Theresa May’s grammar schools policy has killed her facade of working-class appeal

After a honeymoon period extended and enhanced by the currently shambolic Labour Party, Theresa May has begun to show her divisive, outdated and nonsensical leadership with her continuing push for the introduction of new grammar schools.

The policy represents the latest move in the Conservative party’s dysfunctional education strategy. Their tenure has seen EMA scrapped, tuition fees raised (twice), student grants abolished, student loan repayment interest rates increased, and the biggest cut to per-pupil funding since the 1970s. It’s almost as if they don’t care about young people.

The right wing seems to have carried over its fondness for a complete lack of evidence from the Brexit debate, extending a seemingly post-evidence trend that is becoming a growing worry in modern-day politics. See, among other instances, Donald Trump’s unfounded and unfunded policies for more.

May is willingly pushing a policy that she knows will be of no benefit to the working-classes

May has somehow deluded herself into thinking that grammar schools will benefit the masses and increase the poor levels of social mobility in this country. She is undoubtedly wrong. But perhaps the most astonishing aspect of her advocation of this policy is that it seems incredibly unlikely that May doesn’t know she’s wrong

May is willingly pushing a policy that she knows will be of no benefit to the working-classes. And this from the prime minister who pledged to be driven “not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours”; that is, the interests of ordinary working-class families. Who promised to “make Britain a country that works for everyone”. Who assured that her party “will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you”.

But, in fairness, most of us never believed any of that in the first place.

grammar schools are clearly a step backwards for social mobility

The ridiculousness of this policy has recently been put into a damning context. The OECD’s head of education has said that grammar schools benefit wealthy families without raising overall standards. And an investigation by the BBC concluded that, where grammar schools are prominent, “poorer children lag further behind, richer children move further ahead – and the losses at the bottom are much larger than the gains at the top”.

In this light, we can see that grammar schools are clearly a step backwards for social mobility – contrary to the claims of May and and many of her Conservative colleagues.

While the problem of social mobility is not exclusive to grammar schools – indeed, class inequality extends across the whole education system – a selective system certainly does advantage the rich.

the advantages that middle-class parents can exert are myriad

By the age of 11, when children take the test to decide if they have enough intellectual worth to merit a place in a grammar school, class differences have already begun to take their toll on many children. Richer parents have had the opportunity to buy a house in an area with good schools, which often prices out many working-class families. And, in this house, these parents’ children have more space to relax and study in a comfortable home environment.

These parents can afford medicines to ensure days at school aren’t missed due to illness. These parents may have a better standard of education themselves, allowing them to understand and manipulate the educational system and admissions procedures to their child’s advantage. They may be able to better heat their home, better feed their children, get them to school more easily, take time off work to support them, make sure they don’t have to babysit younger siblings or help out around the house – the advantages that middle-class parents can exert are myriad.

And when their child turns 11, middle-class parents can pay for a tutor to help their child pass the 11+. It is no surprise, then, that only 3% of grammar school entrants are entitled to free school meals, compared to 18% in non-grammar areas.

When Jeremy Corbyn presented much of this illuminating and critical evidence to May in their PMQs session, she floundered. And we got a glimpse of what a strong and united opposition can do: highlight the hypocrisy of a Tory party that claims to be for the working-classes; show the inadequacy of May, her leadership and her policies; and, most importantly, defend the working-classes from further disadvantage in society.

If Theresa May and the Conservatives are really interested in social mobility and improving the lives of the working-classes, they would do better to abolish the grammar school system, not extend it.


Standardisation is an upper class ideology and txt speak is revolutionary

A couple of days ago I had a discussion about how to pronounce “mayor”. Needless to say, things got heated. My opponents went for mare, I staunchly stuck to my multisyllabic may-er. I know, I’m/they’re [delete as appropriate] disgusting.

But however you might pronounce it, is one way “wrong”? Is there a “correct” way to pronounce mayor?

No. There isn’t. There’s not.

