening in one county (which doesn’t look a typical county) it doesn’t mean that this is reflected nationally.
      The article you link to quotes Justine Greening as saying “selective and grammar schools are often hugely over-subscribed”. I would suggest that you have conveniently overlooked the use of the word ‘often’. According to Edubase there are 163 grammars located in 36 different local authorities. If you can come back and show that more than 82 grammars have vacancies then you will be entitled to make your statement. Otherwise it just looks like your being selective over the data you’re analysing …

      • Janet Downs

        Mark – it doesn’t follow that in pointing out that ten Lincolnshire grammars still have vacancies on allocation that I am expressing ‘glee’. As happens all too frequently, you presume to guess my motivation.
        You’re right that Lincolnshire isn’t typical. But then no selective county can be described as typical. Some, like Lincolnshire and Kent are fully selective. Others have pockets of selection. But Lincolnshire, like Kent, is one of the largest counties to have retained selection. And, as I pointed out in my linked article, ten Kent grammars had vacancies on allocation in 2016.
        Re selectivity – unfortunately I was only able to find public data for Lincolnshire (2017) and Kent (2016). I have since found the data for Poole and will be updating my LSN article accordingly.

        • Mark Watson

          Have to agree it’s hard to find the data. I had a quick browse yesterday and didn’t have much joy.
          But the data you’ve found for Poole does support Justine Greening’s statement. Both the grammar schools in Poole are oversubscribed. I guess whether or not they are ‘massively’ or ‘hugely’ oversubscribed’ is a matter of personal interpretation (one was oversubscribed by 173%, the other by 162%).
          In relation to Greening’s statement, I’m not sure whether three comprehensives in Poole being oversubscribed, and three being undersubscribed, is directly relevant. (Of course it is important, but just not to the issue under discussion).

          • Janet Downs

            Mark – I have since found official data for Bucks, an advisory website re data for Kent and a newspaper article re Greater Manchester. I’ve added comments to my LSN article above.
            The comment about comps also being oversubscribed is relevant because the argument being put forward to justify building more grammars is that grammars are oversubscribed. This argument, surely, could also apply to comprehensives and be used to justify building more of them.
            But judging popularity by counting all preferences rather than just the first is misleading.
            I shan’t be looking for more data. But if you find any, please provide it in a comment on LSN.

      • Janet Downs

        Re Justine Greening’s use of ‘often’. Perhaps she’s not convinced grammars are always ‘hugely oversubscribed’. She told Robert Peston (9 October 2016):

        …in many parts of the country where grammars are, the places are massively oversubscribed, we want to respond to that.’

        Note the use of ‘many’. This could imply that in other parts of the country grammars are not ‘massively oversubscribed’. This seems to be the case in Lincolnshire for September 2017.