Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 11 August 2016

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: Lionel Barber’s honour; Clive Lee and the value of objects; Howse, Parris and Loveday

Those who want to revive grammar schools are accused of ‘bring backery’ — the unthinking idea that the past was better. But many of their accusers suffer from the rigid mindset of which they complain. They say that grammar schools ‘condemned most children to failure at the age of 11’, and that, even at their peak, grammars catered for less than 20 per cent of the school population. Why assume that the return of grammars must re-create either of these things? Grammar schools grew up, historically, in different ways and at different times. Then, in the mid‑20th-century mania for uniformity, they were standardised and, in the later 20th-century mania for comprehensives, almost completely abolished. All that should happen now is that grammar schools should recover the freedom to exist, with the support of public money. There could be none in some places, lots in others; with different, or multiple, entry years; single-sex, or coeducational; including fee-paying pupils, or not; and so on. The really big policy change would be that the state would be prepared once again to help fund selective schools. They wouldn’t even have to be called grammar schools, but it would be a good reminder of the foundations of education if they were.

Congratulations to Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, who accidentally revealed that he is to be awarded the French Légion d’Honneur for his ‘positive role in the European debate’. One’s only slight sadness is that Mr Barber has had to look abroad for such recognition. In his resignation list, David Cameron has showered honours on similarly ‘positive’ Remainers in his entourage, but ungratefully omitted the media. So more Légions d’Honneur, please, for Katharine Viner, the editor of the Guardian, Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor of the Economist, and the entire staff of the BBC.

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