Friday, 16 October 2015

one way or another

Well the proverbial cat is certainly having larks with puffed up pigeons this week as news arrived about the opening expansion of a new grammar school. I have yet to come down from the fence that divides supporters believing that grammar schools allow for social mobility as entry is based on meritocracy and protesters proclaiming that it favours the middle-class throng who can afford private tuition to gain the majority of  places.

My experience is within the state sector; grammar schools weren't on my radar until I started tutoring primary school children in English and discovered an army of hard-working-class parents paying for multiple tutors to support their children with literacy, numeracy, science and 11 plus practise until their eyes and fingers bled. It was almost fanatical. Children in year 3 being tutored three times a week or a year 6 approach SATs having five evenings tuition followed by weekend practise tests exams.

The families I worked with were usually non-British with first generation British born children, living in clean and tidy, sparse, two bedroom apartments in West London tower blocks, They were extremely involved in their child's education and I suppose the tuition was their way of ensuring they were supporting their child the best way they knew how. Ecstatic when their children gained places in grammar schools ten miles away they were desperate to maintain the tuition in order for their children to keep up with school requirements. My immediate thoughts were of sympathy for these exhausted children who didn't know what was going to hit them in secondary school - hours of homework after a round trip of twenty miles a day in mostly dark and damp mornings and evenings - only to be faced with hours of tuition after school. It's a gamble - on the one hand here is a possible first generation university application ; on the other a child who's love for education wanes by the time they are in year 8 resulting in a possible exit from the grammar school they busted their arse to get into in the first place.

So is there the chance of true social mobility in grammar schools? A chance..yes... achieved by  a minority. Can these grammar schools offer more than just a playground for the middle-classes? Not everyone agrees. 

And then there's the state secondary schools on the high street that are left with all the people who don't care, don't want, can't afford alternatives to the local comp. What are they left with? Well, usually a shamble of a curriculum that is tinkered with by egomaniac Education secretaries, a hard-working and talented tribe of teachers desperately attempting to enable their charges to leave school with qualifications and skills to live their lives and a bag of responsibility that these children must use to determine whether they want to achieve or not. 

But the main issue here is the loophole that Weald of Kent girls' grammar school created when it claimed it was expanding its ten mile away new site, which will be grabbed with both hands by other grammar schools and, despite Nicky Morgan's denials, I expect we will see further 'expansions' in years to come.

There are soundbites aplenty about the advantageous benefits and noxious repercussions of the grammar school system yet as always it's the parents who will vote with their feet. Is it right to stifle the educational desires of aspirational families in favour of fairness for all? What does all the derision about selective schools suggest about the state schools  - that they are bursting at the seams with society's silage kids? 


  1. We did it! My son is in year 7 at the local grammar school, which luckily for him and us happens to be one of the top state schools in the country. I always knew my son was bright enough to be there. He was tutored for an hour a week in year 5 by a very cheap tutor to familiarise himself with the format of the test. I'm in complete agreement with grammar schools. He is in the right place for him and is also doing lots of sport and music. I have an older child at a comprehensive and a younger child I also hope will go to grammar school. There is literally no competition between the education my two boys are getting. I only wish my eldest had the same opportunities as his brother.

    1. I love the way you've said that he is in the right place. I am slowly learning that one size certainly doesn't fit all. It is a shame that not all children can benefit from the same opportunities - as it does make you wonder how much more this country could achieve.

  2. I have two children.One went to grammar on a bursary and one went to state school.One now works in retail and one is at med school can you guess which one is which?

    1. Mmmm I wouldn't like to guess because that would be complying with social stereotypes and for every 'usual' story I have heard tales of success from the state and met people who have been grammar school educated but not achieved as well.