PMQs: Jeremy Corbyn grills PM Theresa May on grammar schools

Prime Minister struggles to justify selection policy


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

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