Britain’s social mobility czar has cast doubt on Liz Truss’ plans to revive grammar schools in England, arguing they mainly benefit children whose families can afford to coach them to pass entrance exams.
Katharine Birbalsingh, the school principal named last year by Truss who chaired the government’s Commission on Social Mobility said selective schools were educating few disadvantaged or working-class pupils because they were struggling to win places.
“The problem with colleges today is that because there is such an industry around preparing kids to get into colleges, if you don’t have the resources or the money to prepare your child to get in, then you can be left out.” Birbalsingh said in an interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari.
“You look at high schools and think, how many kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are there, how many working-class kids are there? There aren’t that many these days.
“It is not wrong to suggest that i [past] colleges would propel certain working-class kids forward. I’m not sure they do that much today.”
Kit Malthouse, the education secretary, said this week that Truss wanted to “accommodate the strong desire of quite a few parents to reflect the benefits that many got from colleges in the wider education system. And then we will certainly break with that and see where we go.”
Birbalsingh said she looked forward to hearing how Malthouse planned to solve the selection problem, which she suggested “didn’t exist” in 1975. The creation of new colleges has been banned in England since 1998, but Truss is said to be keen to lift the ban.
Campaigners against selection say the tests favor those who have been privately tutored or attend independent schools, leaving few places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The problem with exams is that they never test raw ability. They often test preparation for them, which is right and proper,” said Birbalsingh. “But if you haven’t had that kind of preparation, how are you supposed to compete with those who have? That’s the problem with colleges.”
Birbalsingh is the founder of Michaela community school in Wembley, north-west London, known for her firm discipline and high academic standards – which has led to her being known as “Britain’s strictest head teacher”.