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How About We Don't Kick it Old (Grammar) School?

26/09/2016 12:39

When attempting to do anything that could be described as "creative", you often find yourself making friends with similar aspirations. Sometimes those friends will have such similar goals and views to you, that you find yourself working on the same subject matter. On occasion you will find that not only is what they've written better than the half-baked thing you were doing, but it has also been published in the actual print edition of the national newspaper you often consider to be your third parent.

This is exactly what happened last week, when my social media was suddenly awash with praise for an article. Discussing grammar schools, the piece pointed out that perhaps streaming children into those destined for greatness and the also-rans at the age of 11 on the basis of a single unfair test isn't the best idea - and expert opinion (for what that's currently worth) supports this viewpoint. A quick glance at the name of the author would reveal it was written by a friend from the world of comedy.

After cursing myself for procrastinating on the subject, I messaged my friend to congratulate them (Never let it be said that I don't at least pretend to be gracious in defeat). I then set about the perfectly healthy task of obsessively rereading the article several times over. One thing that struck me was, that much like Jeremy Corbyn, the author and I had both benefited from a selective school system, but at the same time sought to point out it's obvious shortcomings.

I am almost engineered to be a bleeding heart liberal leftie. I often think it wouldn't be surprising to find that my family were constructed in a lab by the Guardian. Some well meaning Labourite scientist in a tweed lab coat with leather elbow patches dipping his toe into the woolly side of eugenics. Faced with the choice again however, would I be willing to eschew the individual benefits of segregated education in the name of social justice? The answer is, probably not.

People like me will often talk a good game when it comes to championing social mobility. When it's time to quell the stream of disadvantaged falling over the waterfall however, we may be somewhat less enthusiastic about throwing ourselves (or our kids) in to damn up the river. There is a very good reason for this - we are all too aware of the benefits of privilege (including going to the right school) once you get out into the big bad world.

I was recently told an anecdote by a friend about his university rugby team. They played against a team from a certain prestigious financial institution. After the game, they were taken out to lunch, and subsequently 5 of them were given final round interviews for jobs in banking. They had been afforded the opportunity to become financial "Masters of the Universe" based on the ability to catch and run with an ovoid. A skill that is more likely to be acquired if a child attends a private or grammar school. This is a convenient story, the veracity of which I have no way of checking, but still...

Or how about the report that indicates that when it comes to interviews at certain banks, the colour of one's shoes can count more than the content of their degree certificate (totally valid appropriation - ed). Getting a job in institutions like these depends in on the sort of "polish" that is far less likely to be applied at your local comprehensive (or academy, or free school or neo-phrontistery - whatever comes next). Halting plans for a more tiered education system probably won't stop this, but it might prevent things from becoming even more unfair.

The 11 plus is supposed to be a raw measure of aptitude, but if you think you can't be coached for it you are either a liar or an idiot. I took a look at some of the sample questions doing the rounds and many were genuinely baffling on the first look. I am currently a practising doctor - so hopefully should eventually be able to perform reasonably if I had to sit it, but I'm sure I'd need a bit of practice before the exam.

What hope then, does a child on free school meals who's parents didn't go to university have, seeing this for the first time? Without wishing to paint some mawkish Oliver Twist caricature, they are far less likely to be prepped compared to children from more middle class and affluent backgrounds.

In essence I'm saying that we can't offer the middle classes any more opportunity to seek refuge in segregated schools. This is because among even the most liberal of us, there are those who probably can't be trusted not to pounce on it. Instead it might be an idea to try and make comprehensive schools into places they won't dessert en masse given half the chance.

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