To us the arguments of grammar schools are almost exotically simple. The customers of the school system are the parents of the children in it. Systems should deliver what customers want. Thus those parents who wish to have a selective school system should be able to have one.
We would also note that those who wish to have a non-selective school system are equally free to send their children to one. We know of no one who does advocate grammars who insists they must be universal. That insistence upon uniformity only works the other way, those insisting upon a purely comprehensive system. And that too makes the decision of which side to support exotically simple. One side is stating that they want this and you can have what you want, the other insisting that everyone must only have the one system, choice must be denied.
Grammars it is then.
But even within the arguments being offered there is confusion:
Theresa May’s personal crusade to expand the number of grammar schools is in serious jeopardy today as senior Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs unite in an unprecedented cross-party campaign to kill off the prime minister’s flagship education reform.
In a highly unusual move, the Tory former education secretary Nicky Morganjoins forces with her previous Labour shadow Lucy Powell and the Liberal Democrat former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to condemn the plans as damaging to social mobility, ideologically driven and divisive.
The opposition is clearly nothing but ideologically driven but that's just the normal hypocrisy of politics. But this insistence upon social mobility is a mark of the confusion among those arguing.
Social mobility, near always and everywhere, has been low. The UK's measure of it isn't very different from other countries, other places with very different school systems - say Sweden, as Greg Clark's research has shown. The one great burst of social mobility was post-WWII, but that's not quite what it seems either. We tend to apply greater social status to indoor work, no heavy lifting, and those decades were when the economy shifted from mass manufacturing into those sorts of services. And this happened right across the Western world and there's just about no correlation at all with the underlying school system.
But what really flabbers our ghast is that people are talking about social mobility when what they mean is economic mobility. For that's how they measure it, income of children relative to income of parents. And it's absurd to have a conversation in England, of all places, which confuses the two issues. Social position, in this of all countries, is more about whether you use a knife to eat your peas rather than how much money you make. Polly Toynbee may have emulated* Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed by trying out a few week's of society's scut work but she was still the gg granddaughter of an Earl and that matters in England.
We find this whole discussion, as at the top, very simple, exotically so. What confuses us is why everyone else seems to get so confused.
*That's one, rather polite, description of the genesis of "Hard Work"