The great grammar school debate

national exams for 6 7 year olds

On Thursday morning Nicky Morgan approved plans for the first new grammar school in over 5 decades. This will give the green light for a 450-pupil grammar school in Sevenoaks, Kent to be built.

Weald of Kent School in Tonbridge plans to open a girls’ annexe several miles away from the existing schools campus. This is set to offer a further 450 new places and side stepping the existing ban on opening new grammar schools. The Education Secretary claimed that permission had been given on the grounds that all good schools should be able to expand and this is an expansion of an existing school, with integration between the two sites.

Mrs Morgan stated that “it does not reflect a change in this government’s position on selective schools”. Labour originally passed laws in 1998 banning the creation of new grammar schools, but existing selective/grammar schools are allowed to expand if there is sufficient demand.  After the government’s controversial decision to approve Weald of Kent’s expansion it looks set to prompt a series of similar applications for “satellite” developments to existing grammar schools. A previous plan for the extension of the Weald of Kent Grammar School was turned down; due to the fact Ministers were not initially persuaded that it was a satellite of an existing school rather than the creation of a new institution.

Labour has described the decision as a “hugely backward step” claiming that it will not benefit the poorer pupils. Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell dismissed the idea that the ‘satellite school’ in Sevenoaks was an annexe to an existing school and said it would pave the way for many other remaining grammar schools to follow suit. She also dismissed claims that grammar schools open up opportunities for pupils from poorer backgrounds by stating that they are dominated by children of middle class families who can afford to pay to tutor their child through the 11 plus exam.

Campaigners in favour of more grammar schools have argued that scrapping the 11 plus test in most areas of the country has hampered social mobility for bright pupils from poorer backgrounds. Paul Carter, the leader of Tory-controlled Kent County Council said that “the big issue about this decision is that it won’t open up the floodgates. You have to have a grammar school there in the first place to expand. “This is simply the case of if you aren’t able to expand on-site you have to expand elsewhere, and that’s all that occurred with Weald of Kent.”

What do you think? Are grammar schools a good thing? Should grammar schools be restricted? If the 11 plus exam in favour of middle class children who have parents who can afford tutoring? Have your say here…blog 290615

23 thoughts on “The great grammar school debate

  1. In principle, I do not object to the idea of selective education which I see as a way of levelling the playing field for those in less financially advantaged circumstances, but I have real concerns about how the selection is achieved nowadays. Sadly , in the interests of economy , the selection is done on the basis of the results of written tests only.
    It would be much fairer, and is quite possible, to achieve selection based primarily on the achievement and potential of these young people based on their performance throughout their time at primary school and on their Headteachers’ recommendations . Schools which might have coached their students can also be detected and penalised in the interests of fairness.

  2. I am a single mother of three young children. My eldest is a bright boy who always had excellent grades throughout his primary years but found it rather unchallenged and bored as it was a state school. When he was at year five, I made a huge decision to send him a group tuition, relatively cheaper than individual ones for a year and throughout the all summer before the exams. There was no option to send him to a private school although he passed the exams for one of them, due to having far too many bursary applications, he was unable to get a bursary. He managed to get into a close grammar school which was a big relieve for us where he is in year seven now and doing really well, enjoying the challenge he lounged for years. Thanks to this grammar school, he will have a good future and choice although it cost me a huge dept in my credit card. At least, there is a happy ending.

  3. What a load of rubbish – why assume that pupils who pass their 11+ because their parents can afford extra tutoring????? What an insult to the pupils who have achieved their passes through their abilities and aspirations to do so.

  4. Not an easy one! I think this is a fudge. The government needs to decide if it’s in favour of grammar schools or not. When I was at grammar school a lot of poorer children benefited enormously from the excellence of the education they received. However, I think that there is now an increase in the number of parents who tutor their children to help them with the entrance exams. So it’s not really a level playing field.

    The likely scenario is that we will see a modest expansion of the numbers of pupils going to grammar schools, as some schools take the opportunity to expand as Weald of Kent have done.

    The real questions in education remain: how we teach our teachers better, how we improve the effectiveness of our schools and how we make them more efficient. My own personal preference is to see 6th Forms scrapped and replaced by Sixth Form Colleges.

