Full Fact: Liz Truss was not the first prime minister to attend a comprehensive school

The fact checkers concluded that the prime minister’s claim was incorrect.

Liz Truss

During her leadership speech at the Conservative Party Conference, Liz Truss claimed that she is the first UK PM to have gone to a comprehensive school.

“I stand here today as the first prime minister of our country to have gone to a comprehensive school,” she said.

The statement caused confusion, sparking debate about how many and which of her predecessors had gone to a comprehensive school, most notably Theresa May and Gordon Brown. Many took to Twitter to share their bewilderment and belief that both May and Brown had been educated at comprehensive schools.

“She isn’t even the first female Tory PM of the last 5 years to go to a comprehensive school (May’s school was a comp when she was there),” wrote Russ Jones, author of ‘The Decade in Tory.’

The claim even contradicted information on the government’s own website that says May was educated at “both grammar school and comprehensive school.”

Still, people remained confused and unsure, surely the prime minister couldn’t get such a basic fact wrong in a leadership speech fighting for her premiership?

Independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact decided to not beat around the bush. After some comprehensive digging, they concluded that the prime minister’s claim was incorrect.

A spokesperson for Wheatley Park, a former grammar school near Oxford which became a comprehensive in 1971 when May attended it, told Full Fact that May joined the school when she was 13 “when the Upper School site was still Holton Girls Grammar School, and left it after her Sixth Form by which time it was the Upper School site of Wheatley Park Comprehensive School. The school was officially a comprehensive from September 1971.”

Debates whether Gordon Brown’s school, Kirkcaldy High School in Fife, was comprehensive when he went there have not yet been independently verified by Full Fact.

As the backlash and mockery of the PM’s claim escalated on social media, Andrew Neil, former GB News presenter and chairman of the Spectator entered the debate. Sticking up for Truss, Neil tweeted that Kirkcaldy High was not a comprehensive when Brown went to it. 

Though most rejected Truss’s claims, with some pointing out that Brown, Major, Thatcher, Heath, Wilson and Lloyd George all went to non-fee paying schools.

When asked about the other leaders who went to state schools, Truss’s press secretary said: “My understanding is this is quite complicated, and it changed halfway through and comps weren’t actually called comps until the 60s or something like that.

“I’m not going to do a pop quiz on former PMs’ schooling.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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