Grammar school expansions: A bad precedent?

How could we ever have thought that homogenised comprehensive education (and for that matter, a uniform national curriculum) were appropriate?  Janet Daley – The Telegraph – ‘In the long war over grammar schools, working-class children suffered most’ 17 Oct 2015

This sentence in Janet Daley’s recent Telegraph article is one that gave me some food for thought when it comes to education and parenting. As someone who has a little girl who will one day go to school, and as someone who has been a teacher, is it really the case that we are having a grammar school debate in this country?

Whilst in principle there is something good about the idea of differentiation and responding to different needs by using streaming (or setting), the reality is that the re-emergence of grammar schools would provide yet another divisive barrier in the way of creating a cohesive society.

Having only ever experienced the selection process through the experiences of my family as well as discussions with my German step-mother who experienced the German equivalent of the grammar school, I had thought this would be the closest I would get to really thinking about the merits of a grammar school education. This was until last week when Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, decided to permit the expansion of a current grammar school in Kent.

With children still very much children at the age of 11 as they sit the exam that effectively is designed to say if you are academic or not, the selection process in reality starts a long time before this, perhaps even before a child is born. Many parents scout out and plant their roots around catchment areas to ensure that they are in pole position to get their kids to the best schools. This arguably creates even more social division when it comes to finding a school and helping to create an equal education field.

With children coming from diverse backgrounds and having very different ages at which they leap forward and develop (boys normally later than girls), the worst part of this is that kids who come from backgrounds where they have not had as much of a chance to fully develop struggle to catch up with children who have received everything to help them push on through their early years. If children are not allowed to fully develop or are cut away from those same children who can help those around them working as a more knowledgeable other, both sets of children will suffer.

Devising a better education system is a tricky task, and while everybody wants to see children given the chance to diversify, build on their strengths and then use their education to lead as full a life as possible, the reality is that the return to an idea that was hailed as a driver of social mobility but instead created a two tier education system that failed so many children and families is one that we cannot cling to and embrace.

Categories: Observations

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