Today, ahead of tomorrow’s budget, it has emerged that Philip Hammond will set out a payment of £320m for 140 new free schools, some of which could be grammar schools.
It’s still very much an open question as to whether the Conservatives will lift the ban on opening new grammar schools and this is a very controversial subject.
Particularly in Kent- one of the major areas of England which has an abundance of grammar schools.
Building is currently underway down the road from where I went to school, for a new annex of the Weald of Kent Grammar School which will be based just outside of Sevenoaks town centre.
Move in the other direction to where I went to school, and Meopham secondary school has said that it’s open to the idea of becoming a grammar school should Theresa May lift the ban, and Meopham aren’t the only one.
Growing up here, and having gone through the school admissions programme only to end up going to the local comprehensive, I feel I can speak reasonably knowingly about this subject.
Theresa May has said in the past that she believes that more grammars would help improve the prospects for poorer, brighter children. But, at the very crux of the issue, I believe that grammar schools do nothing in the way of social progression and there are several reasons for this.
There's long been a hotly-discussed topic in Kent regarding those who can afford private tutoring for their child to help them pass the 11+ (The test you have to pass in order to be able to go to grammar school). Is it cheating? No, of course it isn’t. These parent’s like any others just want what’s best for their child, and quite naturally want their kid to be well placed to pass.
But, is paying for 11+ tuition unfair? Yes; it gives an unfair advantage to the children whose parents can't afford it.
I, in fact got tuition in both primary and secondary school for my maths, and my maths is precisely the reason why, when it came to choosing which kids were going to be entered for the 11+, I wasn’t even in the running. I could have walked the English part, but would have crumbled under my own fear of maths.
Of course that decision on part of the teacher/parents/the child themselves is met with pitying looks from other parent’s: “Ooh, so they’re not doing the 11+? Why’s that?”
What about those children, who despite really giving it their all, took the 11+ and didn’t pass, and get left behind? How must it feel for them for them to be separated from some their peers and to suddenly get boxed into categories at the tender ages of 10 or 11, namely, “smart” and “inferior”.
So for me, was it therefore better to go to a comp and come away having done really well, or go to a grammar school and be at the bottom of the ability pile for five years due to my inept maths skills? I am confident I know the answer.
The unique thing about my secondary school was that as it was a small, rural school, there was huge mix of different people from different degrees of wealth. Furthermore, to us, wealth couldn’t have mattered less, we all got on just fine. In fact, it wasn’t until I came to uni that the concept of my own class, and the class of my peers, actually came in to the equation. However, I believe this is due to the working class increasingly getting priced further and further out of higher education.
One of my friends is statistically exceptional; as a white working class boy, he was one of the least likely people to pass the 11+ and then go on to university. Despite the fact that after he passed the 11+, he decided against going to grammar school and opted for the same local comp that I went to, he went to uni. He’s just finished his Master’s degree in maths and is in his first graduate job.
But how do these bright, young working class kids that manage to get into grammar schools fair socially? I can only imagine that it can be embarrassing/awkward for them when it turns out that their parents can ill-afford the extortionate uniform costs/textbooks/ schools trips abroad.
This is precisely what my mum reflected on going to a grammar school in the 80s; there were distinctly the “haves”, and the “have nots”. What is that meant to do for a child’s self-esteem?
In summary, I would say that the grammar school system may therefore be considered a system which unfairly favours the middle class, and that’s why I don’t support there being any more of them.
My perspective is entirely biased, I accept that, and I’m sure those of you who went to grammar schools will most likely have favourable things to say about your experience, so please feel free to let me know what you think.