Grammar Schools – A controversial gem

I have been planning a long diatribe on the flaws in the English education system for a while now. Over the past few years the education system has been butchered by the Tories, mostly by Michael Gove but now by Nicky Morgan who is yet to bare her fangs. Today I saw the first piece of good news surrounding education in England emerge from Kent: that there will be a new Grammar School built there.

I went to a grammar school for all my secondary education. It was selective; I had to pass an exam when I was 11 years old in order to get in. I competed with almost 600 other children for a place among 112 who were accepted, and I got in. The idea behind grammar schools is that, by being selective, they allow naturally smarter people to excel as teachers spend more time pushing up the top pupils in the class rather than spending time helping the bottom of the class. This sounds very elitist but why should someone’s education be stifled just because of where they live or whether their parents have the money for a private school?

If you spent your time shuffling words around then you could say that this selectiveness is detrimental to those who aren’t naturally as gifted as they would benefit from the higher quality teaching. However, you could also say that it helps families and children give their children an incredibly high quality education without having to pay for them to go to a private school. It seems rather strange that ministers in the UK would lament grammar schools yet still support private schools. You could decide to look at that cynically, and I do because MPs seem far more interested in money and helping their friends than helping the common people, but for the most part we must ignore it. Private schools are a result of a capitalist system. Grammar schools have a place in both centre left and centre right politics but elsewhere it is very much down to the individual to make their own arguments.

It was argued by Labour in the 1960s that “grammar schools reinforced class division and middle class privilege.” It might be true that students who go to grammar schools, more often than in comprehensive schools, have parents who are better off or are generally in a better situation. One can’t deny that a stable household allows more opportunities for children to focus on education rather than if their parents are constantly rowing or moving around. However, there are many many more like me whose parents don’t have a lot of disposable income and whose best chance at getting a high quality education is by going to a grammar school because we can’t afford a private school and both of my parents had to work and so homeschooling was not an option. That said, I may do a piece on homeschooling at some point soon.

Huge numbers of grammar schools were closed down in the 1960s and 1970s, reducing the number from around 1300 to about 200 now. Yet again the “me generation” haven’t bothered to safeguard the values and opportunities they were brought up by and took a step backwards. Gordon Brown was the last MP in the House of Commons that attended a grammar school. Not only that, he was the last MP that didn’t have a private education. A number of Prime Ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath, whose government was responsible for the last closures of grammar schools before they leveled out to the current number.

While I think there is a case against grammar schools I feel that, if you want to claim that your society gives all people, regardless of background, the same opportunities, whether it be for health, education, standard of living, etc. you have to have selective schools run by the government. Private schools give children opportunities that poorer children don’t get, and, in order to balance that out, you must have a stepping stone like grammar schools. I feel that this article hasn’t had a very clear message all the way through but, if you take but one thing from this article, let it be this; grammar schools aren’t for everyone but everyone should have the chance to get into one. If you are good enough to go there, and you have the drive to pursue education, then you should look into going to a grammar school, and I would be happy to argue with anyone over whether grammar schools have a place in modern day society.

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