Great engines of social mobility

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The arguments by those opposed to the expansion of grammar schools appear to be a little irrational.

Grammar schools have existed for centuries but really took off as a result of the 1944 Education act which proposed three types of school – grammars, technical schools and secondary modern. These were supposed to cater for the different abilities of children and give them the best education according to those abilities, an admirable objective. There was supposed to be equality of status between the different types of schools, but it didn’t work out that way.

Grammar schools were set up across the country with much effort and expense and were generally and rightly seen as excellent schools.

There was a half-hearted attempt at setting up the technical schools, which has been to the immense detriment of this country, and the secondary modern schools were set up not so much to cater for the abilities of those with non-academic or practical leanings but to sweep up the rest. They were generally poor schools with poor standards, even the name ‘secondary’ suggests a second class education.

The critics of grammars usually criticise them for being elitist, selective, divisive, or similar derogatory terms. They rarely, if ever, criticise grammar schools for being poor schools but their proposal for improving education is to get rid of the best schools. Perverse logic in my view.

I accept that the 11+ was a blunt instrument and came to be seen as either a pass or fail whereas it should have been a system of apportioning children to the type of education best suited to their abilities.

I was fortunate enough to go to a good grammar school in Sheffield and from rather modest beginnings I had a wonderful education in all sorts of ways. I met other pupils from all across the city from all walks of life and backgrounds – grammars were great engines of social mobility. I also had my horizons and ideas hugely expanded and gained an excellent education that led to a satisfying professional career.

Grammar schools are not the problem, the selection system could be improved and the quality of education provided at the descendants of the Secondary moderns – comprehensives – could be improved and better targeted.

Unless, of course, you believe in mixed ability classes across the board which is really just a political theory which works to the detriment of those receiving the education.


Bents Green