There is a very strong chance I am missing the point here, but I fail to see the problem with grammar schools. Before I get anyone’s back up, I’d like to stress that this isn’t a right wing rant, just an observation based on my own experience.
The argument seems to be based on how grammar schools, instead of improving equality, make it worse. The phrase ‘social mobility’ is thrown about but I believe grammar schools can help to bridge the gap and boost those who are at a lesser advantage.
It would seem the thoughts range from catchment area arguments (the supposition grammar schools will only spring up in the more affluent areas) to the expectation that those who don’t pass the 11+ will receive a second-rate education.
I attended a grammar school (albeit for just under two years) and I had to travel 26 miles each way on a bus to get there. I didn’t live in the catchment area, in fact very few did so I don’t consider the the catchment area argument to be valid. Wherever you put a grammar school, people will want to go and people will be prepared to travel.
I hated the school, but that statement is neither here nor there. It turned out I hated school in general then I went on to hate college too. I do believe that if I had stayed at the grammar, my life might have been different.
When I look around at my alumni (on Facebook, mainly) they are all high earners in professional roles, the majority are doctors, opticians, dentists and solicitors. Although I probably wouldn’t like to spend my days looking at tooth decay or checking someone’s prostate, I do kind of envy them.
When you know the playing field is not level, you might as well use whatever you can to your advantage in order to give you (and your family) a better chance in life. You can be a socialist and still play the game.
I do believe everyone should get a chance to pursue the career paths they want and attend the universities that will get them there and I think free grammar schools are a means to do that. Most academies have a grammar stream now anyway, so those who don’t pass the test or go blank on the day still get pushed and have the opportunity to take the higher-tier exams, so who are grammar schools really hurting?
I remember seeing a similar argument on TV (it was probably on the Wright Stuff, the Peppa Pig hangover of the school-run) asking if you can be a true Labour supporter if you send your child to private school.
It seems that people believe wanting their child to do well but also wanting everyone to have an equal opportunity has to be mutually exclusive. If you have the money for private school and truly believe it’s the best for your child then I don’t see a problem with sending them. It surely doesn’t have to mean you don’t value equality. If anything, it demonstrates that you understand and acknowledge inequality and don’t want to be subject to it.
I probably wouldn’t send my children to private school, even if I did have the funds. From what I gather about the ones local to me, the children have a hefty workload and less time to play and/or socialise. This doesn’t mean to say I judge those who do send their children to private school, it’s just not for me.
Anyone from any background can go to grammar school, providing they pass the test. It is very similar principle to streaming children in regular state schools except there are fewer places. This in turn makes smaller classes and greater engagement between the pupils and students (in theory anyway, I remember a rather fearsome French teacher exclaiming, “don’t ask me if you’re stuck, I’m the teacher!”).
What I’m trying to say is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your children to have a better life than you have. I understand what it’s like to be a low-earning single mum. I was one and it was hard. Before I passed my exams and qualified as a dispensing optician I worked 4 days a week and still qualified for tax credits and housing benefit.
After having my daughter I originally intended to work three days, but I just couldn’t afford to. With all my benefits taken into account working four days a week instead of three left me only £80 a month better off (and five days left me worse off than that). Take a second to work that out, that means for that fourth day each week I was essentially working 8hrs for £20. That’s not even minimum wage by 2011 standards (which is when this was).
In fact, once I qualified and got a pay rise, I no longer received housing benefit (which was fair enough) but in order to maintain my wage at what it was previously, taking all benefits into account, I was slightly better off if I could make sure I phoned in sick twice a year rather than risk crossing the tax credits threshold and experiencing a significant drop in the income I was working so hard for.
I relied on the benefits set up by a Labour government, I was grateful for them and didn’t quite make ends meet in spite of them. I support Labour but I still want my children to have a better life than I did and a good education is almost a guaranteed passport to success. If there’s a chance my children can get a leg-up for getting into the top universities and a strong start in adult life then I’m going to take it.
It’s not elitism, it’s not social climbing; it’s common sense.
I honestly think grammar schools are the least of your worries. If you want to complain about the poor decisions this government is making, perhaps look into the closure of women’s refuges instead or the strange new scoring system that takes disability benefits from those who need them. There’s plenty of more important things to be angry about.