An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times on the grammar schools debate in Britain:

The fact that neither selective nor nonselective school systems have improved social mobility in Britain might suggest that the problem lies in the very idea of using schools to engineer a more equal society. A decent education system can help a few individuals progress beyond the circumstances of their birth, but it is unlikely to change fundamentally the social and economic structures that entrench inequality and restrain social mobility.


In focusing on social mobility, what has gone missing is the idea of education as a good in itself. One of the reasons people regard grammar schools with nostalgia is that they seem to represent a standard of good education. But they do so for only a few.


At the heart of selective schooling is the assumption that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are better off getting ‘vocational’ training rather than being intellectually challenged. The trouble is, that sentiment has persisted in the nonselective schools, too. The result is that Britain has ended up with a state system in which every child receives an equally mediocre education.

Read the full article in the International New York Times.


  1. Tim Smithers

    Please, what is the picture at the top: who’s it by, or where’s it from? You usually say.

  2. Many comprehensives were no better – and remain no better – than the secondary moderns they replaced. There was a poverty of ambition, which remains to this day. Partly due to the old, hand-me-down anti-intellectual bias of many English working-class people.

    We can’t expect society to reflect our schools, by means of social engineering. Our schools are bound to reflect our society.

  3. Commentators on all sides seem to think that being intellectually Dull is the unforgivable sin.

    Our schools must help the Dull (of whatever social background) as well as the Bright.

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