Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 48 Number 16, May 26, 2018 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Government Announces Plans to
Open More Grammar School Places

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis

Government Announces Plans to Open More Grammar School Places

Workers Movement:
Probation Staff in Protest against Pay and Conditions and in Defence of the Probation Service

For An Anti-War Government!:
Britain Must Stop Its Criminal Intervention in Yemen

Government Announces Plans to Open More Grammar School Places

On May 11, Education Secretary Damian Hinds unveiled plans for a £50m expansion fund to allow grammar schools to provide additional places and in some cases to build off-site annexes. This comes a year and a half after the government published its Green Paper in 2016, "Schools that work for everyone"[1], which had announced plans to create new grammar schools. That plan would have required changes to the law. However, Theresa May's lost majority in the 2017 general election resulted in a retreat from that attempt. Instead, the new plans work within current legislation to allow existing grammar schools to expand. Grammar schools will also be able to open new sites, which can be a significant distance away from their original base. These are effectively new grammar schools, new in all but name. One such annex has already opened 10 miles from its parent school in Kent.[2]

The plans have been met with broad opposition. Responding to the announcement, Natalie Perera, Executive Director of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), wrote: "Creating more grammar school places is unlikely to improve social mobility and poses a particular threat to outcomes for disadvantaged children. Our research finds that, as the number of grammar places increases, a penalty emerges for all pupils who live nearby but don't get in and this penalty is larger for disadvantaged pupils than non-disadvantaged pupils. Indeed, the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is wider in wholly selective areas than in non-selective areas."[3]

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: "The continued obsession with grammar schools will do nothing for the vast majority of children. It is absurd for ministers to push ahead with plans to expand them when the evidence is clear they do nothing to improve social mobility."

Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union Kevin Courtney responded: "The grammar school corpse has climbed out of its coffin once again despite evidence of the damage that selective education causes." It "beggars belief that the Government has announced it will plough £50 million to expand the number of places at existing selective grammar schools. Schools up and down the country are desperately short of funds. This is money that would be better invested in ensuring all schools could provide for the basic needs of their pupils," he added.[4]

Character of the Education System

The plans to effectively create new grammar schools come at a time when the ongoing policy of austerity is creating serious problems in the mainstream state comprehensive system to the extent that some schools are struggling to stay in operation. It has been reported that it is the schools with the poorest pupils - those with the highest number on free school meals - that are being subjected to the heaviest cuts. While the the annual average spending per head in a state school is around £5,000, the typical fee for a top private school now surpasses £17,000 per year. There is also evidence showing how comprehensives in the lower-income working-class areas experience greater teacher turnover, with teachers on average less qualified.[5] These are just some examples of the increasingly-tiered education system, with first, second and even third-class and lower secondary education available, and illustrates the connection with the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

The point of the comprehensive system was to provide a national standard secondary-level education to all under the control of the public authority. That system was a product of the post-war social democratic era and had its heyday in the 1960s and 70s. As has been the pattern with other flagship initiatives and arrangements of that period, such as the NHS, the system began to be undermined with the abandonment of social democracy and the turn to neo-liberal arrangements in the 1980s. In particular, the 1988 Education Reform Act introduced competition and market forces under the signboard of "choice".

One of the main features of the shift from the comprehensive system to the current neo-liberal model is the move from a national standard of education for all to the notion of education providing "opportunity". This is connected to the idea that education is a privilege rather than a right, as well as the idea that education is an individual matter rather than a matter of social responsibility, opening the door for "choice" and competition to enter the mix.

A widespread desire to end class privilege was a key influence on the development of the comprehensive system in the post-war period. The 1959 Crowther report had identified that the majority of grammar school pupils were consistently from wealthier backgrounds. The issue is the same today, with recent government statistics showing similar trends.[2]

Government's Plan to Serve Class Privilege

How can this be squared with the government's claim that it plans to create a system of "opportunity"? The 2016 Green Paper announced new "selective schools providing more school places, and ensuring that they are open to children from all backgrounds". At the same time, in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May gave her vision for a "meritocracy".

Talk of meritocracy is a smokescreen for elitism. The levels of privilege and deprivation speak for themselves. Meritocracy has nothing to do with rights. Rather, it is to preserve a system of ever-starker class division, to give such a society the veneer of legitimacy that those with wealth and power have privilege through merit.

