The question of grammar

The Chief Executive of Siemens recently spoke out in support of a grammar school education system saying that schools had “to give people the hope and aspiration that they can be absolutely brilliant in society.”

Juergen Maier went on to say, “There comes a point where if you put too much pressure on kids purely academically when clearly their interest is in a more practical type, then you should measure it in a different way.

“I just think that a duel approach is a pretty good system. You are not differentiating really – you are saying ‘that is what you are going to excel at, and that is what you are going to excel at’. Both are totally absolutely valuable.”

At the same time Nicky Morgan, Education secretary, was very clear in her opinion on re-visiting this schooling system from a bygone era by stating, “No we’ve been very clear were not going to return to a selective system because frankly I’m not going to fight the battles of the past.

“I want all schools to be stretching the most able. That’s one of the reasons we’re moving to measuring by progress to make sure schools are stretching the most able and helping those who are struggling.”

With an increasingly present debate over the ‘shall we, shan’t we’ question of reverting to a grammar school system, the future of education remains uncertain.

A successful campaign to open a grammar in Sevenoaks (as an extension of another already in existence several miles away), will see the first new grammar school open for half a century, so what are the pros and cons of a modern day grammar school system?

PROS

Undermines privilege – Supporters of grammar schools argue that they allow parents and pupils to be more mobile as far as accessing a school. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, says they are “a great mobiliser and liberator” which help the “brightest children from poor homes”.

Strong exam results – It is argued that teachers can push pupils harder in grammar schools with selective state schools producing some of the best performances in exam league tables.

Successful alumni – With some of the most recognised names the UK has having been beneficiaries of selective education, the success of such speaks for itself. High-achievers taught at grammar schools include Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Margaret Thatcher and David Attenborough.

Other points in support are:

  • They provide an outstanding state education.
  • The focus is on academic achievement and discipline.
  • They promote core subjects and traditional teaching methods.
  • They open up anindependent-style education to pupils whose families could not afford to pay private school fees, encouraging social mobility and diversity.
  • They tend to offer excellent facilities and extracurricular activities.

CONS

They create a divide – Those against grammar schools say wealthier parents can afford the tutoring needed to gain a grammar school place which leads to grammar schools educating a higher percentage of ‘middle class’ children. It is also argued that neighbouring schools inevitably suffer.

The 11+ is unfair – Labour’s new shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, has been outspoken about her critical views of grammar schools saying it is “wrong in principle to select children at the age of 11”.

Rose tinted memories of grammar schooling – Grammar school supporters were not as successful as supporters would make them out to be. In their 1965-66 heyday, only 18% of pupils achieved five O-level passes and 6% achieved three A-levels.

Other points against include:

  • There is no consistency in the 11+ thresholds from year to year, so there is no consistency in which pupils win a place.
  • They prevent children from going to their local school as catchment areas is not a consideration.
  • Children may gain a grammar school place through tutoring but then struggle with the continued academic intensity of a grammar school.

With survey results by the National Grammar Schools Association showing a growing support for new Grammar schools, could we see a trend going back to the future?

Emma Williams

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