by Fraser RaleighA calm week in Frewin Court; nice for the Union to know there can still be such a thing. Kate Denham introduced the debate, speaking clearly, logically and entertainingly and demonstrating the problems within the education system effectively if slightly simplistically with a bowl of apples and the puns to go with it. Andrew Marshall for the opposition was calm and self-assured, delivering his ripostes eloquently and speaking of the inequalities that grammar schools propagate.
First of the invited speakers, Graham Brady MP, who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet because of the internal row over grammar schools, shifted the blame on education away from selective schools to independent ones and re-iterated the statistics demonstrating the academic achievements of grammar schools.
Keith Bartley conceded that the schools worked but that the system itself was rotten, focussing on the flaws in the 11+ to the detriment of fleshing out the case against the record of grammar schools and failing to provide evidence for his claims regarding impinged social mobility.
After the unusual spectacle of a sitting President making a brief speech for the proposition in the floor debate Chris Woodhead, former head of Oftsted and David Jesson closed the debate for the proposition and opposition respectively. The two were the most enlightening of the debate as they both spoke fluently with minimal notes, bringing pure knowledge and experience as their main weapon. Woodhead talked passionately about the way grammar schools can be socially beneficial, cleverly separated the current 11+ exam from selective education as a whole and claimed that it was independent, not comprehensive schools that benefited from the abolition of grammar schools. Jesson was similarly erudite and unlike the rest of the opposition provided some convincing statistical evidence against selection.
While entertaining and informative, however, the question of class was too casually and broadly bandied about during his speech, and the debate as a whole, without allowing for the subtleties that exist in reality. Overall however the debate was intellectually stimulating, well informed and unspectacular; short, sharp and back to basics.