When it comes to language, especially spoken language, there is – for the most part – no wrong and right. There is only standard and non-standard. And the standard version, which so often is equated with “correctness” (think RP/Queen’s English being “proper English” and “speaking properly”), is little more than an outdated ideology that benefits the upper class and paints non-users as stupid, inferior, and wrong. (Note my use of the Oxford comma there, which has now been deemed incorrect by the UK government. Rebel 4 lyf.)

For centuries, probably millennia, some grammarians have attempted to fix the “rules of grammar” at a certain point, under the pretence of allowing communication to be at its most effective and clear. This is a hugely misguided belief.

The entire history of the English language – and probably all languages worldwide – is filled with change. Change in language is good and natural and should not be fought against. Refusals to adhere to standardisation are the reason that we no longer end words like “physics” with a c and a k. How pointless a convention was that? They are the reason that nobody really cares anymore if you say “Turn the light off” instead of the supposedly correct “Turn off the light”, because we all know that Latinate rules proposed by aristocrats have no relevant bearing on how we use language in everyday situations in today’s society. Not that many people ever really cared anyway.

So if you want to keep prepositions away from the end of your sentences, then fine. If you want to pronounce scone so that it rhymes with stone and latte with par-té (that is how the kids say it, right?) then be my guest. But I won’t be joining you, and you shouldn’t expect me to.

Language diversity and change has existed in English ever since it began. It is something that should be celebrated, not stunted and stigmatised.

Not only does the standardisation ideology prevent change and adaptation in language, but it prestiges certain styles of speaking over others. Under the ideology, upper class accents carry more prestige than working class or local ones, despite the fact that the amount of people who truly speak in an RP accent is incredibly low – estimated at 3% in 1974, and surely lower now.

And there’s no intrinsic reason why RP has any more linguistic “worth” than any other dialect. Because that’s what RP is, a select dialect that has been elevated to an invented position of authority. The only reason it has such prestige is due to migration patterns in pre-industrial England, with movements between the midlands and London leading to the creation of an upper class dialect which was then dispersed via the country’s political, economic and power centre.

But there’s no reason for it to have this prestige any more. And while speaking in RP may allow users to adhere to common grammatical “rules”, this is not a constant or an absolute. Grammatical rules, if they exist at all, are not met by RP. Rather, RP creates these rules because it meets them. If you were to speak in any number of other regional dialects, then using “was” rather than “were” would be a “rule” for speaking in that particular dialect, and that would be the standard grammatical construction.

And such apparent deviance from grammatical norms is not wrong, just different; non-standard. English is a language full of irregularities, whether that is spelling, pronunciation, grammar, or virtually any other aspect. There will always be irregularities in English. A “correct” version of English which fully negotiates these irregularities does not and most likely cannot (or should that be can not?) ever exist.

Up until the 19th century, it was entirely common for writers to use multiple negatives. In fact, Geoffrey Chaucer, often held up as one of the greatest British writers of all time and a standard of eloquence to which we all should aim, sometimes used quadruple negatives in his writing to add emphasis to his point. Was he wrong to do this? Was Chaucer obscuring the meaning of his communication and making it more difficult for readers to understand? Do we read a quadruple negative and think, actually, wait a minute, four wrongs do make a right! Of course we don’t.

In a note on standardisation and ensuring that the English language maintained its correct forms and was not corrupted by abbreviations, Jonathan Swift complained of shortenings such as “mob” for “mobile” and “fan” for “fanatick”. Such suggestions seem absurd now, and in centuries to come, students will look back on 20th century literature and think how ridiculous it was that they wrote “information” instead of “info”, and “people” instead of “ppl”.

When Shakespeare invented the verb “to knife”, he was breaking the “rules” of grammar that existed at that time. Today, the process of verbifying a noun is so real that the word verbification is a legit verb. Deal with it.

Language diversity and change has existed in English ever since it began. It is something that should be celebrated, not stunted and stigmatised.

Grammar “rules” and “correct” pronunciation do nothing for the survival, upholding, or improvement of the English language. All they do is paint people who speak in other dialects as inferior and uneducated. Standardisation is a class-based ideology, and a dangerous one. So next time somebody says they don’t know nothing about the local mayor, don’t form an angry mobile to attack them. Just let it slide. You know what they meant.