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Selection in education

From Grammar schools to assaults on academic freedom:
what is the future of education?

October 2016

Dr Joanna Williams opened a discussion on how to defend academic freedom today, chaired by Pauline Hadaway


Theresa May wants to bring back grammar schools and the 11-plus. Universities are being squeezed between the state and the student consumer. The Prevent scheme, aimed at tackling radicalisation in schools and HE, threatens academic freedom and teacher autonomy. What is the future of education?


Education is once again in the front line of 'bring-backery'. Theresa May's plan to bring back grammar schools has struck horror into an educational establishment which has struggled for more than half a century to abolish the 11-plus exam. Whatever next? Rote-learning, blackboards and chalk, gowns and mortar boards, the cane and the strap? Tony Blair declared education the top three priorities for New Labour and targets, league tables and parental choice came to dominate the world of teaching.

Higher education too has been opened up to greater scrutiny and government intervention, as well as being subjected to the rigours of the market and the demands of the student as fee-paying consumer. Now the Prevent scheme, aimed at tackling radicalisation, threatens hard fought for academic freedom. Many of the instrumental schemes to make employability the focus of school and university education seem to reduce education to little more than an accreditation scheme for employment. As politicians look to the past for inspiration, what is the future of education?


Some background readings

Academisation and the Demolition of our Education System, by Pam Field, Think Left 13 May 2012

Grammar schools: we need knowledge, not nostalgia, by Joanna Williams, spiked 12 September 2016

He criticised lefty thinking? Silence him! by Joanna Williams, spiked 26 September 2016

Too many young people are wasting their time by studying poor degrees at university, by Paul Ormerod, City AM 27 September 2016


Discussion Partners

Battle of IdeasThis discussion is a satellite event of the prestigious Battle of Ideas 2016 weekend festival of ideas being held on 22 and 23 October 2016, hosted by the Barbican, London. Now in its eleventh year, the Battle of Ideas festival comprises some 400 speakers at 75 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. It affords the opportunity for some clear thinking, rational debate and agenda-setting - above all, it's future-orientated, whilst retaining a healthy regard for the past achievements of humanity.



This discussion, including audience comments, was filmed and will be made available online as a reference resource.

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