Grammar schools: a good thing?

#1
Apologies if this has been done before. I’ve had a look around but found nothing, so here goes…

The Conservatives are reported as being set to embarrass Tony Blair by supporting his education reforms whilst many of his own senior MPs oppose them. The chairman of the education select committee, Labour’s Barry Sheerman, is calling for council-imposed quotas on school selection (to help disadvantaged parents) and a ban on the expansion of popular schools ‘if they undermine education locally’, whatever that means.

The more I think about this the more I despair for our education system. Decades of levelling down and council meddling like that above have brought about the current situation in which all shall have prizes and no-one ever fails anything, they just have ‘deferred success’. The perceived value of a university degree is lower than it’s ever been, largely because someone who can barely read or write can end up with a degree in text speak from Nelson Mandela University (formerly Doncaster Polytechnic).

We used to select the brightest of our children, regardless of the family income, and educate them free of charge at grammar schools. The remainder went to secondary moderns, where they leaned a mixture of the academic and the practical. This is apparently ‘elitist’, and only marginally more acceptable than membership of Column 88.

I know the grammar school system wasn’t perfect but it did allow children from poor backgrounds to get a good education. I have a suspicion (and without the facts that’s all it is) that the opposition isn’t from the less well off parents whose children would benefit from grammar schools, but the chattering classes who can afford to move house or who send their offspring to faith schools.

What do you think? If a return to something more akin to the old system were possible, would it be a good thing?
 
#2
With the closure of alot of smaller schools and centralising students into large comprehensives I can't really see how they could re-introduce selection for schools. It's already difficult enough to get your kids into the local 'school of choice'.

The alternative (IMO) is to re-introduce streaming within the schools, that way the teaching techniques and the teachers best suited to them can be targeted at the kids involved.
 
#3
It's not really surprising that a Labour government has effectively abolished the greatest aid to social mobility that the country has ever seen.

When I was up at Oxford, the majority of non-independently educated students came from the remaining grammar schools.
 
#4
I went to a Grammar school, and I do believe that they are in fact a good thing. My reasoning for this is that I remember an English lesson in which my teacher talked about when she did her 11 plus. Back then there were only a certain number of places for the local grammar school, and there were more people that had passed than there were places. So they took the people alphabetically, my teacher was the last on the list, but her brother was the next one along and therefore, even though he had passed his 11 plus, was not allowed to go to the grammar school. He went to the local comprehensive and as the work load was not as intense as it would have been he began to slip and only did the minimum amount of work, and subsequently did not get very good grades upon leaving. I remember this story (firstly, as it was only told to me about 3 years ago) because my teacher was looking at my whilst she was saying it; I was the kind of person who would have been just like her brother i.e in that kind of situation I would have slipped and not achievd what I was capable of. But at the grammar school the work load was such that you couldn't not get good grades because you were always working and revising. I have two brothers who go to the local comprhensive, and they hardly ever get homework, which cannot be helping them. Grammar schools give (slightly) more intelliget people the extra push and chance that they need to succeed that they would not otherwise get if the teacher's time was spent with the majority of other children. Besides Mr Blair has been bragging about GCSE scores and percents, my school got 98% of it's GCSE students getting 5 A-C grades the year I did mine (would mention the A-levels but I never bothered to ask the percentage). When you compare that to the 55% to 75% Blair was talking about it just seems like a good idea to keep the grammar schools, and indeed build more of them.

There's your answer, though a littler long...
 
#5
The grammar schools, more than the public schools, have provided leaders in government, commerce and the military since 1945. However a bunch of chippy "eleven plus failures" are going out of their way to do the concept and reality of the GS down - such alien concepts including loyalty, discipline, team-spirit, service, selflessness, elitism, commitment, success, winning...I can still remember the feeling of absolute horror when Estelle Morris broke down and wept as she recalled how she had been made to "feel a failure" for failing an exam at eleven years of age. I can also recall the lack of surprise when she "failed" as Education Secretary because she was indeed a mediocre leader and no match for the cunning officials (all no doubt the product of selective education) that surrounded here at the DfEE!

Bring them back, bring back uniforms, bring back christian education, bring back all of the "alien concepts". In twenty years time we may have a suffcient wodge of people able to stop the rot but I fear this may be too little, too late even so. :x
 
#6
stoatman said:
It's not really surprising that a Labour government has effectively abolished the greatest aid to social mobility that the country has ever seen.
What a succinct summary of the benefits of grammar schools. I'll borrow that if you don't mind. :D
 
#7
Cuddles said:
Bring them back, bring back uniforms, bring back christian education, bring back all of the "alien concepts". In twenty years time we may have a suffcient wodge of people able to stop the rot but I fear this may be too little, too late even so. :x
Are you standing for public office any time soon? If not, do so, quick - we need to vote for you.

