• Opportunity

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    23 September 2016

    One of the greatest moments of my life, although I never appreciated it at the time, was when I won a free place at a grammar school. That day everything changed. I would have to work hard of course – but a ladder suddenly appeared and it was within my reach. Perhaps my lack of appreciation of what had occurred was a product of pre-teen distraction or maybe the fact that my mother and father had had to leave school at 15 and 14 and so the benefits of education were not immediately obvious in our family. My mother left school at 15 because she had to contribute to the family finances – living on a West London council estate as part of a family of 7 in the 1950s brought with it the strengths of a close-knit working class community underpinned by strong traditional values - a life in which folks were generally content - but it also meant constant scraping-by, ducking behind the sofa when the rent man called and picking coal from the street when the coalman’s cart had passed. The rest as they say is history. My school allowed me to build the foundation for university and all that followed. So when it comes to grammars and the recently announced consultation on allowing new ones I start from a position of profound thankfulness. But of course grammars - as selective schools - are not right for or indeed available to all and we must consider their re-introduction in the wider-context of secondary school education across the piece. Some say that grammars mean a return to the binary days of grammars and secondary modern schools in which those that missed out ended up with a second-rate education. That may have been in part true in the old days but not now. Government reforms have transformed the landscape. There are now free schools, academies, maintained schools, University Technical Colleges, faith schools, Studio schools (with a marvellous example in Ashburton). Choice has help to drive quality with 1.4 million more children in good and outstanding schools compared with 2010. Others say that grammars do nothing to promote social mobility and are over-represented by children from middle class backgrounds who are tutored for the 11 plus. Others still that a one off test at 11 years old to determine whether a child is accepted is too brutal – children develop at different stages. I worry about many of these issues too but the future is never quite the same as the past repeating itself. If we change the model – perhaps allowing access to grammars at a range of ages (11, 14, 16?), ensuring that those on free school meals are prioritised, that grammars have to federate with and assist other state schools and more then perhaps we can find a better place for all? But I want to know your views – if we press ahead with grammars how do you think we should do it? Please email me your thoughts.