Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has made clear his opposition to grammar schools. Photo Credit: Paul Heartfield
Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw said their record of admitting kids who are not from middle class backgrounds was “pretty woeful.”
His comments are a direct challenge to Theresa May, who has said she is “open minded” about lifting the ban on new selective state schools.
In a speech to the London Councils education summit today, Sir Michael said a return to selection based on ability “would be a profoundly retrograde step that would actually lead to overall standards sliding back, not improving”.
He pointed to the high performance of state schools in the capital proved that grammar schools were not needed.
“The soaring success of London schools – especially in inner-London – surely makes a mockery of the claim that opening up many more grammar schools is the key to unlocking the potential of disadvantaged children and to boosting social mobility,” he said.
“The question I would put to those clamouring for a return to selection by ability at the age of 11 is this: If grammar schools are the great answer, why aren’t there more of them in London?”
Sir Michael added: “I appreciate that many grammar schools do a fine job in equipping their students with an excellent education. But we all know that their record of admitting children from non-middle-class backgrounds is pretty woeful.
“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense – and is very clearly refuted by the London experience.”
The former headteacher said that instead of expanding the number of grammar schools, the Government should continue with the reforms started by Tony Blair and continued by Michael Gove, which took power away from local authorities and gave it to schools.
Speaking last month, Mrs May’s official spokeswoman refused to rule out the return of grammar schools.
“We need to build a country that works for everyone and not just a privileged few,” the spokeswoman said.
“That means every child being able to rise as far as their talents will take them.
“We should be open-minded about looking at what works in our education system, how do we deliver the best education system for our children.”
But senior Tory MPs have warned against the return of grammars.
Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, said grammar schools “may help some people but they also leave more people behind”.
His parliamentary colleague Mark Pritchard added: “It wasn’t in the party manifesto, it therefore lacks political legitimacy and I doubt it would have the support of the parliamentary party.”