Grammar schools are popular, or so the prevailing wisdom goes. Moreover, the idea that parents want selection underpins the recent flurry of pro-grammar activity around the country.
But I bet the ‘Guardian’ is here to tell you why that’s not actually true…
The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has approved a new “satellite” grammar school in Sevenoaks, Kent.
And next month the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, with the backing of local MP and home secretary Theresa May, could take the next steps towards developing a similar project in its area.
But this time it won’t be without a fight.
The plan to introduce selective education into what is currently a comprehensive area, by establishing an annexe to a grammar school in neighbouring (fully selective) Buckinghamshire, has so enraged a group of local residents that they are gearing up for a fight. The revival of the 11-plus, which proved so divisive throughout the 60s and 70s, may turn out to be more contentious than Morgan realises.
At the heart of the campaign in Windsor and Maidenhead is grandfather and local businessman Peter Prior, who failed the 11-plus and is determined to challenge the case for a new grammar school.
“I was devastated by failing the 11-plus test myself. My parents were wealthy enough to educate me privately but it certainly had a negative impact on my aspirations.
“I have never found that children do better because you tell them they are failures. To categorise 85% of children at age 11 is wrong, especially as they develop at such different rates, and I don’t think it is good to keep children with different abilities apart. It is not a constructive or fair way to approach education.”
Ah. So, he failed the 11 plus and now wants to ensure no-one else suffers the ignominy (that he seems to be perfectly happy to discuss with all and sundry)?
That’s very noble, but why should his experience outweigh that of all the other people who weren’t offered the chance to compete in the 11 plus and so gain access to a grammar school?
Jo Smith, a primary school parent whose eldest child could be one of the first affected by a new grammar school, is convinced that once people hear the facts about the 11-plus, the council may be forced to think again.
“At the moment we have a good choice of maintained schools, academies, and faith schools – but all comprehensive. It is important that people realise all those schools would be affected,” she says.
So when she says ‘the facts’, she really means ‘my selectively-applied facts’..?
According to Simon Dudley, deputy leader of the council, who also helped to set up an all-ability free boarding school, Holyport college, the council is not anti-comprehensive but felt it must respond to the exodus of some pupils into selective Buckinghamshire.
“It is as if we already have a grammar school system because parents are going to schools in selective authorities bordering us,” he says.
“We are pro-choice and pro-excellent-education, and we think parents should have the maximum opportunity to help children fulfil their potential.”
Well, quite! Provide the service people want, or they go elsewhere!
The Sevenoaks decision has also nudged a similar campaign into life in Kent.
Founders of the Kent Education Network range from teachers and academics to parents such as Joanne Bartley, who says she was profoundly shocked when her own daughter failed the 11-plus:
“I assumed things like this didn’t happen to middle-class mothers like me. I started to dig a little deeper into what selection really means in communities like ours and it is all so wrong.
“I feel my daughter will have a chip on her shoulder all her life.”
Probably will, but it’ll have nothing to do with the grammar school, and everything to do with your attitude.
“However good the local secondary moderns are, they have fewer resources and a limited curriculum as they don’t have the full range of pupils.
My daughter is doing well at school – proof of how ridiculous the grammar school label is – but even so she is faced with having to apply to a grammar again to do the A-levels she wants because she can’t do them at her current school.
“We want to draw attention to the fact that not all parents want grammars and to highlight the impact on children. We hope to give confidence to people in other areas to organise.”
No, not all parents want grammars. But a lot do. Why should the naysayers triumph?