Grammar schools. Don’t talk to me about grammar schools. I hear one of the Tory leadership contenders is touting the return of grammar schools. Ironically, he’s also talking as if he believes in meritocracy. Apparently, he didn’t mean a universal return of selection in education but only expansion in areas where selection already exists. Maybe his double-take was because there remains evidence that selective education entrenches the divisions in our society. There’s a vestige of community snobbery that is served by dividing school children at age 11 years. This has always been popular amongst committed Tory voters.
The false narrative that grammar schools create social mobility is for the birds. Much of the entrenched views on this subject are the result of stereotypes that portray images of comprehensive schools and grammar schools as being like a comparison between Grange Hill and Hogwarts.
Now, I will not get trapped in the myth that all grammar schools are bad, and all comprehensive schools are good on some higher ethical level. In most situations parents are going to seek the best state school opportunities, in their area, for their children. Those children will thrive in well-funded and well-run schools of either kind.
The circular argument that the grammar school experience “worked for me” is often a way society’s divisions are perpetuated through the generations. It’s self-fulfilling. We must ask – Should the children of doctors be more likely to become doctors? Should the children of teachers be more likely to become teachers? Should the children of politicians be more likely to become politicians?
My plea is that we don’t run headlong back to the pigeonholes of the 1970s. We need to give the best education we can to all pupils. Wherever they are from, and whatever the situation of their parents. The talent the country needs will not come solely from selective or private schools.
Yes, not everyone has been gifted with academic ability or for that matter craft or creative ability. Degrees of specialisation do make sense but not by selective partition at age 11 years. Remember that partition was conceived when children left formal education at an age less than 15 years.
One Tory leadership contender has hooked onto the campaigning value of virtue-signalling of having been to an ordinary school. She tells of seeing: “children who failed and were let down by low expectations”. Thus, highlighting a perception of early disadvantage to heighten her projection of later accomplishments.
Debates on education never stray far from recounts of personal experience. Each of us are so impacted by our school years that it’s impossible to remain entirely objective. My father went to the local grammar school, but I did not. Although this fact never seemed to matter much at home, in the background, maybe in my own mind, there was an implication of failure.
What I value, on reflection, is the board range of experiences that an “ordinary” secondary modern schools afforded me. We had a wonderful cross section small town and rural life. A generation of school staff that ranged from young student teachers making their first idealist mark on the world, to grumpy escapees from the cities who treated everyone as backward laggards, to hardened eccentrics who regaled us with their collection of war stories.
Variety is the spice of life.