Grammar Schools - why not?

Back in the 1980s was one of the "lucky ones". I went to a grammar school.  A bright girl from a working class family, I was destined for the local comp that was so bad it was later razed to the ground, the children bussed elsewhere and a supermarket built in its place.


A precocious child whose head was always in a book, I somehow discovered that elsewhere in the county some children went a school where being clever was not something to be mocked, and where girls and boys aspired to be doctors and lawyers, vets and academics. My price was a long journey each day, starting before 7 and returning after 5.30, no after schools clubs and limited play dates but it was clear to me as I walked up the long hill each morning that the price for those who failed the test was far greater.


On part of our school campus sat "the annexe", an extension of the girls’ high school. It was a place where the student's main aim was to get out and get on with life, where ok was good enough.  My own siblings went to the comprehensive that would become a Sainsbury's - they have both flown high but not through their education, which left them scraping into college and an apprenticeship.


I realised then that the system was flawed.  At their school, 1 in 100 would go to university, at my school it was 1 in 100 who didn't - and ironically that one was me. I had always felt out of my depth.  Whilst in lessons I thrived, I felt embarrassed visiting the homes of the doctors, vicars and lawyers who were the middle class girls who surrounded me.  I wasn't comfortable inviting them home, or engaging in small talk about their fancy holidays and expensive cars they would get when they were 17.


I didn't see why all schools couldn't give bright children the best possible education, wherever they lived, and whether their parents were bricklayers or brain surgeons. Every child has potential, their environment can make it flower and grow, or snuff it out cold. Why should we be socially engineered at 10 years old into being good enough, or not? 


Why not be radical? Let's invest in our schools across the board.  Let's stream according to ability with the chance to move up and down throughout the year as children's affinity and energy for a subject peaks and flows, let's value vocational education as a genuinely high quality option and let's ensure that the next generation of parents expect that their children will have real choice for their futures.


Narrowing the gap between rich and poor so far has meant narrowing the choice.  State schools so underfunded that they cannot run lessons in creative or vocational subjects, only parents with the means to tutor achieving the gold plated places in grammar schools.  Free schools, faith schools and grammar schools all seek to divide and segregate, we should be integrating our future adults so that a culture of tolerance and diversity runs through their young lives and they grow into adults where each person’s worth is valued.

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