Grammar schools might be making a come back, after 50 years. Yes there have always been a few scattered around but an enlightened 1970’s Britain scrapped the grammar school / secondary school (i.e. state selective schools) system in favour of a fairer and more effective contemporary comprehensive school system.
What’s the problem you might ask? Well Okay here you go…
The grammar / secondary modern system used to be the format for the post-war education system. Grammar schools are state secondary schools that select their pupils by means of an examination taken by children at age 11, known as the “11 Plus”. If you “failed” the 11 Plus you went to a secondary modern school. This system was abolished because it was proven to be disadvantageous to most (circa 90%) of children.
The post-war selective grammar school system was proven to give an unfair advantage to middle class pupils who largely passed the 11 plus exam and an unfair disadvantage to working class children who largely failed the 11 Plus exam. Under the selective grammar school system over 90% of pupils at grammar school were middle class, sat O levels and went on to university or a celebrated career path however over 90% of pupils who went to secondary modern school were working class children, sat no exams (until late 1970’s when CSE’s were introduced) and went on to manual working class jobs. There was also a third type of school known as a technical school that taught manual skills deemed more appropriate to working class pupils such as woodwork, but they were very expensive and only a handful were built. This system was known as the tripartite (3 parts) system.
During the 1960’s and ’70’s this tripartite system was heavily criticised and seen by the public, the media, social commentators, academics, and politicians (largely Labour) as unfair and a waste of working class talent and opportunity. The 11 plus exam was also discredited as an unfair IQ test that could only really be passed by middle class children because of the age of and type of delivery, the language and the abstract concepts it contained.
After an extended, successful, social and political debate the Labour government passed with a vast majority an education act introducing the current comprehensive education system, where all pupils are given the chance of succeeding regardless of social or economic background by being taught under one roof, by well qualified teachers committed to raising the achievement of all via a comprehensive and eventually a National Curriculum.
Most grammar schools were dismantled and became comprehensive schools, however a clause (or fault) in the Act meant that this absorption was voluntary so really the comprehensive system was never truly comprehensive, (there are 164 grammar schools in England, and circa 3,000 comprehensive schools), but it was ruled in 1998 (Labour’s School Standards and Framework Act) that no new grammar or other all-selective state schools can be created.
However Weald of Kent Grammar School, in Tonbridge, has side-stepped this law by expanding to another site nine miles away in Sevenoaks.
Hannah Richardson, BBC News education reporter comments that, “Not only will it be the first selective grammar school to open in England for more than 50 years, it is also the first test of the 1998 legislation introduced by Labour that barred any new school from adopting selective admissions.”
I echo her concern and believe that it has also brought the issues of a selective state school system and thus the arguments against the old tripartite system again to the fore.
It is deeply worrying that selective state education has a possibility of increasing its foothold. The advantages to a small minority might be great but the disadvantages to the vast majority of children is much greater. Comprehensive state education has improved the opportunities of all pupils, regardless of ability, cultural, economic or social background and we really must protect it.
I’m not the only one who’s worried…
Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw says that while he backs the idea of a “grammar school ethos” such selective schools needed to “make sure they admit children from all backgrounds and particularly poor backgrounds”.
“Remember this – for every grammar school you create, you create three secondary moderns and I can’t see parents queuing up to send their children to more secondary moderns,” said Sir Michael.
(Source BBC News)
Do you want your child to go to a secondary modern? No me neither – I completely agree!
What do you think? let us know.
To help you judge on which side of the fence you might stand why not have a go at our fun parenting quiz and find out how you stand on testing?
STRESSY OR SOFTY – Which are you?
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