Education: 47% of Lib Dems want grammar schools opened up, while clear majorities oppose academies, free schools and for-profit schools

by Stephen Tall on February 1, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 750 party members responded – thank you – and we’ve been publishing the full results.

(There were a couple of results I ran out of time to publish during the Christmas holiday period – I’m publishing them this week.)

Almost half (47%) Lib Dems call for opening up of grammar schools to all children

Thinking about grammar schools and schools that select pupils by ability, which of the following best reflects your views?

    21% – The government should encourage more schools to select by academic ability and build more grammar schools

    22% – The government should retain the existing grammar schools, but should not allow more selective schools or new grammar schools to be built

    47% – The government should stop schools selecting by academic ability and the existing grammar schools should be opened to children of all abilities

    9% – Don’t know

An interestingly mixed response, with just under one-half (47%) Lib Dem members wanting to see existing academically selective grammar schools opened up to all – but one-fifth (21%) wanting to see more grammar schools built, and a little more than that (22%) content with the status quo. You can see a selection of members’ comments on this question at the foot of this post.

Clear majorities of Lib Dems oppose academies (53%), free schools (59% and for-profit schools (75%)

Would you support or oppose the following policies…

… Schools becoming academies – schools that receive funding directly from the government, are outside the control of local authorities, and have greater freedom over setting their pay, opening times and curriculum?

    30% – Support

    14% – Neither support nor oppose

    53% – Oppose

    2% – Don’t know

… The creation of “Free Schools” – new state schools set up by parents, teachers or voluntary groups which are outside the control of local authorities?

    23% – Support

    15% – Neither support nor oppose

    59% – Oppose

    3% – Don’t know

… Allowing state schools to be run by private companies that can make a profit if they meet targets and run schools well?

    11% – Support

    9% – Neither support nor oppose

    75% – Oppose

    4% – Don’t know

There is, it seems, significant minority support (30%) for academy schools, though a clear majority (53%) are opposed. There is some support for free schools (23%), but an even clearer majority (59%) is opposed. And there is little support at all (11%) for allowing profit-making state-funded schools, with an overwhelming three-quarters (75%) of Lib Dems opposed.

As promised, here’s a selection of your comments…

• Investment in education is the key. More teachers and smaller class sizes. Do this and you will see students thrive.
• We need excellent local schools with strong leadership for all, not just the few.
• I do not like any of these choices but feel that there is nothing wrong in encouraging academic excellence. The less able also require facilities to achieve their best.
• A bit of selection is sometimes better for everybody.
• Free schools, so called, and academies wreck the planning of educational provision. We need universal, good-quality comps
• A selective system always creates ‘failures’ irrespective of the age of transfer from primary to secondary education.
• Grammar schools offer a leg-up for able working class children. At the moment it is a postcode lottery.
• We need to have schools which allow students to rise to the top. Children are born different. We need schools which match the differences in our children. To try to impose “one size fits all” is not very Liberal.
• Local authorities should have greater freedom to choose structure of schools
• We need some selection, maybe more, but a system based on selection is a cop out.
• elitism should be opposed and weeded out of the system
• Need an option here for greater autonomy for Comprehensives to be open to children of all abilities but then academic / vocational streaming within the school
• None of the above: Te Government’s role in education is to ensure that a future citizen has the standard of education they need to succeed in whatever endeavour they wish. The debate should not be about either forcing everyone into a standard educational model, or creating a two tier system that labels students as intellectual for life at the age of 10. Different teaching systems benefit different types of people. Surely it is not outside the ability of Government to provide a variety of schools with different teaching styles and methods so that children can be sent to the school that is going to get the best out of them. Just because a child doesn’t suit the grammar model, doesn’t mean a different system wouldn’t propel them to achieve academically.
• But of course “the government” shouldn’t have anything to do with it. It should be a matter for local authorities.
• My school took in the best in the County in S 4. It worked well as the teachers taught to the ability of their class. Very mixed ability classes are inefficient.
• I was happy to go to a comprehensive – but you do need to stream more
• I also think all boys and all girls schools are outdated and discriminatory.
• And we should castigate the Labour Govt of 13 years for failing to give our children equal opportunities.
• Or rather make sure all schools have classes sorted by ability, ie have grammar classes within each school. (that’s the way it works in France)
• Some children are born with natural genius; others are not. The two do not mix well
• secondary Modern areas seem to have poorer results than comprehensive areas. It shoud be an offenc to refuse access to any school to any person for the purpose of study. All education should be free at the point of use.
• Whatever we do, we need to give bright kids whose parents don’t happen to be wealthy more chances. At some point academic ability has to be a decision factor in what kids are asked to do.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 749 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 14th and 18th December.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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