Reformed grammar schools can be a force for good11th October 2016
Theresa May’s flagship education policy has incited a firestorm of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, even within her own party. Whilst I believe that education is facing more pressing issues such as swelling class sizes; high teacher drop-out rates and a shortfall of primary school places; Grammar schools have an important role to play in the future of education.
Grammar schools can and do give children from working class backgrounds an opportunity to learn in an outstanding and highly academic environment. This is surely an opportunity that we should want to extend to as many students as possible especially bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.. Critics of Grammar schools argue that by skimming off the brightest pupils, pupils in comprehensive schools will suffer. However the reverse argument is equally as compelling. From my experience at a comprehensive, academic extra curricular activities were viewed as ‘uncool’ and students that made lots of effort and achieved well were labelled as ‘nerds’. I am not suggesting that it is impossible for pupils to achieve well in the comprehensive system; I know first hand that you can. What is important is that if a student has the ability they should be able to experience the enriching academic environment that will allow them to fulfil their potential.
For Grammar schools to fulfil their mission statement, they must do more to incorporate students who come from poorer backgrounds.
As an individual who has experienced both a Comprehensive and Grammar school education it is easy to observe a stark difference in the aims and provisions of the two types of school and perhaps rightly so. Comprehensive schools, despite streaming the brightest students into the top sets often do not push them hard enough or inspire them to target the best universities. It seems like many comprehensive schools give the brightest pupils less attention as management focuses on dragging up other students to achieve a C grade in English and Maths at GCSE. Given how OFSTED assesses our schools and the nature of school league tables, it is no surprise that boosting lower achieving students to a respectable pass in facilitating subjects at GCSE is the priority for most comprehensives.
If the government was to attempt to lift the ban on new Grammar schools, created by the 1998 School Standards and Framework Act, it must look to reform these selective schools with a commitment to bringing in more students from poorer backgrounds. According to a study by the Sutton Trust only 3% of Grammar school entrants are entitled to free school meals compared with 18% of non Grammar school entrants in the same area. For Grammar schools to fulfil their mission statement they must do more to incorporate students who come from poorer backgrounds. Potential new Grammars and existing ones could look to do this by following the lead of the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, a group of Grammar schools, which have introduced a quota for children on the pupil premium thus slightly lowering the admission criteria for disadvantaged pupils.
Another aspect of Grammar schools that needs to be reformed is the opportunities for entry at the ages of 13 and 16. I entered a Grammar school after the completion of my GCSEs when I was 16; This was certainly a better option for me because of the benefits of coeducation and the fact that I was never tutored to sit the eleven plus. These are two areas which can and must be reformed if new Grammars are to be introduced. I firmly believe that single sex schooling is detrimental to the development of children and research suggests that it can have negative effects on relationships with the opposite sex later in life, this is true especially amongst boys. New Grammars must also expand entry opportunities in year 9 and year 12 in order to account for students who have developed later or did not have the opportunity to study for the eleven plus exam. By making these changes a new breed of more accessible , coeducational and modern Grammar schools could extend their resources and expertise to even more capable bright young people.
A Grammar school can provide a quality of education that money cannot buy that is open to any academically capable student whether that be at the age of eleven, thirteen or sixteen. I want as many students as possible to have the opportunities I had. At the moment too few bright children from all kinds of backgrounds are afforded this opportunity.