PMQs: Jeremy Corbyn grills PM Theresa May on grammar schools

Prime Minister struggles to justify selection policy

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Theresa May was on the back foot today as Jeremy Corbyn took apart her plans for new grammar schools at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Labour Party leader began by joking that May had united people in opposition to her proposals, before asking if she can name an expert who backs her plans:

‘I want to congratulate the Prime Minister. She has brought about unity – of Ofsted and the teaching unions. She’s united former Education Secretaries on both sides of the House. She’s truly brought about a new era of unity in education thinking.

I wonder if it’s possible for her this morning, within the quiet confines of this House, to name any educational experts who back her proposals on new grammar schools and more selection?’


When the Prime Minister failed to answer the question, Corbyn quoted a teacher on the problems with the plans, before citing Kent as an example of the failures of grammar schools:

‘In Kent, which has a grammar schools system, 27 per cent of the pupils on free school meals get five GCSEs, compared with 45 per cent in London.

We’re all for spreading good practice, but why does the Prime Minister want to expand a system that can only let children down?’

May replied that the Labour leader should ‘stop casting his mind back to the 1950s’, and said her plans would address the problem of failing schools. She added:

‘I know the Right Honourable Gentleman believes in equality of outcome. I believe in equality of opportunity. He believes in levelling down, we believe in levelling up.’

Corbyn replied:

‘Mr Speaker, ‘equality of opportunity’ is not segregating children at the age of 11.’

He might have added a brief defence of equality of outcomes. As former Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth, whose book addresses grammar schools, said on Twitter:

However, this was a strong performance from Corbyn, who has been criticised for sticking to script and not responding to what the PM says.

Theresa May failed to defend her half-baked policy, which was unveiled early after being revealed by accident, and relied on prepared soundbites that fell flat in the Commons chamber.

Corbyn went on:

‘Let me quote the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said, ‘those in selected areas who don’t pass the 11-plus do worse than they would have done in a comprehensive system’.’

Corbyn grilled the PM about the details of her policy, and quoted her predecessor, David Cameron, criticising grammars. He added:

‘Isn’t he correct that what we need is investment in all of our schools, a good school for every child, not this selection at age 11?’

He also quoted Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, calling the claim poor children will benefit from the new policy ‘tosh and nonsense’, before Corbyn made a broader criticism of the government’s education record:

‘Isn’t this proof that the Conservative Party’s green paper addresses none of the actual crises facing our school system?

Real terms cuts in schools’ budgets, half a million pupils in super-size classes, a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, a rising number of unqualified teachers in classrooms, vital teaching assistants losing their jobs.

Isn’t this the case of a government heading backwards to a failed segregation for the few and second-class schooling for the many?

Can’t we do better than this?’

See: ‘Ludicrous’, ‘divisive’, ‘a return to the 1950s’ – critics slam May’s grammar school plans

12 Responses to “PMQs: Jeremy Corbyn grills PM Theresa May on grammar schools”

  1. D White

    I assume May considers that Grammar Schools will have better teachers, better curriculums and better social structure. If this is so then why have Grammar schools at all when those better teachers, better curriculums and better social structures can be introduced into the existing schools, in particular those which May must think are under performing or do not have good teachers and curriculums etc. Clearly she does want segregation and it is her that is going backwards to the 50’s not Corbyn. In 1957 I left school having failed my 11 plus which failure meant no Grammar for me but being at the half way mark meant a “Central” school for me, the rest of the failures at worse levels having to settle for “secondary moderns”. Fortunately the latter two merged into Comprehensives which gave all an equal chance except of course for the still existing Grammar schools. Unfortunately my re-classified school still remained an all boys school. The only mischief we could conduct behind the bike shed was smoking. Aaah those comprehensives had all the fun!

  2. J. Cheesbrough

    It seems to me that we are reverting back to the good old days of “Sink Schools” Hive off the brightest at the age of eleven, then let the rest rot. Well, PM, not every child starts off bright at the age of eleven. A lot of very smart children mature much later, but what the heck, they must have been losers anyway. Is that about right? What’s that? Didn’t think of that?

  3. EX Comp!

    The problem here is that all the “evidence” that keeps being touting is based on NOW – when Grammar schools are not available to most people. The PM is exploring a vision where that might be changed – so that those, for whom Grammar education would be a real boost – have a decent chance of getting it – irrespective of finance.

    Present Grammars are part of the system she wants to fix – if there were lots more, the whole set up would be different.. and why not allocate places at 14 – when we really know what each young person is going to be suited to..

    Academies/Comps. can be great for all their pupils – but not for every young person.

  4. Alan King

    Why oh why do successive governments have to keep fiddling about with the education system? They have surely got more important matters to attend to.

  5. Mike Stallard

    Blimey!
    Where did Mr Corbyn go to school? Where did most (not all) of his colleagues go to school? How many of them actually eat to private school or sent or are about to send their won children there to escape the local Comp?
    Mrs May was the daughter of a poor person (I am a Vicar’s son myself) and she was saved from the Sec Mod by her exam. She wants to extend the privilege.
    Mr Corbyn and his team of hypocrites look really stupid on this one.

  6. Martyn Wood-Bevan

    Easy win for Jeremy Corbyn who knows his stuff and has decided to become more assertive in PMQ’s, putting Mrs. May in a less secure place. More vocal and social media support from his MP’s, which could easily be built on. It is true, as Michael Portillo said about the last Queen’s Speech, that the Tories have virtually no new ideas…

  7. Dean Richards

    Mike, you say May was “saved” from the Sec Mod, so I assume you view attending one as a negative. Don’t you agree then, that by reinstating this system, she’s condemning hundreds of thousands of children to a lifetime of lower opportunities compared to their peers who may be lucky enough to attend a grammar?

  8. Monty Giles

    I failed the 11+ in 1952 and left school to start work as a clerk with no qualifications. By evening studies over a period of several years, I managed to get onto a degree course and eventually obtained a first in maths and subsequently a PhD in physics. A couple of decades later I was awarded a DSc for my scientific work during that period. A selection procedure that cannot spot that level of potential in a child is seriously flawed and wildly inaccurate and thus utterly useless in my opinion. Worse still, it can be traumatic in an enduring way for the individual in the face of the family disappointment and the general contempt it can engender when regarded as a failure. And what for? Both my sons attended comprehensive schools here in Newcastle and still managed to get into Oxford and do well there.

  9. Robyn Highart

    What a surprise. A privileged, academic failure doesn’t want people to be selected based on their aptitude and most of all, an actual will to learn and learn in an environment with like-minded people. Not a scream-chamber of idiots. I went to a comprehensive secondary school. One of the best days of my life was when I started education in a selective sixth form.

    Does real life work like this? Do employers not care about someone’s work ethic of intelligence? This man is on another planet. Thank God he will never be elected. Not even his own party members want him there.

  10. Sally Wells

    ((Mr Speaker, ‘equality of opportunity’ is not segregating children at the age of 11.’))

    Neither is segregating children at the age of 5 into religious silos, aka faith schools.

  11. Dave Eyre

    I passed the 11+ and went to a Grammar school. As a test of intelligence it was total round spherical objects. The school I went to had a four form entry of 30 students in a class = 120 students.

    Have a guess how many people passed the 11+ that year? Well it was exactly 120. Wasn’t that a remarkable coincidence?

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