  5. Thank you for the article on Grammar schools. Having been through ‘the system’ myself I do not think it to be a positive idea. Children who do not pass the 11 plus are made to feel inferior.
    Besides, what has happened to the basic teaching of survival methods, how to cook instead of buying ‘already prepared foods wrapped in plastic’, how to shop for a family of 5, how to sew holes in clothes, healthy eating, social skills that many youths lack because they are not taught theses skills during school years. The school systems in my opinion give very little to the children of tomorrow’s generation.
    Kind regards

  6. This is long overdue. Bright pupils from areas such as Paddock Wood, were not supposed to aspire to a grammar school education because there was a so called ‘grammar school stream’ at the local comprehensive, yet pupils of the same ability who happened to live in Sevenoaks, were allowed, and therefore took places which should have been available for children who lived nearer. Their travel was even subsidised. I found it even more annoying that children who had attended private prep schools were entering grammar schools because it was cheaper for their parents! My son was able to attend Judd because his pass mark was so high that he was awarded a governor’s place. My daughter’s mark was lower so she was unable to get into either of the girls’ grammars in Tonbridge, but was welcomed in Maidstone. Grammar schools offer the most challenging education to bright youngsters, regardless of their parents’ financial background and is therefore a proven means of social mobility. Every child should be given an education best suited to them, and as a teacher myself, I should like to see more money put in to every school and college to ensure all the resources required are available. Our youngsters are our future.

  7. Lucy Powell’s stupid and illogical reaction – not only to this school’s application to expand, but to the concept of selective education – is so typical of Labour’s philosophy to deny and decry aspiration of any kind. Her thinking (if one can credit her with the ability to think) is that if something is not good enough for (or attainable by) those on the lower rungs of the social ladder, then it cannot be permitted.

    Given the barest shred of a chance, most caring parents would do their utmost to get their children into a “superior” school system – as is evidenced by the huge demand for places at handful of remaining grammar schools.

    If they were such a bad idea, why are they so incredibly popular?

    Life is selective… just leave school and try to find a job. Lucy Powell need to get back to reality.

  8. Getting rid of the 11 plus was one of the biggest mistakes made by any government. My son goes to a good grammerschool in Lincolnshire and he erned that by hard work, his mum and I are both working class people with no savings to our name worked hard making anything we have had by our own hard work, my Dad was a dustbin man my mum rased 4 children 2 of whome went to grammer 2 to secondry. Grammer would have been too much for me and my sister and rightly so my other sisters erned their right to further education at the grammer level. We have diminished the quality of education by listerning to the socalist and the do gooders who are noicer than the rest. Standards in maners and desency have all dropped with political correctness and not using common sence and good maners!! shame on weak willed politicions who do the easy thing insted of what is correct. I am dyslexic but not unintelligent served in the forces been a manual laborour and a manager My money did not get my son to grammer his hard work and ability and that ethic we have imparted will hopfully also get him a good job, if there are any left to be had!

  9. I don’t see why opening a Grammar school will not benefit pupils from a poorer background. I attended a grammar school having passed my 11+ off my own back without any “tutoring” being paid for by my parents who would not of been able to pay anyway.

    For children who are bright, a new grammar school is a great opportunity to get ahead, regardless of their background and can only be advantageous. Grammar schools are not elitist as I see it, and can only help bright children have a better educational start in life.

  10. I think every nation should be proud of and nurture the exeptionally clever/talented youth. So selective schools has always existed and definitely have to exist. The only catch is that the selection of talent cannot be done by test, because in that “fair” way actually the examiners cannot see the actual child, speak with them, witness their abilities etc.
    Selection for the “selective schools ” needs to be done differently, I think a combination between some kind of IQ test and/or live interview/audition.
    If this country is brave enough to see and recognize the talent at earlier stages without trying to mainstream it, probably more people will be able to land in the right professions according to their abilities and (hopefully) there would be less people with talents thrown away because of mainstream schooling and lack of resourses.
    Particularly about the grammar schools: why not having them??? What’s wrong with selecting the brightest and let them develop their full potential??? No one is saying that the standard in any other school will automaticly drop. We are not talking about the regular bright children (most children are bright nowadays), we are talking about the brightest of all, with the highest level of awareness, achievement and motivation. How is that possibly a threat to the national educational system (these schools are FREE of charge) and are playing a big role in it by setting very high standards !! If they were that bad, why sooooo many parents are desperate to help their child entering them??
    I think urgentlythere must be built just as many as the existing schools, if the demand is high and the standard of entry doesn’t drop- why not??

  11. I agree there should be more grammar schools I am a single mom of 2 very bright girls, I work pay my bills & rent I’m not well off but live a comfortable life, I couldn’t afford £40 a week tutoring so I stopped smoking to pay for it the money is there just have 2 think what’s more important. Only thing I think is not fair is children from private primary schools sitting the same test. These kids are being tutored from reception age, not very fair when a child who went to state school gets the same score yet the private child will get the place based on how far they live from the school. Obviously the poorer child can’t afford to live in the areas of grammar schools e.g sutton grammar in birmingham, therefore loses the place. I went to open days at 3 school more than half were from private school I knew this as the parents left the girls uniforms on even though the open day was from 6.30pm(lol) there needs to be a fairer system where bright poorer kids can get the best education aswell not just dumped in a school with ofsted level 4 just cos it’s the closest. There no point completing the preference form cos there is non you have 2 pick the closest. Something for Nicky Morgan to think about!

  12. What is the problem with Grammar schools? Most schools stream; and grammar schools used to have year 9/10 entries (in modern years). If the concern is over elitism, then there is a major problem. All jobs are competitive, or elitist if you don’t like the word competitive. And if there is an objection to Grammar schools, then ban professional football, after all that is only for the most able players. It is really simple, if you want a strong economy in the future, then you have to have the right skills, and for that you need the right schools, and that is not just Grammar schools.

  13. The unfortunate thing about British state education is that it is still in the grip of the nemesis of an academic curriculum, progressive teaching where failure and competition is not allowed to be part of reality that reflects contemporary life in general. Grammar schools are and should be a continual part of the education system where academically inclined children should get their chance to progress in a competitive academic environment where teaching is excellent and challenges pupils giving them the desire and inspiration to succeed.

    Unfortunately in the all inclusive child friendly environment where learning is fun and everyone is a winner, where failure and marking in red ink is not allowed the child expects to be entertained and have its individual and emotional needs catered for; in other words is it no wonder that we end up with young people that lack initiative, grit and the ability to get up and try again. Grammar schools are an excellent idea and should be encouraged and allowed to flourish free from the dictates of political correctness and progressive educational mandarins.

  14. The Grammar Schools I know are indistinguishable from non-grammar schools excepting that you have to pass an entrance test to get in. If the expectations and curriculum are the same as at the sec mod down the road then the only point is to select the brightest – they could so easily be taught in top sets at a comp but really it is so much nicer not to have to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi without having to pay for the privilege! Grit and rigour – no chance – they don’t even do Latin!

  15. We need more grammer schools. The reality of life everywhere not just Britain is competitive. Employers recruit the one who scores the most at the interview and performs best at interviews. Our children have to understand this concept and embrace it from an early age. Not being suitable for a grammer school does not mean it’s the end of the road for the child. Comprehensive schools need to encourage children to achieve their maximum potential. Parents should recognise that Grammer school has it’s place in this challenging world of us.

  16. Grammar Schools were and are very effective for certain students, more so than being in a top set in a Secondary Modern . One difference is their interest in encouraging independent thought, the expression of individual ideas and debate. Allowing students to develop and think as individuals is much better than dragging them through a ‘tick box curiculum’.

    The truth is that Grammar Schools are suited to certain children at a given point in their learning career: that is students at a given stage not ultimately the brightest in the long run there is no absolute rule that says children must all develop at the same rate.
    Children learn at different speeds, in different subjects and that is not to say that one child is better than another. It’s about time our society celebrated difference and individuality! If a child is at a stage in their learning development to be in a Grammar School they should be able to go to one. Maybe, one day, students will be able to join in a class ‘suited to them’ via
    ‘Skype’ irrespective of where their main schooling is!
    It is about time that as a society we valued everyone as an individual and allowed students
    to be where it is ‘best’ for them without attaching spurious conotations of one type of school being better or worse. We need to give all students confidence because without confidence they do not learn.
    I actually wish “Philosophy for Children” was in every school – it is known to boost oral eloquence, individual thinking and IQ and it is great fun for students and teachers and can be
    delivered from year 1 to 11 and higher.
    To be honest, the Grammar School I went to, in the East End of London, had “no hoi polloi” –
    the lessons were interesting and we were happy there, that’s what made it effective.

  17. Grammar Schools were and are very effective for certain students, more so than being in a top set in a Secondary Modern . One difference is their interest in encouraging independent thought, the expression of individual ideas and debate. Allowing students to develop and think as individuals is much better than dragging them through a ‘tick box curiculum’.

