The Week

The Week, 24 June 2022

After several bonanza weeks of policy announcements, we’ve hit a cold spot. Strikes, by-elections and the Northern Ireland protocol have dominated the news cycle. At least, we’re told, the PM is no longer going to pick a fight with Prince Charles.

One (more) fight the Government does look intent on picking — both with a chunk of it’s own party and anyone with a commitment to evidence-based policy making — is grammar schools. The PM is said to be considering agreeing to the demands of a backbench pressure group calling for the ban on new selective schools to be lifted. That’s what happens when your authority is shot — exhibit 1, the canning of sensible anti-obesity plans — you default to pleasing rather than leading.

As one of her first acts as Prime Minister, Theresa May launched a consultation on allowing both the expansion of existing selective schools and establishment of new ones. We at Reform, like many many others, were against it: you can read our submission here. Perhaps the most damning argument against is that while (the few) pupils from low-income backgrounds who attend a grammar do make more progress, those pupils attending non-selective schools in a selective area make less progress. That consultation was back in 2016, and unless there’s new evidence showing that selection can indeed be the engine of social mobility grammar school proponents claim, lifting the ban remains a bad idea. We encourage the Government to instead focus on driving up standards and tackling the attainment gap in all schools.

Talking of Social mobility, the Social Mobility Commission this week published their State of the Nation 2022 report. The Commission has produced a new approach to measuring social mobility, with three sets of metrics — drivers, intermediate outcomes, mobility outcomes. The report has a more upbeat tone than previous versions, arguing that things are not as bad as the “popular narrative” suggests, but it’s hard to see how a narrative based on ‘not everything is worse, some things are actually staying the same’ is really a positive. It also takes aim at what it sees as a narrow focus on getting disadvantaged young people into elite universities and the professions, arguing that any mobility is good. I’m not sure anyone has argued that isn’t the case, but given the dominance of the professions in the country’s decision-making, ensuring more people from low-income backgrounds make up those workforces is vital.