Getting Theresa May’s grammar school policy through Parliament won’t be a walk in the park for the Government.

If Theresa May is serious about her misguided plans for new grammar schools (and her words in Saturday’s Daily Mail seem to suggest that she’s deadly serious) then she has a serious fight on her hands.

The Conservatives currently have a working Parliamentary majority of just seventeen. This means that in theory, they should be able to pass this policy into law with ease. However, this ignores several key points.

Firstly, although the expansion of grammar schools has long been a policy which works well to excite the base of the Conservative Party, it is not an issue which the Parliamentary Party universally agree upon. Several high-profile members of the Cameron administration (including the ex-PM himself) harbour serious doubts about the wisdom of allowing new grammar schools to open. It was for these reasons that David Cameron didn’t pursue the opening of new grammar schools whilst he was in Government. Former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan criticised the government’s plans this week, saying: “I believe that an increase in pupil segregation on the basis of academic selection would be at best a distraction from crucial reforms to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap and at worst risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reform.” It is well known that this view is shared by Mrs Morgan’s predecessor as Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Both Morgan and Gove remain very influential amongst the modernising wing of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and so don’t be surprised if they work to derail the Prime Minister’s plans. After all, both are still smarting after being sacked from the Cabinet in Theresa May’s July reshuffle.

Morgan’s reservations were echoed by Neil Carmichael, the head of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, who said that the grammar school policy could, “distract us from our fundamental task of improving social mobility.” With no fewer than five other Conservative MPs having already expressed reservations about the plans, and current Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening not appearing wild about the idea, the Government’s majority is suddenly beginning to look very slim indeed.

Add to this the fact that the introduction on new grammar schools was not a part of the Conservative Party’s 2015 General Election manifesto, and the prospect of the policy passing through Parliament begins to look even more improbable. The Salisbury Convention means that, as a general rule, the House of Lords do not oppose the passage of legislation which has been promised in a party’s winning election manifesto. However, opening new grammar schools was not promised in the Conservative election manifesto. UKIP were in fact the only party who campaigned upon a platform of opening new grammar schools. This means that the House of Lords have free rein to reject the bill. Seeing as the Conservative Party do not have a majority in the House of Lords, it is to be expected that Labour and Liberal Democrat peers would be successful in voting down the bill.

In addition, although opinion polls suggest that the public are in favour of new grammar schools being opened, there hardly seems to be public clamour for the policy. In his column in Sunday’s Observer, Andrew Rawnsley suggested that the polls were misleading and simply suggested high support for grammar schools because most people don’t know what grammar schools really are, and what more of them would actually mean. This seems to be a somewhat accurate analysis. Perhaps a more pertinent question would be to poll the electorate on their support for the return of Secondary Moderns, the hated institutions where those who didn’t get into a grammar school ended up. Although Theresa May has said that new grammar schools would not mean a return to Secondary Moderns, it is hard to see what else it could mean. When this becomes clear, it would be unsurprising to see poll numbers in support of new grammar schools fall rapidly.

Overall, this plan seems a complete waste of time for Theresa May and her Government. The chances of getting it through Parliament appear slim at best. Ultimately, if she really wants to open new grammar schools then she will need to call an early election to gain her own mandate for the plans. Yes, that early election that the Prime Minister keeps insisting she won’t be calling.

Alternatively, she could continue governing and aim for some actual reform rather than a rehashed policy aimed purely at appeasing the Conservative Party base.

The government’s support for new grammar schools is misguided.

Whilst proponents of grammar schools argue that they increase academic attainment and social mobility, this is not really the case.

On Saturday, The Telegraph reported that Theresa May was set to reverse the ban on new grammar schools first introduced by Tony Blair in 1998, with the change possibly being announced as early as the Conservative Party conference in October.

Such a change in policy will delight Conservative backbenchers who grew frustrated throughout David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister over his refusal to budge on the issue, as he focused on the expansion of the existing academy system instead. It also seems as though the public would support an end to the ban on new grammar schools with polling conducted by ORB for The Sunday Telegraph finding that 49 per cent of adults agree that the ban on new grammar schools should end, whilst 23 per cent disagree.

