I went to a state grammar school but no they are not the answer

The Holcombe Study Suite of Chatham Grammar School for Boys, opened in February 2003. Wikicommons/Gary Kirk. Some rights reserved.I come
from Kent, one of the few places in the United Kingdom to have retained the
grammar-state school divide. At the age of 11, just as Year 6 starts, all kids are made to undertake a series of tests to divide them based upon
their ‘knowledge’. I was lucky that I passed this test. I now attend the
University of Birmingham, yet if I’d have failed that test it could have been
enormously different.

Passing
the test was not guaranteed in any sense of the word. I needed a tutor from the
start of Year 5 in order to come close to passing and when I actually took the
exam the result was very much up in the air. Time was on my side though, back
then the test was taken later in the year. Had it occurred early on in Year 6
like it does now I never would have passed: my tutor and teachers told me as
much. That is one reason why I oppose grammar schools, because the margins
between passing and failing can be so fine.

Moreover,
the argument that they create social mobility is flawed; those midway children
whose parents cannot afford a private tutor would not pass, so grammar schools
act as a way of creating a class divide in education.

I don’t
wish to disrespect the state schools that many friends of mine attended, but I
am extremely lucky that I passed the ‘Kent test’ as we know it and secured a
place at a good state grammar school. I did enjoy school, I loved it even, and
throughout school I improved year on year, to the point that I could discuss
going to many top universities when I reached the Sixth Form.

But say I
had failed and ended up at one of the state comprehensive schools, my life
would probably have been very different. Of course many people in
comprehensives do end up at universities, and many top ones, but it cannot be
denied that the proportion of comprehensive students going to university is
much less than that of grammars. If I had taken the exam at the start of Year
6, as they do now, do you think I’d be where I am now?

Unbuilt proposal for school in Cranbrook by William West Neve, Architect, March 2010. Wikicommons/ ArchiPilgrim. Some rights reserved.You might
say yes, if I worked as hard as I did at grammar school, then of course I
would. But I think that is easier said than done. Does an 11 year old who has
been told they have failed, that they are not clever enough for the school that
many of their friends go to seem to you like someone who is really going to
rally behind learning? So my argument against grammars is more about the
psychologically shattering effect it has upon children. It tells them that they
are not as valued as others, in terms of the quality of teaching and the levels
of resources, based upon an arbitrary test they cannot possibly comprehend.

For most
kids it sets them on a path of seeing themselves as not being ‘smart’, and it
predetermines them away from university because they believe they are not ‘good
enough’. This is wrong: an 11 year old should not face such devastation. I am
lucky in the fact I went to Grammar School, but others are not so lucky due to
reasons entirely beyond their control or, for an 11 year old, their
understanding. That is why, rather than reopening the debate to reopen socially
divisive grammar schools in the UK, the right thing to do would be to turn
those grammars that remain into comprehensives, to help ensure that class does
not become a determinant of quality of education.

If this
government decides to allow new grammar schools to be built, it will be
recreating the class divides in education that successive governments have fought
so desperately to dismantle. Reopening grammar schools will show the entire
country that Mrs May is no friend of the working man. She wishes to stifle
social mobility based upon some arbitrary test taken in primary schools. So,
whilst I went to a Grammar School, and am privileged to have done so, I can
plainly say they are not the answer to the problems our education system faces.

Wilmington Hall, 1954. Wikicommons/ Ajmcluckie. Some rights reserved.

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