Justine Greening, the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Education has just announced that she wants new grammar schools to serve “ordinary families.” That is, families where the household income is below £33 000. Speaking at St Mary’s University in London this week, Ms Greening did not offer any explanation of how this could be achieved. Presumably the statement was in response to the recent negativity towards proposals for new grammar schools, as well as evidence that grammar schools, where they do exist, mainly served more privileged households.
At this point I’ll say that I’m not a huge fan of selective schools. My scepticism comes from my own observations of how the grammar school system works, principally in Northern Ireland, my husband’s home country. He failed his 11-plus, the entrance exam for selective schools, which was sufficient to label him a failure at the age of ten. A fellow pupil, who also failed, has since gone on to a professorship at Cambridge University. In short, ten or eleven years old is not a great time to test pupils, especially when that test determines your whole future. Not everyone comes back the way the Cambridge don did.
I’m just as concerned about the costs inherent in the grammar school system. In Northern Ireland, primary schools now prepare pupils for the Transfer Test, an unofficial successor to the 11-Plus. As well as their six-hour school day, pupils are likely to attend out-of-hours tuition for a year or two, at a cost of around £20 per hour. The costs build up. Ms Greening needs to show exactly how her new grammar schools will get around this issue. Currently, NI grammar school entry does not seem to be so much about ability in the classroom, as ability to pay.
Once at a grammar school, a student’s family will be asked for a voluntary contribution in many cases, well over £1000 a year. Yet another reason why grammar schools don’t appeal to the lowest income families.
Yet pupils in Northern Ireland, just like their peers in England and Wales, have access to comprehensive schools, albeit fewer in number. Their premise is to do their best for all pupils, regardless of their ability at the age of ten or eleven. Ms Greening’s asserts that grammar schools should be there because the less affluent “need more good schools.”
I believe that all state schools should be good schools; in most cases, they are. Yet the rhetoric about the shabby teaching and shabby results of state schools continues. It’s rare to meet a teacher who isn’t dedicated to their students and their career. Where teachers are leaving their role, workload is the main issue cited. As school budgets are slashed, conditions will only get worse for students and teachers. All schools need decent funding to serve their students properly. This funding needs to got to all schools, not just those serving a select, and privileged few.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s