Every couple of months, we seem to get a scare story in education that grammar schools may be on the return – something which educationalists seem to fervently detest. There are a number of arguments for and against selective education; however, I believe that some of the strongest arguments against grammar schools have not been fully acknowledged. I was educated in a grammar school and so I have seen, first hand, where there are cracks in the system.
One of the current arguments for selective education comes in the form of social mobility. The theory is that, a “bright” student from a poorer background has a greater chance of success in a selective school. The problem with grammar schools, however, is that whilst they may provide social mobility, they do not provide social diversity. Schools are not purely about academic results (despite what the government might say) and those we meet, and mix with, at school with will have a significant impact on our future lives. My friends and I grew up with other “bright” boys who had also passed the 11+; we had no real perspective about the diversity of talent and academic standard present in the world, nor a proper appreciation of cultural diversity. To put it bluntly: we were arrogant and intolerant of those who we perceived were not as clever as us. Most of us grew out of this arrogance; but some have not. This arrogance had the opportunity to fester and develop in an institution where it was not challenged by the presence of humility and it is only by stepping into the real world that we could see it for what it was. Whilst it is possible that arrogance could also develop in a comprehensive school, students at least have to face those with whom they hold contempt.
The second major argument is for the streamlining of the top 5% so that they can make more progress than if they are held back by classes which proceed at a slower pace – it is effectively like the London marathon, the fast ones get to start at the front and the rest have to fight it out amongst themselves. This top 5% idea, however, only measures the IQ of students; nothing else. Pardon my indulgence, but I must, again, use myself as an example. I was selected to be in this top 5%; however I am not the model student; quite the opposite. I am very good at answering the pragmatic maths problems presented in verbal and non-verbal reasoning, but when presented with facts to learn for a proper exam, I am next to useless. As you can imagine, my GCSE and A-level results left a lot to be desired. Every person is an individual and so have there own strengths and weaknesses. There are some that develop into extraordinary artists and musicians, some who flourish at science and in a fully comprehensive education, all students have the opportunity to flourish in all subjects, depending on their needs. In a grammar school, it is assumed that all students are good at everything – something which is certainly not the case.
Grammar schools sound good on paper, look good when it comes to results and feel good to parents who wish to impress their friends; but for the vast majority of students, they are more problematic than their comprehensive counterparts. If we want to have true social mobility, we should be giving all students the opportunity to study all subjects and allow them to take their own, individual path, rather than forcing them down certain pathways like the EBACC. We should be treating students as individuals, and not as an IQ score.