The Grammar school system was, and is, much admired both within the country and outside of it. A fine system (of which I was not a product) which has maintained its standards across the water in NI, and within those Grammar schools still remaining in the UK, but has only managed to do so more or less 'on the quiet'. Unfortunately we are not allowed to let people find their own level any more, or encourage those who are not academically gifted to pursue equally laudable careers in other ways such as the system of apprentices. Apparently we all need 2 squillion A levels and a degree from the University of Fitzfarting-Backwards in order to feel we are of any 'value'.
 
#8
Storeman Norman said:
Cuddles said:
Bring them back, bring back uniforms, bring back christian education, bring back all of the "alien concepts". In twenty years time we may have a suffcient wodge of people able to stop the rot but I fear this may be too little, too late even so. :x
Are you standing for public office any time soon? If not, do so, quick - we need to vote for you.
Unfortunately there is no Arrse constituency at present but thank you for your message of support! I think it would be great to represent the fine people of the borough of Arrse and I would of course strive to get as many non-executive directorships and consultancies as I possibly could..erm I mean support their deeply held causes and beliefs...
 

cpunk

LE
Moderator
#9
I agree that Grammar schools were a good thing; the problem was that secondary modern schools were, by and large, dire places which did s0d-all for their pupils other than cement their feet to the bottom rung of the ladder. Good teachers wanted to teach pupils who were co-operative, intelligent and well-motivated, so the good teachers went to grammar schools and the secondary moderns got the dross. I honestly don't see a way of reverting to the old system without the same thing happening again. The answer really lies in improving the quality of teaching in schools; improving pupil discipline; and motivating parents and children to do well in school. Simple really, just radically change Britain's entire social dynamic and we'll be laughing. :roll:
 
#10
grammer schools all well and good but secondary moderns were crp so were basically writeing off everyone who can't get into a grammer school.
and don't give me this toss about technical education its always seen as 2nd class
 
#11
But the Labour Party of Estelle Morris who felt such a failure at 11, is the same one that wants all kids to be constantly tested at all ages. Wonder how she reconciles that?

Personally, I don't recall any pressure when I sat my 11+, nor a year later when I sat the 12+ (moved Countys in the intervening year). We were all told - you're sitting a test today. Can't even recall there being a fanfare or build up to it.

I think teachers disliked the 11+ for the same reason they dislike the tests the Government is bringing in. If their classes don't achieve, it's a measureable stick with which to beat them.

As cpunk says, the problem was that Secondary Modern schools were so dire. They were seen as dumping grounds for the not-so-bright. That's where the energy to reform should have gone, into providing educational and skill-based lessons that would equip your average 16 year old for a life in the big wide world, where testing is a part of life, and where you compete with others for jobs.

Whereas the reality of my parents generation is that they left school at 15 to get a job.

All the people who suggest that we should have a level playing field, where the brightest gets taught at the same pace as the slowest, are ignoring the way the world really works, and are doing those children no favours when it comes to entering the world of work.

Selection is a part of life. Want to be a JNCO? Stand out from your peers. Want to be a SNCO? Even more selection, more weeding out. Commision as a SNCO?

Where would the British Army be if we closed Junior Brecon, and everyone just did a rerun of Basic training?
 
#12
stoatman said:
the greatest aid to social mobility that the country has ever seen.
Couldn't agree more. My grandfather was the son of the Barrow-in-Furness harbour pilot, won a place at the local GS, took full advantage of the teaching on offer and won a place at Cambridge. He fiished his career in the Colonial and Foreign Offices as HM Ambassador to Honduras.

I'd like to see the Labour government of today try and create a situation where a child from a less privileged background could end up in a similar situation.
 
#13
There are a number of issues here, I think, and on the whole, Cpunk has it about right.

I went to a provincial grammar in the '60s. It was run by a pompous ass, taught a very restricted curriculum by today's standards and offered zip in the way of guidance for life. The teachers were second-raters who wished they had been clever enough to become academics. And we were the privileged ones.

The problem is that children don't naturally separate into the clever minority and the not so clever majority any more than adults do. Let us have no more writing people off at the age of eleven.

But, as I say, there are other issues. Probably the most important is behaviour. There is too much low-level disruption in class. Now, some teachers aren't up to the job, but nobody should have to put up with loutish behaviour. Some effective sanctions are needed.