    The truth is that Grammar Schools are suited to certain children at a given point in their learning career: that is students at a given stage not ultimately the brightest in the long run because there is no absolute rule that says children must all develop at the same rate.
    Children learn at different speeds, in different subjects and that is not to say that one child is better than another. It’s about time our society celebrated difference and individuality! If a child is at a stage in their learning development to be in a Grammar School they should be able to go to one. Maybe, one day, students will be able to join in a class ‘suited to them’ via
    ‘Skype’ irrespective of where their main schooling is!
    It is about time that as a society we valued everyone as an individual and allowed students
    to be where it is ‘best’ for them without attaching the spurious conotation of one type of school being better or worse than antother. We need to give all students confidence because without confidence they do not learn.
    I actually wish “Philosophy for Children” was in every school – it is known to boost oral eloquence, individual thinking and IQ and it is great fun for students and teachers and can be
    delivered from year 1 to 11 and higher.
    To be honest, the Grammar School I went to, in the East End of London, had “no hoi polloi” –
    the lessons were interesting and we were happy there, that’s what made it effective.

  18. An interesting debate so far. As a private tutor I hope I can comment with some degree of knowledge on the increased number of parents who are prepared to pay for additional tutoring for their children. A really good tutor will give a student a permanent boost, which will enable them to achieve more in the future and not just in passing their 11+. Of course some students are capable enough already but marginal students can benefit significantly.

    One area not covered so far is the issue of parents moving into the area to benefit from a grammar school’s catchment area. This increased demand pushes up house prices and means that less wealthy parents are at a disadvantage. As with private tutoring this gives the children of wealthier parents an additional advantage.

    How significant an argument against gramar schools this is I am not sure. I think the bright pupil from poorer circumstances can get a real benefit. Additionally I think that the intelligent student will thrive in an environment where academic achievement is valued by almost all the students, which is less frequently the case in comprehensive schools.

  19. Thr state education system does not in my experience fulfil the criteria of high expectations – more often it’s lowest common denominator. In a competitive global market I see no problem. Most MPs educate their children privately or live in leafy areas so let’s not have champagne socialists preach at us
    Let parents have a voice in education and limit the states insidious hold over all aspects of family life.

  20. My son went to grammar school. He is very academic and flourished in the academic environment at his school, leaving with 5 ‘A’ levels and a place at a very good red brick university. I deliberately chose not to tutor him, as I have seen others’ children tutored to breaking point just to get them into grammar only to have them struggle and be miserable later. He got in based on his own natural ability. Grammar schools do not suit all children. My daughter is bright but would not have been happy in the high pressure, academic environment of a grammar school. She has never felt that she was ‘second best’ because she went to a comp; she knows she would not have enjoyed a grammar. She still went to university. It is simply not true that grammars are only for the well off. We certainly aren’t and at my son’s school there were students from all socio-ecomomic backgrounds, just as there were wide a range at my daughter’s comp. The difference is in the way they are taught and surely we should be wanting all our children to be in lessons where they are stretched and challenged? Horses for courses.

  21. Very interesting debate. my child just did well in his 11+ exams, he is very likely to be offered a place at a grammar school. He achieved this with going to a tutor group – I couldn’t afford to tutor him privately for any length of time-and by his own hard work, as well as support from home. I was interested to see that he actually enjoyed the competitive side of he process, and I think some kids do which is maybe an indication that they are suited to this more academic path. Re. the vexed social mix question, at one school while we queued to get into the exam I observed that the majority of parents waiting were from Asian and Eastern European backgrounds, as were many of the kids in my child’s tutor group.Educational aspirations for their children are seen as a key way for immigrants to progress in this society. However children who are truly disadvantaged through poverty or a troubled home life would struggle with the process as it stands. Above all the child needs to do practice papers and work on weak areas, someone has to supervise this, whether it’s a parent, private tutor, group tutor etc. And you cannot underestimate what is already in place, good early education, books at home, confidence. I support more grammar schools, because I think there is a need for them, and they can help with social mobility, however you would have to build in some kind of safeguards to make it a more level playing field. Above all there is nothing wrong with saying some kids are more academically able than others, in the same way that some have potential to excel at sport or art. One issue not mentioned is that very bright boys can switch off learning very quickly if they are not challenged and stimulated especially in years 6, 7 and 8. This of course could happen in any type of school, but I feel less likely to happen in a grammar or selective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>