John Bercow, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, has written an opinion piece in the Guardian explaining why he no longer supports selective education. Bercow’s experiences as an MP in Buckinghamshire, which retains the 11-plus and grammar schools, helped him change his views. He now supports the introduction of comprehensive education in areas that currently offer 11-plus testing to primary school pupils.

Bercow said, “I came to see that 11 is far too young to select and that it is massively damaging to the self-esteem of the child… Intelligence cannot be measured at the age of 11. Children develop at different rates; I was a late developer, who flourished intellectually only at university. We know that a less privileged socio-economic background and lack of parental education impact negatively on children’s learning. Therefore, the chances of children from these backgrounds are lesser in any test situation.”

The former Speaker describes the divide between Bucks grammar schools and secondary moderns as “like an apartheid system.” He explains, “There was a “them and us” attitude. Grammar pupils were encouraged to feel superior and many secondary modern students probably resented them.”

He urges politicians to take a stronger policy position on selective education. “I have come to believe that the only way we will get change in the selective areas is to have a countrywide policy, nationally promoted and applied. Grammar schools are unhealthy and should be phased out. We do not suggest that local areas can pick their own energy policy, so why should we with education?

“Both the Conservatives and Labour have to take an honest and open position and support comprehensive education everywhere. With the country so divided, and educational disadvantage growing so rapidly, even more so during the pandemic, it is time to act.”

John Bercow is on the panel of Comprehensive Future’s Zoom webinar on December 10th exploring the theme, ‘Is there a comprehensive future?’ The panel also includes Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU; Danny Dorling, a leading academic on issues of social justice and inequality; and Thelma Walker, a former member of the education select committee.

Dr Nuala Burgess, Chair of Comprehensive Future, said, “This going to be an important event for Comprehensive Future and we are absolutely delighted to have John Bercow as one of our panel. The former Speaker has strong views on the problems of selective education, so we expect a lively webinar. We really hope that parents from selective counties like Bucks and Kent, will take the opportunity to hear some of the arguments about why the 11 plus needs to go. As John Bercow so eloquently explains, a good comprehensive education works and achieves better results for all our children.”

Register for the webinar HERE.