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Grammar Schools-A Top Class Education For Working Class Kids!
Whether grammar schools should still be in existence or not is a highly emotive and controversial subject. It seems as if parents of those with children attending one will be largely in favour and those who narrowly missed out may be, understandably, against. Before prejudging this review I hope you will understand that I'm trying to write a balanced review on the pros and cons of this system and that, although I feel it is, in essence, an unfair system it is still better to help some, rather than none, to compete with those from more privileged backgrounds. A system which creams off the top will never be completely fair but then are private or religious schools fair? Is it fair that education relies so much on the postcode lottery? I admit to feeling uneasy about selection, especially at such a young age but can't help feeling that it is still better that some children receive a good educational opportunity than none. I also feel that a very academic education isn't the best thing for many bright children. Indeed some will thrive much better in an environment which offers a broader based education.
Grammar schools began in olden days as teachers of Latin. Over many years they changed, bringing in more subjects, classical languages, and nowadays, modern foreign languages. Today, grammar schools teach all national curriculum subjects with a heavy bias on academic subjects. It is not usual to teach many less academic subjects.
There were many grammar schools in England and Wales from the 1940s to 1960s. During the 1970s most of these schools were 'turned' into comprehensives or they left the state system. London grammars often moved a little outside of the capital, often to greater London. Ireland retained their grammar schools for longer.
There are still some selective schools in outer London boroughs, such as Bromley, Bexley and Redbridge. Redbridge has two, one for boys and one for girls. These schools are heavily oversubscribed, with around nine hundred girls applying for one hundred and twenty places. The same is so for the boys' school.
These two schools used to take ninety pupils per year group but in the early 90s there was a court case concerning this borough's girls' selective school. It concerned a father fighting for the right for his daughter to sit Redbridge Council's eleven plus exam although she resided in the London borough of Waltham Forest. His argument included the fact that much of the school actually lay within the boundaries of Waltham Forest. I am not quoting on this, but relating from memory. Following this in the following year an extra class was added to both selective schools and the catchment area for those wishing to sit this exam was extended to include surrounding boroughs. I don't feel this is completely fair to the children of Redbridge but it does show that the popularity for this type of school remains.
I attended grammar school in inner London in the 70s. I hated it! It wasn't the right school for a quiet child without much self confidence. I feel that 'all-rounders' develop better in this type of environment. I had my strengths but wasn't confident in maths and science. I rebelled but now, too late, I do know that I received a good education and
had I, 'fitted in' more, I could have achieved much more. The opportunities and expectations were there. This school became comprehensive in spite of much opposition, towards the latter half of the 70s. The trouble with campaigning to keep it open was that, although there was much support there was probably more support for enlarging and merging two schools to form a new comprehensive, by parents of children not attending this grammar school. So the highest achieving girls' school in the area, gradually merged with another local school, probably the lowest achieving and it became one large very low attaining school.
I was surprised, when I moved to my present greater London borough, to find that it still had two grammar schools. I'd detested my grammar school but, as my eldest daughter approached transition to secondary school, I looked and researched local schools. She had always been bright and I felt hadn't been 'stretched' during primary school. (this school later became much improved.) I attended school open days and although I had believed she would be fine at the catchment area school, myself and my husband , changed our mind on visiting it. My husband felt it reminded him of his school, a secondary modern turned comprehensive. He thought our daughter would have a lot of fun there but would need to be very self motivated. We weren't impressed by the standard of work on display or the expectations of the pupils by teachers.
Following this, we looked into results of local schools. We had a look around when the school day ended to try to judge behaviour, which we felt was more important than pure academics. We were very impressed with the grammar school.
I purchased some 11+ papers from retailers such as W.H. Smith, and helped her with them.
We were delighted, as was she, when she passed the exam, automatically qualifying her for a place. The exam consists (It varies in different areas) of two papers taken on two occasions, of a verbal reasoning test and a non verbal reasoning test. In this borough reports are only brought into the equation if the child doesn't pass but is placed high enough to be in the border zone, and therefore allocated a numbered position on a waiting list.
I do believe this is an awful system for children to sit a test at such a young age. I wish in this country the transition age was around thirteen, which would give children who are slower to mature education wise, more chance to develop and show what they can be capable of. Also, I think it's unfair that children can defer (being abroad, bereaved, ill) the test and so, especially if they are autumn born they can be a few months older and have had more coaching than others taking the tests at the set times.
Another problem is that children in my borough are over coached. I know of some who have been tutored privately while in the infants purely on the basis of early preparation for winning a grammar school place. Some of these children don't stand a chance but their parents cannot see this, and others would, in my opinion, pass with just a little help nearer to the time. I feel some children are put under so much pressure for these few places and they should be enjoying their childhood instead of worrying about the eleven plus. Too much importance can be put on this. My offspring have all been told try your best, but it isn't the be all and end all of everything. We have always encouraged them to consider which school would best suit them, although, of course, at this age the parent must guide.
