Can Grammar Schools Help Our Education Divide?

14/09/2016 16:19

So it's back to school and back to the latest education debate, which is all about grammar schools. I approve of selective education, by which I mean selective by merit not means.

The real world is competitive and full of selection. From getting into the school athletics team to landing your first job: you will always be judged against others. Life teaches us some tough lessons, especially in those early years. If you sit back, make little effort and don't work hard, can you really expect to achieve as much as the person who does all of those things?

The worry is that grammar schools will reduce social mobility and result in even fewer children from poorer backgrounds getting into the best selective schools. Yet just because one child's primary school doesn't have the resources to equip them for a grammar school test, it doesn't mean we should lower the bar for everyone and ignore the actual problem. Instead, we should ensure those children receive the help they need to improve and thus raise their standards of education.

Behind the scenes many youngsters - both state and privately educated - are given a helping hand because their parents have money. As Theresa May said, schools are already selected by house price. If you can afford to buy a home in the catchment area of your preferred state school then your child is immediately a winner. Money can also buy you extra-curricular ballet lessons, violin lessons, horse-riding lessons, private tuition and a complete private education. It's a fact that we - as educators - ignore at our peril.

All parents want the best for their children but not all parents can throw money at their children's education. But if the government really does want to make grammar schools a benefit to all, why not target the poorest, most disadvantaged schools and fund extra-curricular tuition to bring those kids up to speed? Then when they do sit the grammar school exam, it's more of a level playing field, with children battling it out solely on merit. This may be idealistic: higher-earning families will always be able to pay for more, but it's a step towards raising education standards across the board and ensuring classrooms are filled with children from all sorts of backgrounds.

There is this idea that private tuition pushes children and gives them little time for play. However, used correctly, tuition should ease pressure. If you're going to have to sit a test - be it a GCSE, an 11-plus or an entrance exam - don't you think it's a lot less daunting when you've had extra help to prepare for it?

Pupil premium, the additional funding given to raise the attainment of disadvantaged schoolchildren could be used to great benefit here, and presents a huge opportunity for the government to work in harmony with the private sector. Most people are concerned that the return of grammar schools harks back to the 1950s when failing the 11-plus, meant you were dispatched to a secondary modern and destined for a life of second-rate jobs. I don't want to return to that and I'm sure you don't either. Yet if you knew that your child - a pupil at a large, cash-strapped, inner-city primary school - was receiving extra help to give them a better chance of passing the grammar school test then you might see grammar schools as a way to raise standards for all, rather than a tool to divide rich from poor even further.

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