An Experienced Perspective on the Grammar School Debate

I’ve heard many a time that Grammar Schools are nothing more than “for the posh”, or “unfair in their selection”. I have also heard quite the reverse, with some saying that Grammar School has “set them up to succeed”, or “pushed us in ways comprehensives often couldn’t”

I have been in close proximity with both views, and with the national debate that has raged over the last few months, even after May back-pedalled on her plans for the Grammar system, I feel that this exposure has become more and more invaluable as I listen to many of the incredulities that are spoken by those debating. How have I come into such close proximity with these views, many of you may ask, well I’ll tell you; I have been both a comprehensive school student and a grammar school student.

My schooling began in much the way everyone else in the country has, starting in a primary school and then going on to a comprehensive. The following few years were to be enlightening. While I hold no malice against the comprehensive system, indeed I believe it has done me good, I also began to recognise its flaws. The most pivotal and relevant of these flaws being the treatment of smart individuals within the school environment.

Now while there are numerous cases of bullying of children who are considered smart within the school system, I shan’t approach it in this angle.

Rather, consider the breadth of students admitted into the average comprehensive school. Are they selectively picked? Are they checked in any meaningful, academic way? In all cases to my knowledge, the answer is no as often it is the council and schools that take a lead on selecting often based on so-called feeder schools and location. Any movement of school population that can be considered smarter than average to a particular school is often based on school reputation, rather than any qualification such as an entrance exam. As such, comprehensives, such as the  one I attended, had to deal with a breadth of people from both sides of the academic spectrum, which inevitably puts pressure on the school’s ability to teach.

This is often mitigated by the set system, where classes are divided based on the abilities of the children, but even within these sets the problem exists. Many a time, it has been easy to see the class being held back as the teacher attempts to ensure the whole class understands a concept, that the smarter children may have understood but that others won’t have. As we move away from high sets, this problem becomes even more obvious, as in increasing numbers children who understand a concept have to wait for others to catch up.

Now for Sixth Form, I moved to a Grammar School, and there I saw a different reality to teaching; because of the selective nature of entry, it meant that many of the students were more academically minded, and therefore progress could be made at a rate that would have been rare in a comprehensive. Of course, there were times where we would have to wait for other students, or even myself, to understand things being discussed, but it was rarer, and often very quickly sorted out.

So my thoughts turn to this; why is creating an ideal environment for those who are more academically minded to learn such an awful thing, as many in the media has said? We are not talking about a private school that is pay to enter, but a school judged by academic merit. Does this not allow resources to be more adequately separated, so in grammar schools resources can be spent on cultivating this atmosphere, often through private funding, and money to comprehensives can then be spent on more adequately ensuring that not one child is left behind?

Often, the basis of refusing an expansion of the current grammar school system seems to be rooted in some misguided view that accepting that some children are more academically minded is akin to elitism. I say that this view is not only dangerous, but absurd. After all, is that not akin to the cries of heresy that was put to medieval scientists? Like the treatment Copernicus received? While the sting may not be there, I feel that there is a dangerous ideal that many cling to, and it only makes me believe in the existence of grammar schools more.

Therefore, I say this; the grammar school system should be encouraged, if not expanded, if not for statistic’s sake but for those students whose prospects would be revolutionised by entry into a grammar school.

1 COMMENT

  1. There are countless issues with the grammar school system which remain unaddressed in this article. Under the tripartite system, funding was always prioritised to the grammar schools leaving comprehensive schools under funded and unable to deliver a proper education. Surely history would repeat itself? What is more, it is a widely regarded fact that grammar schools do not promote social mobility- working class children are significantly less likely to attend a grammar school which inevitably produces an elitist system.

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