Theresa May’s Dogma and Ideology

According to The Guardian, Theresa May will be saying today: “For too long we have tolerated a system that contains an arbitrary rule preventing selective schools from being established – sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and it’s selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.”

That pairing of dogma and ideology would prove an interesting question on any future 11+ selection test by asking how its contextualisation today makes it the epitome of irony.

I mentioned in my previous posting how May’s own ideological stance seeps through the holes in her argument advocating the return of grammar schools. The sickliest ooze is how she uses the term ‘selection’, appropriating and defining it as her version being somehow more prevalent and divisive than that of the 11+ itself – a linguistic shifting that surely beggars belief?

Labour has in its own history in government when it sullied the situation with the promotion of parental choice, though this did not include the encouraging to build and promote grammar schools. In this respect, they facilitated precisely what May rightly points out in wealthier and/or middle class parents having the means and motivation to select the ‘better’ school for their children to attend. It always seemed risible to me for Labour to argue about the philosophical point for parental free choice when it could so easily be undermined by the simple inability of a parent to afford and be able to transport their children to a school other than their nearest.

A succinct comment on the contradictions prompted by parental choice in education in the UK is contained in the following paragraph by Sonia Exley, Lecturer in Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, from a chapter in the 28th edition of ‘British Social Attitudes – School Choice’:

The fact that majorities in Britain support both a parental right to choose and greater educational equality sit in obvious contrast with the literature on school choice discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Such literature presents parental choice in the current British context as being in clear tension with educational equality, but this tension appears to go unrecognised by many, and there seems to be some disconnect in the public mind between inequality in the school system overall and an exercising of extensive parental partiality. Perhaps a greater role for academics, then, in drawing attention to the contradictions between school choice and social justice, is needed.

What I most abhor is May’s [and presumably her policy-making scribes’] language perversion of what ‘selection’ does fundamentally mean. The wealth and motivation I have acknowledge is divisive enough, but a selective testing at quite an arbitrary age of 11 which positively labels and nurtures one set of students against the negative labelling and potential disadvantaging of others is insidious.

At the fundamental core of the selection on ‘intelligence’/IQ and similar, is the inherent and arrogant classification of worth and value in terms of educational promise. This itself is undermined, further ironically, by those wealthy and motivated parents who pay to coach and train their children to pass the 11+ examination, and can then make sure they are able to be transported to a grammar school. Test questions like,

English: Select the option which has the sentence with the most suitable grammar.

  • Was it he whom had a house burn down?
  • Was it he whose house burnt down?
  • Was it he that had a house burn down?
  • Was it he who’s house burnt down?

As I said in my previous posting, this is no more than the perusing of the poles of the argument, but I therefore repeat how I wish May and similar would be honest and acknowledge that grammar schools are being promoted for the privileged and that this is an intrinsic ideology of the Tory Party. To keep dressing it up as a concern for social mobility and justice is – even where held as some honest purpose – minuscule within that larger political dogma that favours the few.

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