Primary Education News

7 Aug '13

News Welsh Tories' dual-education system proposal provokes storm of criticism

Labour attacks Angela Burns for her suggestion that the party revisit 'the successful elements of grammar schools'

A call to reintroduce elements of the grammar school system by the Conservatives in Wales has provoked a storm of criticism from the party's political opponents.

Angela Burns, the party's spokesperson for education in Wales, suggested that if the Tories won power at the Welsh assembly they would aim to separate children into two streams at the age of 14: educational and vocational.

Burns said: "It is time we put the grammar back into education." She attacked the ruling Labour party's record on education, claiming: "Standards are down across the board. Teachers are fraught and demoralised, the red tape is encyclopaedic, we lose too many young people in the system, the best and brightest are not encouraged and those from chaotic or deprived homes are still unable to break free of the bonds that tie them."

Spelling out that the party in Wales would be prepared to go down a different route from other parts of the UK, she said: "We must be prepared to step up, recognise our different needs and build policies fit for the Welsh people."

Her comments may reopen the debate in the Conservative party about grammar schools. David Cameron is against increasing selective education in England, a stance which frustrates many within the party. Education is a devolved power in Wales, giving the Tories there the option to formulate different policies to the national party.

Burns made clear that the party was not proposing a return to the 11-plus exam. "Selection at age 11 was unfair and weighted very much against children who have turbulent home lives. And if you were a child with artisan skills or a vocational dream you were disenfranchised by the system."

But she continued: "I think it is time that we revisited the successful elements of grammar schools and sought apply it to a modern Welsh system.

If we did that we might again see a Wales where excellence is championed in a dual education system. Instead of separating academic children from their more vocational counterparts, we could see the benefit of creating two equitable streams of education, one alongside the other, a dualling that begins at 14 — giving children the chance to develop important core subject skills before embarking on their chosen path."

Burns' comments were attacked by Labour.

Using the hashtag #backtothefuture, the Welsh education minister Huw Lewis tweeted: "I thought someone was pulling my leg when I was told about Welsh Tory idea of re-introducing grammar schools."

He called the announcement "totally muddled", pointing out there was no detail about whether the two streams would attend the same school or different ones and what exams they would take and claimed that the Welsh government was committed to excellent schools for all rather than "encouraging a parental scramble for advantage".

Lewis added: "Tories need to be honest. National Association of Grammar Schools define themselves as schools that select on academic ability."

The shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith said the Tory proposal would be a "retrograde" step. Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport North West, said the grammar school system had been "cruel" and had blighted the lives of many youngsters.


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