Is academically selective state education contrary to Christian principles?

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Mail on Sunday columnist, Peter Hitchens, a practising Anglican Christian, does not think so. He has written a book, due to come out in November, arguing that the closure of hundreds of state-funded grammar schools since the 1960s has severely undermined British education.

It is noteworthy that Britain's first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, a grocer's daughter, attended an academically selective grammar school in Grantham, Lincolnshire, from 1936 to 1943.

It is certainly true that since grammar schools began to be phased out, fee-paying private schools have grossly outperformed state schools. This has significantly reduced social mobility in Britain because most of the previously very effective competitors to private schools - selective grammar schools - either went independent or comprehensive.

So, if the re-introduction of state schools with an academically competitive entrance exam would enable clever children from modest backgrounds like the late Lady Thatcher to develop their God-given talents without disrupted classes, then why does a government committed to 'levelling up' not get on with rolling them out? Perhaps the current Conservative government has more in common with the socialist politicians who created comprehensive education in 1965 than it would care to admit.

Academically selective state schools do not have to be an exact replica of the old grammar schools with their harshly separating exam at 11. If children's primary education were extended for two years, 13 would be the age at which they could take the necessary exam to get into the selective school.

In the 1960s, my late grandfather served on the East Riding County Council in Yorkshire. In that capacity, Alderman Mann, a World War I veteran of nearly two years in the trenches and former headmaster of a Church of England primary school in the docklands of Hull, had a notable exchange with a female member of the aristocracy. She was an enthusiast for abolishing 'elitist' grammar schools across the county.

Alderman Mann asked her Ladyship: 'Why shouldn't the bank manager's son in Beverley be able to get a good education at the grammar school?' to which she reportedly responded with a denunciation of elitism. He then asked her where her children went to school.

'Eton' was the (at least) honest reply.

But what I think would disturb Alderman Mann even more than the diminution, due to brutal socialist dogma, of social mobility in the country he fought for is the expulsion of Christian teaching from British schools.

Since the triumph of New Labour in 1997, political correctness has become the prevailing spiritual and moral ethos in schools. Since 2010, three Conservative Prime Ministers, two of them Old Etonians - David Cameron and Boris Johnson - have done little to loosen its grip. If anything, they have allowed the educational establishment to tighten it with the imposition of the new Relationships and Sex Education requirements in primary and secondary schools.

Given the seminal influence Christianity has had in shaping this country, a truly patriotic government would insist that no pupil in the United Kingdom should leave a taxpayer-funded school, or one with charitable status, without having read at least one of the four New Testament Gospels and been tested on his or her knowledge of it.

No school should force children to follow Christianity, of course - coercion in religion or belief is contrary to the Christian faith and to democratic principles. But giving every British school child the privilege of learning about Christianity and its role in this island's story is surely a vital 'levelling up' exercise to which a Christian Queen's government should be committed if this country is to have a stable, democratic future.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist.