It looks as if the cross-party consensus of no new grammar schools is disintegrating. David Cameron and Theresa May disagree – his modernised Conservative Party is set to be abandoned. Mrs May is preaching meritocracy and social mobility, but is reverting to grammar schools a solution?
Mr Cameron was no advocate of grammar schools, claiming them to be ‘outdated mantras’ and things of a ‘right-wing debating society’. Recognising selective education was ‘unpopular with parents’ he desired a ‘no return’ policy to the 11-plus exam. Yet Mrs May is actively plotting a retreat to those very grammar schools.
If passed, new legislation will once more allow new selective schools to open. The concept is to allocate children to secondary schools depending on their academic ability – usually determined by the 11-plus exam. Passing enables a student’s progression to grammar school and subsequent access to supposedly higher quality teaching and classmates with similar attitudes to learning.
The argument runs that a child’s future should depend on their own merit rather than their postcode. The comprehensive system’s catchment areas can hinder a gifted student’s entry to high calibre secondary education.
Selective schooling supposedly rewards children who possess an exemplary work ethic. This aids a natural progression to university typically leading to higher professional careers, it is claimed. Although comprehensives can be capable of similar standards, grammar schools challenge competent working class students to reach their potential – making them an effective tool for extending social mobility. All of the above is the rhetoric of selection.
Undeniably, separating children at the age of 11 favours those that get selected – the issue is who deserves the chance? The 2015 figures show that a mere 2.3% of those attending grammar schools received free school meals compared to the national average of 12%. Clearly they’re not a microcosm of wider society. The past and present explicitly reveals that the 11-plus exam cannot be ‘tutor-proof’ – irrespective of what May claims, it is unavoidable.
Is this really equality in a contemporary society?
Emerging from the security gates of long private driveways in middle class Buckinghamshire, parents have created a cottage industry for tutoring whilst local preparatory schools coach the children into passing admissions tests. Grammar schools essentially become ‘fee-paying’ of a different variety as the middle-class relentlessly pursue places.
Two equally intelligent students from different backgrounds should have the same likelihood of entry, yet those from a prosperous family have enhanced chances.
Should an exam at age 11 affect your education at age 16?
Working class students (without a parent or tutor to encourage them) are often late-bloomers. Academic ability and potential does not exceed average until later on. By this point, after the age of 11, slow developers have already been rejected by grammar school and so may never fulfil their potential whist stuck in a less prestigious secondary school until age 16.
So please, Mrs May, open your eyes to modern solutions, leave the past where it belongs, and prevent the gap between the richest and poorest from widening further.
-- Harry Stonebridge is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds