Less than two months into the job, and Theresa May finally started to experience the reality of political gravity this week. First over Brexit and then over grammar schools, the Prime Minister felt some of the political heat that inevitably goes with the very top job.
In some ways, we will learn more about what sort of Prime Minister she is going to be from how she handles the domestic issue of the possible return of grammars than we will from the geopolitical complexities of Brexit. We all went to school, and so we are all experts in education. And each of those personal experiences of everyone in the country will influence how we view the age-old debate about selective education.
The last major education reform proposed, forced academisation, drowned under a torrent of criticism after George Osborne announced it in his March Budget. Like that, the plan to restore grammar schools feels like something that has hit the public domain before the policy itself was fully formed, and so the Government is being forced to defend it at a time when they haven’t quite worked out what “it” really is. With the educational establishment and much of the Department for Education opposed to the move, a cynic might even speculate that the leak (which came from a photo of a DfE civil servant’s meeting notes) was intentional to ensure that the plans received such a hostile reception.
If the aim of the leak was to damage the idea, it has certainly worked. Today, May has been forced to make a speech beginning to put some flesh on the bones and in it, she has suggested that “all schools” could become grammar schools. If all schools are grammars, as people are already starting to point out, that makes them, errrr, comprehensives. If she dilutes it too much, in order to reduce criticism, she does run the very real risk of disappointing those grammar school advocates and pleasing no-one.