A PRINCIPAL at one of the country’s top schools said Nigel Farage’s plan for a “grammar school in every town” could help to fill the shortage of skilled manual workers created by the current system.
Mark Ellse, who was educated at Doncaster Grammar and is now at the helm of a high-achieving Staffordshire school, blamed the Government’s focus on academia and one-size-fits-all curriculum for failing pupils.
His comments to The Yorkshire Post came after Ukip leader Mr Farage promised his party’s general election manifesto would include plans to increase the number of grammar schools in the UK – currently 164 – to boost social mobility.
Mr Farage said: “At the moment we are seeing the gap between those who are wealthy enough to be privately educated and the rest getting wider.
“The lack of social mobility in Britain is quite shaming, and selective education is one of the ways to give bright kids from poor backgrounds a real opportunity.”
When asked it that meant grammar schools in every town, Mr Farage replied: “Absolutely.”
Mr Ellse made the news last year when he changed his Cannock school’s name from Chase Academy to Chase Grammar to distance it from the current rash of new academies.
He said: “What is wrong is that comprehensive schools, and this has been made worse under Michael Gove, try to force the same curriculum on every child. It means the bright kids are not been stretched enough.
“We don’t teach subjects such as metalwork and woodwork any more and as a result we have to import our plumbers from Poland. That’s probably Ukip’s message.
“If I was to agree with any part of that message it’s that. We get our skilled manual workers from abroad when we should be training them here.
“Not everybody has to have an academic education.”
While Mr Ellse backed the need for an alternative approach to reforms, he was reluctant to go as far as to support a return to the old selective system.
He said: “While grammar schools can solve a lot of problems they can also create a few. A lot of preparation is done by some parents to ensure their children get a place.
“I don’t think pupils should be tested at 11, but by the age of 12 or 13 pupils will have an idea of whether they are better suited to an academic education or might want to do more practical courses.”
The idea of a return to selective education was also troubling to Tony Brookes, who was headteacher at the former Thorne Grammar School in Doncaster, now replaced by an academy, between 1987 and 2002.
He said: “I was educated at a grammar school in the early 1960s when things were only different and there were only a handful of comprehensives around. When I went into teaching in 1973 I wanted to teach at comprehensives because I think they are better for the different needs of different pupils.
“The 11-plus was a fairly blunt instrument. It only tested a narrow range of things which meant a number of people went to secondary moderns who might have done better at a grammar school, and similarly others who might have been more suited to a secondary modern education went to a grammar.”
Tax cuts accompanied Ukip’s grammar schools pledge as the party seeks to broaden its appeal beyond Euroscepticism.
Mr Farage said: “I want us to give millions of ordinary families and people in this country the opportunity to live a better life and do better.”