We’re all grammar schools now…

My mum told me about grammar schools, most likely your parents did too; the segregation of children by their ability, aged 11, because that appeared, and may again appear, to be the cut off age where you can decide who’s worth giving a damn about and who isn’t.

These mythical schools are from a bygone age, and for good reason! They were ridiculous! For more than one reason.

Reason one: imagine being told that you aren’t as good as everyone else, essentially that you are thick. Alright with that? What do you mean no? I hope your confidence hasn’t taken a knock? You need to have a more mature attitude about it, yes I know you are eleven but we’re trying to build resilience here – stop being so childish. I hope it doesn’t mean that you will now feel inferior to your peer group for the rest of your life. Oh, we thought better than that of you. Come on, you can overcome the class divide by yourself, no help needed from the government.

Reason two: what do you mean that all children progress at different rates? Am I hearing you right? You mean that the expected rate of progress of all children is NOT preordained at age 11? Well, I’m sorry, but if you’re saying that I now have no faith in SATs and for that matter the 11+ which will, undoubtedly, replace them.

Reason three: pupil premium students. Oh them! They were just something the Lib Dems forced the Tories to care about whilst in coalition. Yes, I know the latter boasted about how they’d given them life chances for a bit, who knew Ofsted were going to take it so seriously?! To the point where they would follow these students around their schools, scrutinise their exercise books and get their teachers to point them out individually. Whoever would have thought that ‘narrowing the gap’ between non pupil premium and pupil premium would become such an obsession! What on earth were the government trying to achieve?

I thought that pupil premium funding was brought in to tackle inequality? But now I know that inequality ‘stops’ aged 11, we could save a shitload of cash by not giving any of this money to secondary schools. We’ll have filtered out who matters and who doesn’t by then…sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But, if these pupil premium students, with all their ‘problems’ such as financial deprivation, poor living conditions and below average attendance (which may or may not affect their academic ability and their suitability for a test like the 11+) can’t sort themselves out by aged 11, no matter, they can maybe get an OK education at a comp. They can still achieve results that are just as good as a grammar school student. Ok…so why do we need grammar schools then, if everything is equal? How confusing.

On the other hand, if we are going to have grammar schools, in order to promote the gifted and talented of this world, we should make provision for other ‘types’ of students. We can bring back SEN schools too, right? No more inclusion? While we’re at it let’s have compulsory single gender schools too because girls consistently outperform boys, through all levels of education, and have done for YEARS. Why should girls be forced to mix with this underachieving sex? The same principle lies behind grammar schools, surely? The belief that, somehow, clever students are being held back by attending a school that has a diverse range of abilities within it is at the core of the argument.

Back to my mum: an intelligent woman who could easily have done A Levels, and a degree, had she had the right encouragement. My mum declined to take the 11+, she did not want to be set apart from her friends and she was intimidated by the grammar school in town. Would her life be different if she had gone to grammar school? Probably. Because during that time in education, girls from comps were steered into secretarial work, a fine job for a girl of her age. She wasn’t taught to think bigger than this. No one in her family had ever gone to university. Her comprehensive could have provided this vision, instilled this ambition, but they didn’t; that kind of thing was for the grammar school girls.

Secondary schools have come a long way since the 1970s. Charities like Aim Higher encourage students, like my mum, not to be held back by postcodes, gender or limited opportunities.

We are all grammar schools now, where opportunity is open to all, at any inconvenient age.


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