The early capitalists engaged in relatively small-scale production abolished the old notions of divine right and feudal hierarchy, with their own views of natural aristocracy. This "meritocratic" ideology was meant to justify their position of privilege as the naturally fittest for their status, the most intelligent, etc. It had a coherence in serving their aim to become the leading class of the nation at that time.

Talk of meritocracy in the present, under the conditions of a capitalism dominated by the most powerful multinational monopolies, has no such coherence. The elitism of the grammar school system is a throwback to those outdated anti-human notions of natural ability and intelligence. Rather than see young people in their life and motion, it imposes a definition on them based on the most arbitrary of tests. It is a violation of their rights.

The capital-centric education system is a production line for school and university graduates who have the skills required by private businesses, particularly the largest and most powerful, in their state of mutual competition. This does not require all-sided development of the population. It is a system designed to allocate people to their place. Aspiration and striving for something better is reduced to personal advancement and individual competition, rather than full participation in society.

The Alternative Vision for Education

The alternative, modern vision for education takes as its starting-point that the youth are the future of society. As such, it is aimed at contributing to their development so that they can take up the problems of society for solution. This vision recognises education as a right that should be available at the highest level to all. A modern education system is organised around the aim of guaranteeing that right.


[1] Department for Education, "Schools that work for everyone", September 12, 2016,

[2] Fiona Millar, "This zombie grammar school policy will only harm crisis-hit schools", The Guardian, May 13, 2018

[3] EPI response to Government plans for proposals in "Schools that work for everyone" consultation, May 11, 2018,

[4] Kevin Courtney, NEU press release, May 11, 2018,

[5] Frances Ryan, "Choice is code for inequality, and it has polluted our education system", The Guardian, May 3, 2018

Article Index

Workers Movement

Probation Staff in Protest against Pay and
Conditions and in Defence of the Probation Service

Probation staff day protest, May 18 2018

Probation staff in England and Wales working for the National Probation Service (NPS) and the 21 privatised community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) staged a day of protest on May 18. They were protesting against the insulting 2017 pay awards and the lack of progress over pay reform in 2018. The protest took place following on from the TUC's march "A New Deal for Working People". Thus the issue of pay was being raised in the context of the privatisation and fragmentation of the probation service, which has led to quite unmanageable workloads.

The unions involved - NAPO and Unison - point out that the 18,000 probation staff have been treated more harshly than other public sector workers, and have received just a single 1% pay increase since 2009.

Furthermore, the impact of so-called "reforms" has been disastrous for the service and the people working in it. The government's Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have seen a once high-performing service abolished and replaced with two new partly privatised bodies. NAPO and Unison called for these reforms to be halted in the public interest.[1]

TUC's march "A New Deal for Working People", May 12, 2018

Probation workers manage some of the most dangerous offenders in the community. They oversee their rehabilitation, and supervise and monitor them to keep local communities safe. Yet earlier this year, a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation revealed that the privatised services were "overstretched" and "struggling" to enforce community sentences being handed down by the courts.

Unison national officer Ben Priestley said: "The government's attempt at reform has been nothing short of disastrous. Last year, ministers bailed out the failing privatised companies to the tune of £342m. Yet they can't find a penny to increase pay for dedicated staff keeping the probation service going in extremely challenging circumstances. Money set aside for a pay rise was reallocated to the CRC bail out and a prison staff pay increase. No wonder probation workers feel so devalued and demoralised. It's high time they got a decent pay rise."

NAPO general secretary Ian Lawrence said: "Our members have yet again been side lined for a pay rise whilst propping up the private companies. Probation staff face ever-increasing workloads, increased stress, failing ICT [information and communication technologies] systems and a nine-year pay freeze. It is wholly unacceptable and the MOJ [Ministry of Justice] faces yet more cuts over the next few years with our members being taken for granted. Probation needs a pay rise and a full pay reform as a matter of urgency."

(Union News, Napo)


[1] The background to the "Transforming Rehabilitation" reforms is given in a document published in 2014 by NAPO and Unison, entitled "The Truth About Transforming Rehabilitation". It says:

The Conservative-led coalition government published its 'Transforming Rehabilitation' proposals in early 2013. The plans would enable for the first time the supervision of offenders leaving prison following short term sentences, but would abolish the 35 Probation Trusts in England and Wales and replace them with two new delivery bodies:

The 17,000 probation staff who previously worked for the Probation Trusts were forcibly transferred to either the NPS or one of the CRCs on 1 June this year. What has followed has been a catalogue of errors in terms of staff assignment, mismatch between workload, staffing levels and staff location, compromised risk management, reduced IT capability, increased bureaucracy and a huge rise in the use of temporary and sessional staff. High performing Probation Trusts have been replaced with poorly performing replacements; none of this the fault of the probation staff themselves.

To compound all of these woes, the CRCs are due to be sold off to the private sector later this year without proper regard being given to the public interest of such a controversial outsourcing so late in the life of this Parliament.
For full report see :

Article Index

For An Anti-War Government!

Britain Must Stop Its Criminal Intervention in Yemen


Recent events have again highlighted the government's continual involvement in the genocidal war in Yemen, in which it is one of the main backers of the Saudi-led coalition of intervention forces.

Earlier this month the Court of Appeal granted activists from Campaigns Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) the right to launch a fresh legal challenge against the sale of British weapons to Saudi Arabia amidst what even the government acknowledges is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Activists from CAAT are hoping to overturn a High Court decision last July which ruled export licences to the Gulf state to be lawful. Since 2015 it is estimated that the government has licensed £4.6 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including Typhoon and Tornado aircraft manufactured by BAE Systems.

In the coming months, CAAT campaigners - represented by Leigh Day Solicitors, and supported by various charities and agencies - aim to persuade the courts that the decision to grant licences to British companies selling fighter jets, bombs and other weaponry to Saudi Arabia contravene Britain's arms export policy. This policy is based on the principle that the government should be prevented from granting export licences "if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law".


As early as 2015 Johannes van der Klaauw, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, declared, "The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law." In 2017 UN Office of the Communication of Humanitarian Affairs reported that since 2015 over 10,000 civilians had lost their lives and 40,000 had been injured, mainly as a result of Saudi-led airstrikes. In the same report the UN claimed that over 460,000 children were severely malnourished in what was already one of the world's poorest countries. It is generally accepted that there are well over 3 million displaced people in Yemen and over 10 million who require immediate humanitarian assistance to maintain their lives. The entire infrastructure of the country has collapsed and Yemen has also been plagued by major epidemics including cholera.

Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is in response to the civil war which resulted in the overthrow of the previous government of that country by the Houthis, a reform movement named after its original leader.
Campaign Against the Arms Trade continues its legal challenge to the High Court judgment which allows the UK Government to continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
The government of Saudi Arabia leads a coalition initially of nine countries including the UAR, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Senegal. This coalition, which aimed to intervene in the civil war and reinstate the overthrown government, is now supported by many other countries including the US, Britain, France, Canada and many others associated with the reactionary NATO. The British government not only allows the sale of weapons to the coalition but is openly involved in the conflict providing intelligence, logistical support to the government of Saudi Arabia and its allies. British and US military personnel have also been deployed in the command and control centre coordinating the air strikes on Yemen. Earlier this year newspaper reports claimed that the British Army was training Saudi forces for deployment in Yemen.

According to Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, "Yemen is a priority for the government." However, what this means is that it continues to support Saudi Arabia which it claims is under attack by missiles fired by the Houthis.

Campaign Against Arms Trade Protest

According to Johnson: "The United Kingdom remains committed to supporting the legitimate security needs of Saudi Arabia and guarding against the danger of regional escalation. The UK has now agreed to work with the Saudis to mitigate the threat from these missiles. This will involve UK personnel providing information, advice and assistance limited to this particular objective. To be clear, the UK is not a member of the Saudi-Led Coalition. We do not have any role in setting Coalition policy, or in executing air strikes."

In fact, even the BBC was forced to admit that there can be no comparison between the missiles the Houthis may have launched in self-defence and the ongoing devastation caused by Saudi-led air strikes that have continued for years.

The British government must be condemned for its continued intervention and its support for the reactionary coalition which continues to create such death and devastation in Yemen. The pursuit of geo-political advantage in this strategic region, as well as the pursuit of maximum profits for the big monopolies illustrate the urgent need for an anti-war government.

Article Index

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The Necessity for an Anti-War Government

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