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More Grammar Schools ? Really ?

The start of this term has coincided with the announcement that the government is not opposed to the re-introduction of selection according to academic ability. I shake my head in despair. If Grammar schools are the answer then the question is not “How do we increase social mobility in the U K?”. I speak from experience. I attended one in the 1970’s.

I remember clearly the prestige that was attached to passing the 11 plus and being offered a place at the Grammar School. You were one of the chosen few. The brown blazer and school cap were yours - along with a role as an extra in a story that went back to 1588. You were entitled to take part in an “academic curriculum”, sing - or pretend to sing - Jerusalem or Onward Christian Soldiers each morning and attend an annual speech day. And the assumption was that you’d go to university.

The package wasn’t appropriate for at least 20 of the 120 in our year group. They left at 16 having suffered the torture of  engaging with subjects that meant nothing to them and teachers who were ill equipped to deal with youngsters who needed encouragement to learn French, Maths and Chemistry. The practical subjects that would have interested them more were badly taught and considered time fillers. Lots of others who might have benefited from well taught practical subjects were discouraged from choosing them. The class system said “No“.

Whilst the 11 plus might have led to inappropriate recruits to the Grammar School the impact was nothing to the effect the selection process must have had on the 85% of children who failed the 11 plus and went to secondary moderns. I always felt uncomfortable as friends and relatives were pointed in different directions at 11. 11?!  What sort of society makes decisions about children at  such a young age? How can anyone be said to have failed when they haven’t even arrived at teenage? I’m always impressed by those who attended secondary moderns and went on to have successful working lives. To overcome such an unfair  early setback is admirable.

When I saw the  Year 7’s arriving at Rushcliffe and Farnborough this week I was struck by how proud and optimistic they were as they begin life at their new school. I know the children at Arnold Hill will feel the same. The future’s bright. Anything is possible. The re-introduction of selection will not increase social mobility. Great comprehensive schools increase the life chances of all young people. They do! Surely the government should focus its attention on helping to make all schools great rather than create places  which will inevitably be populated by those who can afford private tuition and who already have a clear view of a bright, exciting world. Many yearn for grammar schools but when it becomes apparent that few will attend them the atmosphere will change.

Our strap line is “Everyone will be given the chance to shine brightly“. Everyone.

Phil Crompton