The proponents of grammar schools argue that selective schools increase academic attainment. Graham Brady, the Chairman of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee quit David Cameron’s shadow frontbench in 2007 over the then-Leader of the Opposition’s opposition to the expansion of grammar schools. Upon news that the current government planned to end the ban on new grammar schools, Brady stated that this move would ‘raise standards in state education’. However, is this really the case?

Whilst it is true that in areas with selective education, those who get into the selective schools do better, there is little evidence that educational attainment improves across the board. Indeed, whilst those who get into grammar schools tend to do better academically, those who miss out on a place at a grammar school tend to do considerably worse. A study for The Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol found that: “Overall there is little or no impact upon attainment, but those educated in grammar schools do substantially better (around four grade points more than pupils with the same Key Stage 2 points in similar, but non-selective areas). This is equivalent to raising four GCSEs from a grade ‘C’ to a ‘B’. Other children within selective areas who do not gain a place in a grammar school are disadvantaged by a little under one grade point.” This suggests that in areas with selective education, those who fail to make the grade for a place at a grammar school are subsequently left behind by the system. This is reinforced by a 2013 article by the Financial Times where data suggested that overall attainment is lower in areas with selective education systems.

The issue of the attainment of students in selective areas who study at non-grammar schools, isn’t helped by the fact that in areas with selective schooling, non-grammar schools find it difficult to recruit high-quality teaching staff. This means that those who fail to pass the 11-plus and gain entrance to a grammar school, face a far harder task when it comes to future educational achievement. Therefore, the introduction of new grammar schools would be hugely at odds with our current educational orthodoxy of equality of opportunity. And, given that selective schools seem to have little positive effect upon overall attainment, is there really much point in introducing new grammar schools?

Another favourite argument of the proponents of grammar schools is that they are a vehicle for social mobility. Their argument is that as a result of grammar schools, poorer children are able to access a quality of education which would otherwise only be available in a private school. However, although in theory this is true, it remains the case that poorer children are far more likely to miss out on a place at grammar school than wealthier children. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, by the time of taking the 11-plus exam, there is already a significant educational divide between children from poorer families and children from wealthier families. Children from poorer families are more likely to be behind at the age of eleven, and consequently are less likely to gain a place at a grammar school by passing the 11-plus. Secondly, the 11-plus is not an appropriate way for selecting who gains a place in a grammar school as it gives an unfair advantage to those from wealthier families. Parents living in selective schooling areas have been known to spend huge amounts of money on tutors who can coach their children to pass the 11-plus and gain a place at a grammar school. This option is not available for those children from poorer families, meaning that the tests are further skewed against them. Ultimately, this means that grammar schools contain a disproportionate amount of children from wealthier families, at the expense of those from poorer families for whom the tests are rather unfair. Although it is true that some children from poorer families are successful, the majority are hindered by the system and miss out on any benefits. This is illustrated by the fact that so few grammar school pupils are eligible for free school meals when compared with the national average. Overall grammar schools are clearly not the vehicle for social mobility they are often heralded as.

Ultimately, grammar schools do little to improve overall academic attainment and do little for social mobility. Therefore, there seems little reason for the current ban on grammar schools to be overturned by the government. As well as the fact that grammar schools offer little gain in terms of attainment and social mobility, in the modern world it is wrong to make a judgement on who will likely be academically successful and who will not be, at the age of just eleven. Under a grammar system, the academic talents of those who fail an exam at the age of eleven are wasted, rather than allowing late developers more of a chance to develop and find their academic niche. Rather than select at eleven, academic streaming within a comprehensive school is a far better system.

Grammar schools were originally scrapped because they did not work, and the result following their reintroduction would only be more of the same. All that would happen is that the existing problems of the education system (those of children from wealthier families doing disproportionately better than children from poorer families) would be exacerbated.

Theresa May and Justine Greening should not fall into the trap of pandering to Conservative backbenchers by ending the ban on new grammar schools. To do so would only serve to worsen inequality in education and reduce attainment overall. Instead, they should focus upon improving standards in existing state schools. Over the past few years many state schools have been pulling ahead of private schools in terms of academic attainment (which raises questions over whether the aim of grammar schools to provide private school quality, is desirable any longer), and continued investment can ensure that this continues. In addition, the government needs to work out how to reverse the worrying trend of people not wanting to become teachers, with it being crucial to ensure the brightest and best are around to teach the next generation.

Overall, for our education system, grammar schools are not the answer.