Debunking the Lib Dems on Grammars [Op-Ed]

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The MP for Manchester North unveiled the governments plans for a Grammar School revolution in the country.

Recently my friend the member for Manchester North revealed the governments ambitious programme for Grammar Schools which was contained in the Queen’s speech and our manifesto. Somewhat scathingly, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson and their  other ‘liberal’ colleagues were out in full force attacking more choice in the education sector, and promoting a one size fits all approach, backed by the flawed philosophy that  all children the same.

Let’s remember the Liberal ‘Democrats’ are now opposed to democratically formed grammar schools,but this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone considering they were willing to shut grammar schools against the wishes of local residents and parents before Libertarian MP’s spoke on the matter.

The Education spokesperson from the Lib Dems was clearly trying to flirt with the hard-left in solidarity, winning praise from the former Shadow Chancellor.

So let’s have a look at the first claim.

Polling states that no more than 40% of the British Public support the opening of additional grammar schools.

Unless the Liberal Democrats have been hiding under a rock, they will note that the Libertarian Party are now the second most popular party in Britain thoroughly trouncing the Lib Dems and others at the ballot box. We placed grammar schools at the heart of our education policy and this has been embraced up and down the country, across wide ranging communities. So it would be accurate to say that swathes of the population back the reopening of grammar schools. The Conservatives have also been at the front of the fight against the Sunrise government’s education reforms with the vast majority of Tory MP’s being pro building more grammar schools and they have been elected. We all know the Lib Dems don’t like democracy, this is the party that tried to cancel the vote to leave the single market and the European Union but using one of polls to make their point is a pathetic attempt.

Anyway let us have a look at the poll which is four years out of date and ignores the election and the growing rise of the LPUK and the fact the Conservatives have been pro grammar schools.

Even the poll the Lib Dems are referring to suggests more people wish to create more grammar schools than want to abolish them. ‘Don’t Know’ could easily swing the argument either way. I don’t know about you but I consider 38% of the population to be swathes of the population. So now we’ve established that the poll is four years out of date, and once the data is in context the Lib Dem argument looks far weaker.

We know the Lib Dems like their bar chart, but this one takes the biscuit.

Yet, what was intriguing is that in the same set of polling it showed that ⅔ of people would send their child to a grammar school and more people thought that grammar schools were good for social mobility rather than bad.  In fact people thinking grammar schools were good for social mobility was the most popular opinion. Shockingly, Mr Womble purposefully left this out. I would argue the numbers would be higher today given the domination of pro school choice parties and of course unlike Womble I won’t use four year old polls to back up my arguments. If we do however want to use out of date data, [I would recommend reading this from 2010 which suggests young people back more grammars and that they are rather popular.

Let’s begin with the first actual pieces of data raised.

The government suggests this move will somehow improve social mobility: which is why less than 3% of current grammar school students obtain free school meals vs 15% for non-selective. Why less than 5% of current grammar school students are considered to have SEN and none have an EHCP [vs 12% and 2%respectively]

First of all free schools are a poor reflection of social mobility as it considers the top 85% of the population as a homogenous group, ignoring the very large differences between pupils from the 20th and 80th percentiles. The actual reality is that 45% of students that attend Grammar schools are from households who earn below the median income. That’s right Womble, nearly half of those attending grammars are from the disadvantaged half of the population. 

So when it comes to Free School meals and the comprehensive education sector which the Lib Dems worship as the solution, what does the data tell us? Well the reality is that the disparity pointed in Grammar schools with regards to free schools meals with a poor metric to anyone with a shred of statistical integrity. only 9.4 per cent of pupils are eligible for Free School Meals in the 500 top-performing comprehensives, comparable to 15 per cent of the population in England. So the question for the Liberal Democrats is what steps are they going to take to level down the best performing comprehensive schools so they can be equal to other schools on a poor metric. Let’s take a look at some statistics:

– The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and the other pupils is 4.3% in grammar schools compared with the national average gap of 27.8, delivering for disadvantaged pupils. 

– State school pupils in the most disadvantaged quintile have double the chance of progressing to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area in contrast to a non selective area.

– Those with a BME background are over 5X to go to oxbridge if they live in a selective area in contrast to a non selective area.

Whilst the Lib Dems think about how they will level down, this government will level up, promoting a good quality for all providing parents and children with a whole host of options. 
When we look at academic evidence, we find that many arguments by the opponents of Grammar Schools falls apart. A paper titled Peer Effects, Teacher Incentives, and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya by  Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas, and Michael Kremer investigated the impact of tracking in Kenya. I shall quote their conclusion their below:

“In a tracking school is 0.14 standard deviations higher than that of a student in a nontracking school. These effects are persistent. One year after the program ended, students in tracking schools performed 0.16 standard deviations higher than those in nontracking schools. Moreover, tracking raised scores for students throughout the initial distribution of student achievement. A regression discontinuity design approach reveals that students who were very close to the fiftieth percentile of the initial distribution within their school scored similarly on the endline exam whether they were assigned to the top or bottom section. In each case, they did much better than their counterparts in nontracked schools”

Of course the arguments against tracking are that better off students would benefit whilst the bottom end of students are left behind however it is clear that tracking and selection works. Putting students in learning environment which are appropriate for their ability leads to more efficient educational outcomes, this is exactly what grammars do.

Grammar schools are perhaps even life changing for those that get into them. As a middle class immigrant, my grammar school gave me an environment where I could flourish and was tailored to me. I shall be forever in gratitude to the selective system, my parents were not wealthy billionaires or multi millionaires and the grammar system helped me serve as DPM as three times, Chancellor twice and hold multiple positions of power.  The Labour frontbench have historically send their children to the most elite of institutions whilst criticising the grammar system. That’s because they know grammar schools give ordinary people a shot and can rival private education. Unlike those on the left who have sent their kids and attended a grammar school I will never kick away the ladder I benefited from instead I will help everyone child get the opportunity to climb that ladder. 

Selection is part of life, why do we not move towards a selective university system? At what age does selection become acceptable? For those that make arguments of ‘muh tutoring’, I don’t see them to rushing to abolish GCSE’s and A-Levels and selective universities. Why? Because they know its a bad argument, there will always be tutoring however the government is lifting all schools up giving people a chance to succeed. Furthermore the government will be establishing a commission to look into how school should conduct entry, so it is likely we will see transfer exams for late developers.

Our system ensures both comprehensive and grammars are funded and that school choice is maintained. Our bold grammar school building programme will bolster school choice and opportunity and I’m pleased that we have numbers in parliament for it and that we can finally turn the page on the lefts assault on our education sector.


Mansfield, I. (n.d.). The Impact of Selective Secondary Education on Progression to Higher Education. [online] Available at:

Duflo, E., Dupas, P. and Kremer, M. (2011). Peer Effects, Teacher Incentives, and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya. The American Economic Review, [online] 101(5), pp.1739–1774. Available at: [Accessed 27 Sep. 2020].

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