Another issue is the whole field of intelligence and aptitude. Clever kids need to be stretched - and so do all the rest. But children of different potential almost certainly need to be educated in different ways - and in different subjects. Only a large school can provide the options and facilities that are needed, and only a single intake can allow for the full range of opportunities and methods to be available to all. Sets and streaming must be a large part of the answer.
 
#14
brighton hippy said:
grammer schools all well and good but secondary moderns were crp so were basically writeing off everyone who can't get into a grammer school.
and don't give me this toss about technical education its always seen as 2nd class
Did you go to school at all? 8O

There has always been Grammar Schools in N.I so I had assumed that to be the case in England.

My son goes to Grammar School my daughter goes to a Secondary School, both happy in their respective Schools.

I was given the option of sending miniminxy to the same Grammar school (without a good 11 + result) you must score an A or B1/2 to enter Grammar School, but it was felt she would be better off near the top of her class in a Secondary School than struggling at the bottom of her Class in a Grammar School. The 11+ is a BIG thing here and the children spend the majority of their form 6 year in primary practising for it.

Grammar School work is heavy, the homework is intense, it works well for the right sort of child i.e one who is academically and sport minded.

The Secondary School is a good school and some years manages churns out some excellent exam results BUT the Grammar schools seems to push them harder, it is stricter(as expected) and grooms the pupils for Oxford, Cambridge or Trinity. The Secondary School just prays it can get them to stay in school for the duration!

At present there is threats to scrap the 11 + and Grammar Schools here which is being fought tooth and nail.
 
#15
Grammar school after 11+ in 1944. Did not want to be there. Dug heels in and parents were asked to remove me. Sat late developer at 13 and got to secondary modern school that was the one I wanted all along. Stayed until upper sixth. Inter-Bsc as it was then called. The system provided an arts stream, a commercial stream and an engineering stream. Each stream had three levels. The school was extremely well equipped even by today's standards and the staff were, in the main, ex-Forces. Mass of after school activities and clubs. I cannot recall a single student who did not want to be where they were doing what they were doing. Ditto any kids who fell foul of the law. 3 streams at 3 levels meant that all were accommodated at their best level. It is not just what the school is called that matters. It must have full committment from right number of right minded staff using wide range of equipment and teaching aids.
It is this background of staff and facilities that I doubt will be provided. If these are not forthcoming, the school will fail regardless of what it is called and how students get admitted.
 
#16
mereminx said:
brighton hippy said:
grammer schools all well and good but secondary moderns were crp so were basically writeing off everyone who can't get into a grammer school.
and don't give me this toss about technical education its always seen as 2nd class
Did you go to school at all? 8O

There has always been Grammar Schools in N.I so I had assumed that to be the case in England.

My son goes to Grammar School my daughter goes to a Secondary School, both happy in their respective Schools.

I was given the option of sending miniminxy to the same Grammar school (without a good 11 + result) you must score an A or B1/2 to enter Grammar School, but it was felt she would be better off near the top of her class in a Secondary School than struggling at the bottom of her Class in a Grammar School. The 11+ is a BIG thing here and the children spend the majority of their form 6 year in primary practising for it.

Grammar School work is heavy, the homework is intense, it works well for the right sort of child i.e one who is academically and sport minded.

The Secondary School is a good school and some years manages churns out some excellent exam results BUT the Grammar schools seems to push them harder, it is stricter(as expected) and grooms the pupils for Oxford, Cambridge or Trinity. The Secondary School just prays it can get them to stay in school for the duration!

At present there is threats to scrap the 11 + and Grammar Schools here which is being fought tooth and nail.
I had kids who went to school in NI. One to a Quaker girls and one to a very Orange school for boys. The education was superb. The thing I noticed that was different from mainland schools was the discipline imposed by Headmaster Beaky and Headmistress Screaming Skull. The same two kids did about 9 months in a UK school at Barnet where the discipline was non-existent and it was a struggle left to us as parents to get them across the line when exams came up.
 
#17
It isn't a question of grammar schools per se. What is needed is strict streaming in comprehensives, as mixed ability classes drag down the able and leave the weak behind. This isn't a matter of being against social mobility, but directing resources. Also this isn't a behaviour, but ability based approach. This enables the disadvantaged to move within a school and to their best abilities. If pupils choose not to take these opportunitiesit is not the system's fault.

Also challenging exams that allow the prospect of failure would force all to strive harder, safety net removed. This would allow for the introduction of meaningful modern apprenticeships within the comprehensive system, and not creating ghetto-ising secondary moderns.

Having taught in both set and mixed ability state schools, and high and average achievement independent schools, I can categorically say that from my experience the most productive classes arethose with the smallest ability ranges, at whatever level.
 
