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Graham Brady casts back to the grammar schools row

By Peter Hoskin
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Graham BradyIt may not normally be part of your diet, but the latest issue of the New Statesman contains some tasty morsels for the political glutton. There’s a useful analysis of the Miliband and Balls axis by Rafael Behr; a flat-out brilliant article about political cartooning by Helen Lewis; and an interview with Graham Brady by Caroline Crampton, which is what we’ll focus on here. The subject of the interview — other than Mr Brady himself, of course — is grammar schools. From the back garden of his home, a calm setting for a calm and informative article, he casts back to the row that saw him resign from the Tory front bench in 2007.

The coverage of this interview appears to have picked up on the attacks that Mr Brady makes against official Conservative grammar schools policy. And it’s true, there are some caustic observations amongst what he says. For instance, this:

“Even though it seems Cameron has ruled out the possibility of a return to grammar schools, public opinion appears to differ. A poll for ICM in 2010 showed that 76 per cent would support the opening of grammar schools in areas that don’t offer academic selection. Brady expresses his frustration in mild terms — ‘it is certainly odd that politicians should go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid doing something so popular’ — but it is clear that the tension runs deep.”

Or this:

“Brady’s frustration with this inertia is palpable. ‘The logic of what the government is doing with education – and I very strongly endorse it – is actually to transfer the power and the choice away from the government and give it far more genuinely to communities and parents to choose the kind of schools they want.’ He pauses. ‘It’s in that context that it is more perverse than ever that the government then prohibits [one of the choices].’”

But, despite that, there have actually been some signs of rapprochement between back benches and front benches over grammar schools, and they pop up in this interview. For example, the piece starts with a vignette of a parliamentary meeting earlier this year, hosted by Brady and entitled “Friends of Grammar Schools”. He received “support” that evening, the article notes, not just from David Davis and Michael Howard, but also from Michael Gove. In fact, I remember him citing the Education Secretary’s “enthusiasm” for the expansion of existing grammar schools at the time, although Mr Gove’s office did play that one down a little bit.

And then there is that same expansion of existing grammar schools; a policy which is allowed under this government. As was demonstrated in Kent earlier this year, current grammars can set up selective “satellite” schools, effectively increasing the number of grammar schools in the area. This, as Brady notes in the interview (and, previously, on ConservativeHome), does rely on a sort of postcode lottery: there has to be a grammar school in the area to begin with. But it’s still a pressure valve for some of the steam that might otherwise scald the party.

Even so, I doubt that a full rapprochement between Mr Brady and the Tory leadership — perhaps in the form of a promotion for the ‘22 chairman — is on the cards, not least because of the nature of the split five years ago. And the fundamental tension between those who want to see truly new grammars and those who don’t remains. Indeed, I wonder whether this tension might be aggravated again in coming months. If Lib Dem ministers are allowed to vote against the boundary proposals and keep their jobs, then some might ask questions about the etiquette of principled disagreement.


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