EDUCATION: No place for these schools

editorial image

This is an open letter to our MP imploring her to vote against any legislation that calls for the re-introduction of grammar schools, irrespective of where they are to be sited and of any conditions.

The Prime Minister believes that grammar schools were engines of social mobility.

With some few exceptions, I believe that was never the case, is not the case where they continue to exist, and will never be the case if they are re-introduced, despite attempts to engineer places for intelligent youngsters from modest backgrounds.

In the 1960s, when the Labour Government asked local education authorities to dismantle the tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools, it did so on the basis of overwhelming evidence that this arrangement was not serving our young people well.

It is worth remembering that in Northumberland it was a Conservative and Independent controlled council that undertook the process between 1969 and 1979.

The Eleven Plus was a crude, divisive and inaccurate way to determine a child’s future. The test was supposed to measure innate ability, but it was observed to do nothing of the sort.

External factors played a significant part.

Youngsters who came from homes where books and broadsheet newspapers were read, and where parents held serious conversations using sophisticated vocabulary, were at a considerable advantage.

The examination took no account of late developers.

Many at the age of 15 or 16, given appropriate tuition, far out-stripped some of those who had passed the exam at 11. It did not measure intelligence accurately and research showed that up to 12 per cent of children were misplaced.

The exam did not measure aspiration, determination and industry, essential qualities for a successful secondary education.

Parents who had the financial means to secure private tuition for their children gained a significant advantage, and there were junior schools where pupils were taught and drilled narrowly to the demands of the test to the exclusion of a broader, enriched curriculum.

The percentage of children who passed the exam depended on the number of places, and that varied considerably throughout the country.

It was a post code examination, and parents with determination and finances ensured they lived in those areas that afforded their youngsters the optimum chances of success.

The same is true now in the few authorities that still have grammar schools.

There is an obvious solution to the problem and it is not to create more grammar schools.

Most devastatingly, the Eleven Plus left between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of children branded failures at the age of 11.

In all the talk about the re-introduction of grammar schools very little has been said about the schools to which the majority, those who don’t pass the Eleven Plus, would go.

The Prime Minister has no satisfactory answer to that question.

The most compelling evidence to substantiate the abolition of the Eleven Plus came in 1968 and the years following – 1968 was the year in which the Open University was founded.

It was deluged with applications from men and women who had failed the Eleven Plus and were denied the opportunity to take O Levels, A Levels and matriculate for university. They now came forward, prepared to study in evenings and weekends, and go on to obtain degrees denied them in their youth.

If ever proof was required to support the view that the Eleven Plus contributed to a shameful waste of talent then the Open University was that proof.

I have taught in five comprehensive schools and I can assure our MP that I have come across scores of pupils who would have never passed the Eleven Plus exam, yet have gone on to graduate at university.

The comprehensive school is by far the best vehicle to ensure all pupils have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Finally, I can guarantee what will happen if the Prime Minister pursues the course of action she has indicated.

A few weeks ago I found myself in a children’s park in the borough of Trafford, on the outskirts of Manchester. Trafford still has grammar schools and is the constituency of Graham Brady MP, leading advocate of grammar schools in the House of Commons.

In the corner of the park was a wooden hut from where refreshments were available. In the window of the hut was a hand-written advertisement for ‘Private Tuition’.

It read, ‘Private Tuition offered from the age of seven (I am not exaggerating) to prepare children for the Eleven Plus examination and successful entry into Trafford’s prestigious Grammar Schools’.

It gave a telephone number; there was no indication of fee.

These private tutors will be offering their services wherever new grammar schools spring up.

Sadly, there will be parents foolish enough and with the finances to employ them to drill their seven-year-old children in the evenings after school.

If the Prime Minister thinks she can find a way to prevent this happening so that children from socially deprived areas can gain the coveted grammar school places instead, then I can only conclude she is not living in the real world.

R Todd,

Alnwick