Three of my four children gained grammar school places. My second son was borderline and I appealed this. No case at that time had been won. I knew we had little chance but felt I wanted my voice heard. My main argument was that he had only been ten years and three months when he took the tests as opposed to some others in his school year being close to a year older. If they took it at a later date there would be an even greater age difference. Also, at that time, summer born children entered school in after Easter, as opposed to others starting in September and having a year of schooling. Extra points are added in the eleven plus to take account of age but it is extremely minimal and I don't believe rectifies this issue.
At the appeal we (my husband and I) were told by the panel (consisting of high ranking council members and those in the educational field) that had he sat the test the year before he would have obtained a place by his score but as it was a recession year scholarships were cut back and so state school places weren't turned down. We were then fed the platitude, 'He is obviously a clever boy, he will do well wherever he goes!' I responded by asking what type of school had these panel members attended; where had these panel members been schooled? Yes, you've guessed... grammar schools, every one! One member added proudly, that she had taken the 11+ a year early as she was thought very capable!
I consider myself, while not overly political, to lean towards socialism but , in trying to phase out selective schools the Labour government did a tremendous disservice to the working classes .
When I was at primary school, out of a class of forty plus children the top nine gained grammar school place. That was just almost all who applied. In Redbridge in the 60s and 70s there were many grammar schools. A friend told me that about a third of pupils in her primary school went on to local grammar schools. I feel if there were more grammar schools around today it would better serve the needs of children. The system would be fairer and less stressful. In my borough we have private, special educational needs, Catholic, Jewish and Sikh schools. A neighboroughing borough has a school named a football school of excellence and would be football stars are sent there. Many comprehensives become specialist in science, drama, music, or sport so, why does it seem to be frowned upon if you attend a school aimed at bright children. It seems to me as if it's more acceptable to believe your child to be talented in sport than in academics.
My youngest daughter attends a grammar school and is in the sixth form. When she was in year seven I was very impressed with the standard of the work given and the speed of learning. I don't think she's always found it easy to be in this highly academic environment owing to ill health throughout being at this school. Although unavoidable, it's greatly frowned upon and there is always so much catching up with work missed. Also, her aspirations lie in the singing/drama field, which I don't feel is appreciated
Pictures of Grammar Schools
by some peers and teachers as most pupils will attend top universities and subsequently follow academic careers. if you attend a school like this and you have a weaker subject or two this can be difficult. Although my youngest daughter isn't bad at maths it is her weakest subject and she was in a class with girls brilliant at this subject. I think the teaching then often caters more for the most able pupils. At a comprehensive with good streaming this wouldn't be an issue. Teaching would probably be more sympathetic but then again, even though she isn't mathematically minded she still obtained an A grade. I wonder if this would have been expected of her at a comprehensive ans whether she then would have put in as much effort. Of course, much would depend on the standard of the comprehensive. I feel grammar schools are usually more consistent.
At my daughter's school it seems as if the exam boards chosen for GCSE are the hardest. This is to prepare them for studying for A levels and degrees. Many achieve A and A star at GCSE.'''But, more important than grades, in my opinion, is the actual standard of education on offer'''. And the confidence these pupils gain in readiness to take well deserved places at universities and in the workplace, alongside those from more exclusive backgrounds. I'm not for one minute saying that a child from a comprehensive school will not do well but I think generally they would have to be self motivated from the start, unless the school is exceptional.
Expectations at grammar schools are high and this reinforces to children that they can achieve, however poor their background. Surely it is better to help a few working class youngsters to get a foot on that ladder than none? Grammar schools have always provided an education comparable to that of private schools. And at least they get there through their own ability rather than the size of their parents' bank balance. But it is also worth remembering that grammar school excel academically but if a child's talents lay in other fields then a comprehensive school will probably nurture this more than a grammar school would. If a child doesn't make it to a grammar school this doesn't meant hey won't achieve their goals. Expectations for obtaining good exam grades and earning a university place are more usual today. Although now with the fee rise many will be forced to think again, unfortunately.
To summarise on this lengthy review, I feel that grammar schools have their downside and definitely don't suit everyone. Some children are much better catered for at a good comprehensive which offers much more curriculum choice than a grammar.However, they are the best means of helping some. I believe there should be more grammar school providing places for around the top twenty-five per cent of children rather than less than ten per cent. This would be much fairer and standards would remain high.
I feel that all comprehensives should provide streaming which helps all abilities. I strongly suggest that comprehensives should be brought up to a good level before any more grammar schools are lost.
Why let the rich and privileged have the best when all children should be entitled to a first class education whatever their parents income? Aren't all children deserving of an education to bring out their talents whether they be in sport, music, drama or academia?
The standard in all comprehensive schools (some are already doing a great job) before getting rid of more grammar schools