#18
Thanks to you all for the postings. I’ve never been a teacher but I have been a governor of a grammar school, which the poisonous and vindictive Labour local authority vow to close. For what it’s worth my view is this.

Parents who can afford to move house to be in the catchment area of their choice do so. Parents who can afford independent education do so. Educated, usually quite well off parents will argue persistently and eloquently with their local authority for the best placements. This will be the case no matter how many council quotas are set. It’s selection by income and it will always be with us.

Abolishing selection by ability (or abolishing streaming for that matter, as some advocate) doesn’t help poor – sorry, disadvantaged – people, it does the opposite. It removes the best chance their children have to get a decent start amongst others with similar ability.

Pretending that everyone is equal might get appreciative nods from the beardies and dungaree wearers down at the local community outreach centre, or from Priscilla and Tarquin at next week’s dinner party, but it’s just not true.
 
#19
I passed the 11-plus and went to a grammar school. About halfway through my sentence it became a comprehensive (fecking socialist headmaster), and it all went downhill from there.
 
#20
The real issues here are:
1. School size - no school should number more than 1000 pupils, ideally about 800. Anything larger becomes too "anonymous" for most pupils.
2. 6th Forms - every school should have an integral 6th Form, either academic or vocational - or both. Schools where 15/16 year olds are "top dogs" are, IMO, generally bad news.
3. Staff profile - need a balanced mix of "old hands" who are committed to the school plus a reasonable flow of keen youngsters who bring new ideas, enthusiasm etc. Extracurricular provision (sport, drama, music, clubs, CCF, DofE award etc) is essential.
4. Focus - should be on relentless pursuit of excellence for each and every pupil, but particularly on the "basics", using tried and tested methods and not whatever latest fad takes the fancy of the "experts", "advisers", Sec of State etc.. Requires tough minded leadership - heads who will tell their staff what's expected and hold them to it whilst supporting them in the face of attack by the "Educational Establishment".
5. Priorities/ use & management of resources - think that defence procurement is bad?! The waste of resources in education is truly shocking - the tales one could tell! Eliminate LEAs - give schools full control of their budgets and expect them to get on with it. Again, primarily a matter of effective school leadership, but also govt policy.
6. Re-write the National Curriculum - it should be a simple, clear statement of what is expected at each Key Stage; assess school performance against how well their pupils demonstrate its requirements. Think this is what happens? 'fraid not!
7. Abolish the ludicrously bureaucratic exam boards (jobs for the boys and girls!) - replace them with a single national board. Abolish all coursework - trad exams only for assessment. One of the biggest lies in education is that coursework helps "exam phobics" etc - bullshit: those who take the trouble to produce good coursework are invariably the same people who do well in exams. End grade inflation - abolish "starred As" at GCSE and restore the value of the A grade. Same goes for A level: "modulisation" has rendered the A level a pale reflection of what it once was - an international "gold standard" that exceeded the academic demands of the first 2 years of most US degree courses.
8. Eliminate "managerialism" in schools - it's a cult perpetuated by policy wonks, educationalist lickspittles, and gutless little sh*ts who aren't interested in teaching youngsters and who want to "develop" their careers by abandoning the classroom.

Nothing wrong with the "comprehensive" concept per se; there's a lot wrong with how many of them are run, their priorities, leadership (or lack of!) and focus. Large comprehensives/ 6th Form colleges have little to do with delivering quality education for all, and everything to do with economies of scale/ cost reduction etc.. Some do a good job, but it's in spite of rather than because of the system.

Final point - the proliferation of ICT in schools is a huge red herring; a classic example of the jumbled priorities/ waste mentioned earlier. A literate, numerate and intellectually stimulated/ challenged youngster can learn the essentials of ICT use in a few weeks; at present, we have thousands of semi-literate gumboids who lack interest in/ curiosity about anything much spending hours doing not a great deal at the keyboard. ICT is a godsend to lazy teachers - nothing like a bit of "group research" to while away a double period without having to do too much other than set up some "activities" to start them off! "Interactive whiteboards" are useful, but are most effective for getting the best out of switched-on/ motivated pupils; they don't really help much with the disaffected, uninterested and disruptive elements. Bottom line: (a) ICT is a waste of time if you can't read/ write properly;(b) you need to know quite a lot in order to make effective use on the internet;(c) pretty "powerpoint" presentations are no substitute for real knowledge/ understanding; (d) easy access to ready info (often plain wrong!) too often results in pupils failing to process material, and whatever is "learnt" is only superficially retained/ understood.

Rant over.
 

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