Two things have caught my eye this week in the news. The first was the announcement of the cost to restore the Palace of Westminster and the second was the government's plan to re-introduce Grammar Schools.
The Westminster building restoration is an interesting one and I read quite a few comments about it when an online petition popped up suggesting that a new parliament building more fit for purpose should be built elsewhere in the country. I think that's an idea worth considering. Stepping aside for a moment from the high cost of restoring the current building, moving to a new location and a purpose-built facility might not be a bad idea. Of course it might be too radical an idea for MP's to take. But just think about the potential upside of having a parliament centrally located in the country. Accommodation could be purpose-built, no more need for second homes, easier access to the wider constituency and a move away from a perceived Souht-East, London-centric bias. Moving Parliament to somewhere like Leeds or Sheffield might just be the radical kind of thing we need.
I doubt that the institution will go for it. Too many traditions. But what an opportunity to do something different and leave some of the stuff behind that at time seems to hold back progress. A new parliament, a new second chamber, a new democracy? Food for thought.
And then there's the Grammar School debate. Announcements to be made, opportunities to be had. Really? I came through the Grammar School system. It is not the panacea this government appears to want it to be. The problem remains selection. There were without doubt kids in the lowest "set" for maths for example who were easily being out performed by kids at the local Secondary Modern School. Their future would be decided by the old CSE and ours by the old 'O' Level (or GCE). Is that what we want for Secondary Education in the 21st Century?
Theresa May says that school selection happens by house price these day, but is going back to an 11+ the solution? House prices are high in the catchment area of the perceived good schools. What if we invested in making all schools good schools? By that I don't necessarily just mean academically good. I just wonder to whom has Mrs May been talking. It's easy to look at the evidence and presume that Grammar schools are the answer, but surely the question is far more complex than simple charts of GCSE results can provide as an answer. Reintroducing Grammar schools limits the choice of school by exam rather than house price. It simply shifts the goal posts.
If my memory is telling me the truth, then as I recall the last two years of my primary education was all about preparing for the 11+. It was going to be the defining moment of my educational life. Passing would ensure opportunity and success, failure would consign me to a second level life. I even remember the teacher coming after the first set of tests (the old 11+ was spread out over two or maybe even three days) and announcing that none of us was likely to pass given our performance the first day. Looking back I can't see how he would have known that unless he'd marked the papers the previous night and I don't think that is how it worked. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't the most useful or encouraging approach.
So I'm far from convinced that Grammar Schools are the answer to our educational system's weaknesses. Perhaps a proper evaluation of the Comprehensive system needs to be undertaken to assess how best we can serve every pupil and not just those who are either blessed with academic skills or whose parents can afford to to buy a house in the favoured catchment area. Add to that a greater sense of the value of education across society and not just as a vehicle for social mobility and maybe we can move towards a truly comprehensive form of secondary education.