Douglas Carswell

12 SEP 2016

One-size-fits-all education is intellectually bankrupt

Predictably, the education establishment – what Michael Gove used to call 'the blob' – is attacking plans for new grammar schools. "There's no evidence grammars improve social mobility", critics say. "They're retrograde." But this objection is a subterfuge. The real question is: does selection by ability improve learning?

The fact is, it's not just independent and grammar schools that select by ability. Comprehensives do it too. Streaming within comprehensive schools is now normal.

It's easy to forget that wasn't what comprehensive education was meant to be like. Originally, students of all abilities were taught together.


Certainly not because that was empirically proven to be better. Experience testifies that it's not.

Think back to when you were at school. How many times did you struggle because you felt teachers were moving too fast, or get bored because they were going too slowly?

Children – and adults – learn different subjects at different paces. It's easier to learn with people at the same level as you. That's why comprehensives started to stream.

The reason comprehensive education was initially one-size-fits all wasn't to get the best out of every pupil. It was to ensure every pupil got the same. The aim was equality of outcome. Schools were merely a tool for social engineering.

The comprehensive ideal is based on the premise that we are all born identical in ability, and only develop differently because some grow up more privileged than others.

That's not evidence. It's ideology. And it's false.

Diversity is natural. Education needs to be diverse because children are diverse.

To create a diverse education system, the government would need to go beyond setting up a few new grammar schools.

Why not allow schools freedom over what, how and whom they teach, with no centrally dictated national curriculum?

Why not give parents the legal right to control their share of the education budget, and educate their children the way they choose?

Whether grammars or academies or free schools, the education establishment always opposes any change to the system that might make it more diverse, and less wedded to bankrupt Marxist dogma.

Who's really retrograde here?

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