“….the Right School…..”

by Ray_North on October 19, 2015

UnknownLast week, the government announced plans to open the first new Grammar School for over thirty years in Kent. What does this mean?

Well, for the children in Kent, it means that some of them will have the opportunity to be told that, at the age of 11 they are academically more able to pass a particular exam than some of their classmates.

As for their education after that – true there is a good chance that the qualifications that they will achieve at the age of 16 or 18 will be better than some of their peers who aren’t deemed clever enough at 11 – because, quite simply they will be educated in an environment where they are surrounded by a similar type of child, one who is quite bookish and has parents who are willing to support them.

What happens to those who don’t cut the mustard at the age of 11? Well, they will have to deal with the stigma of being deemed a bit thick at the age of 11 and spend their education surrounded by others who are also a little bit lacking in the book reading and exam passing department.

Will the clever Grammar School kids leaving with their A Stars and their Duke of Edinburgh awards make better teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, bus drivers, plumbers or bakers? I don’t know. I kind of doubt it.

Will the thick Secondary Modern kids have a cat in hell’s chance of obtaining a University Education and, generally speaking a better paid and more satisfactory career? No. Most of them will conclude, wrongly, that the educational apartheid that separated them at eleven means that for them certain types of professions are not suitable.

11 years old! And much of your life decided by a single exam.

It makes me sick.

As it happens my eldest son Ryan North is in his last year of Primary School – me and Mrs North have had a look around a couple of schools in our area. We’ve drawn up a shortlist of two – one is the local school and the other is a newer rather impressive school a bus journey away.

I’m firmly in the local school camp, but, we thought we’d better ask Ryan where he wanted to go. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I can see that St X’s will give me a better education.’ With St X’s being the newer school.

Don’t be tempted for a single second to commend my son for a mature and intelligent outlook – he has been taken in by this view that education is solely about ‘GCSE’ results.

It’s nonsense.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating that education should be devoid of tests, far from it, nor am I advocating some kind of pure form of classrooms where children are never streamed, but I am sick and tired of the prevailing view that education is simply about sending your kids to the school which is supposed to be ‘the best school’ and that the only measurement is GCSE results.

School is about a whole lot more than getting grades – school is the time when children come together in their communities to form bonds, it is the time when they learn social skills, how to communicate with each other and how to behave in a positive way. School is about learning about yourself and about others from all different walks of life, backgrounds, creeds and cultures. It is about testing yourself physically through sport, and intellectually through books and reading and learning and being taught.

It is also about the start of the covenant that we all make with the state – the state should offer every child the best possible education through the provision of good teachers, playing fields, well equipped classrooms, and the child will strive (as most children do) to do their best. But, their best cannot be judged, just by the arbitrary set of grades that someone achieves at the age of 16 – that’s too simplistic. Getting the most out of school out of education is about forging a bond with your community, its about understanding others, its about learning to be disciplined enough to listen, its about discovering your skills are and having their nourished, its about playing and losing and winning; its about realising that there is much that you can achieve and that the world is out there for you.

Do you need a grammar school to do all of that? Do you need to pay £30,000 a year to achieve that? No, each child should go to their local school and each child should be allowed to enjoy to the full their school without having their educational performance forged solely by the vagaries of an exam or test at the age of 11 or 16.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

john October 27, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Well someone clearly failed his eleven plus! Since when is school about testing yourself physically and playing sports? If that was a valuable life skills, then surely the same people who devised the tripartite system would have included sports schools, with a compulsory bleep test aged 11. That would be true in a world where the sporting elite were remotely useful in any way.

Grammar education is designed to make sure the brightest aren’t educated with the most violent and likely to put off other students with their miscreant behaviour, you only need to look at happiness and attendance reports at secondary moderns/academies in Kent to see this reality.

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Ray_North October 27, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Actually, I never took an eleven plus, thankfully, where I was brought up, they still clung on to the idea that every child deserved a chance at the age of 11.
And, actually, I would never suggest that education is solely about sport – but, it is a factor, of course, it is – winning and losing at games plays as important a part in creating a rounded child/young adult as anything else.
I happen to believe rather passionately that education is about finding every child’s skills and talents, and that simply confining that search to an ability to pass an exam at the age of 11 or 16 is so simplistic as to be almost meaningless (except perhaps to parents, who, and I’m as guilty as anyone of this, who believe that their child should by genetic right, be superb at everything, something which their child, just like the parent, invariably isn’t).
As for making sure the brightest are not educated with the most violent – I’ve never heard such a load of nonsense in all my life – a vast majority of children are not pre-disposed towards violence, but if you brand them worthless and second rate, then the chances of them becoming violent grows.
I happen to be a criminal barrister (so perhaps I would have passed an 11 plus, you can work that out), but, one of the common factors in the people who I deal with who have been charged with violent crimes is a history of life in care homes and sub-standard educational facilities – you get the society you seek to create, if you want to create a society where a large percentage of people are deemed failures, then segregating them at 11 is a great way of doing it.

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