Britain’s grammar schools are shining examples of what children can aspire to achieve and work towards. Yet there are people out there who wholeheartedly disagree with the very concept of them, and that’s fine, but I feel it’s my duty to defend the way I was educated.
I attended the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone and I was more than happy with my education. I was pushed at the right times and challenged in ways that further developed my abilities. Yet only a week ago, I found the very system of education that has gotten me to where I am today under attack from people who were positioned so vehemently against it that it felt like I was being put in front of a firing squad.
They claimed that grammar schools are unfair, that they only benefit the privileged and that they should be scrapped altogether. Considering that I was the only person in that room who had even attended a grammar school I find it unbelievable, and a little baffling, that people can be positioned so strongly against a system that they only have an outside knowledge of.
Now I want to make it perfectly clear at this point that I am perfectly aware that there are problems with grammar schools. I realise they aren’t perfect and the statistics do not lie, people from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to attend them. I also have nothing against comprehensive schools, both systems have their own merits but that really is where I draw the line.
The issue of children being coached to get into grammar schools came up and this almost made me laugh. What parent in their right mind would not want to give their child the best possible chance of getting to the highest-achieving schools?
Clearly, the degree of preparation a child will receive depends on their background. I, for example, had a tutor paid for to see me through. I was lucky and am grateful to have had this private tutoring given to me, and while it’s true not every child receives the level of help that I did, this alone did not see me get into my grammar school.
However, even if parents cannot afford the fees for a private tutor, book stores are now awash with practise exams and text books to prepare children for the 11-Plus exam, meaning every child can prepare well in advance. I started working towards the entry exams only a year prior and while this certainly helped me, my parents could well have done the same job with the guides available to everyone – as they did with both of my younger brothers. So no, I do not agree with the view that only privileged kids can get into grammar schools because of the so-called ‘coaching culture’.
Then the idea that grammar schools put too much pressure on children at a young age was thrown into the ring. Again, I find it slightly insulting that people who did not attend grammar schools consider themselves capable of talking about the pressures involved with attending them.
Now obviously, I’m not saying that grammar schools are cakewalks for everyone. That would be a ludicrous statement as everybody is different. However, from my own personal experience, if you are mentally mature enough and are prepared to work hard, there is absolutely no reason that there should be any negative pressure put on grammar kids. In fact, the only pressure felt is the encouraging kind which helps stimulate development.
I made the point that grammar schools also provide the best possible environment for children of higher academic ambitions to work and grow. I was immediately shouted down by people who say that, at comprehensive schools, children are split into sets based on their abilities. That is fine but if they were at the same level as those children who were admitted into grammar schools then they would not find themselves at comprehensive schools in the first place.
Furthermore, my grammar school took the step to push those kids who were at the top of their respective peers even from an early stage. My school introduced an acceleration programme whereby the top 15 students at the end of year 8 skipped year 9 and went straight into their GCSEs. This was done so that they were not left biding their time with kids who needed more attention and time spent on topics that the top kids had already surpassed. This was fantastic for someone like me because it meant that I didn’t have to continue twiddling my thumbs and waiting for other people to catch up.
Now I may be biased towards this because I was one of those 15 children. I know there will be people reading this article thinking ‘what a pious, pompous know-it-all’, and that’s fine, but this highlights just how unbalanced the level of abilities amongst children is. If those kids that complain had been at the level my peers and I were at then they would have been in my position and would have been given the extra opportunity the progress, but they weren’t and we should not be penalising those kids who are ahead of the rest simply because they are more able.
This is where grammar schools come into their own. If the accelerated programme was a useful and beneficial tool for advancing the smallest group of the very brightest by pushing them to their limits, grammar schools do the same on a wider basis. They filter the top achievers from the entire youth populace and present them with the opportunity to reach their own potentials.
The final point that I would like to raise in favour of grammar schools is that they work. Generally, if you look at school league tables then you will find that grammar schools perform the best, (besides public schools, but that is a whole different ballpark). I will say that I don’t entirely agree with the English grading system. It’s a necessary evil because it is very good at pinpointing those people who excel at remembering set curriculum and subjects, but they don’t take into account how well people are able to then apply this ability to practical scenarios.
However, since the current education framework is unlikely to change anytime soon, we must base the success of schools on how well they prepare students for these exams, and grammar schools, on the whole, achieve higher marks and so reach a higher standard for the task set out for schools than comprehensive ones.
I have spoken to hundreds of British people over the years about the merits and drawbacks of grammar schools and what always strikes me is that usually the only people who complain about this type of schooling are those who were not able to attend them. To that end, I wish that more people could be invited into the grammar school world to experience the benefits first-hand.
I can only hope that Theresa May goes through with her plans to increase the number of grammar schools because we will then see an increase in better exam results, leading to more people finding better-paying jobs.
Although she would then have to strike the right balance between creating enough places for the genuinely bright students and overbuilding to the point where the average students are also attending which would in turn then defeat the academic elitism of the schools in the first place.
You never know, if enough new grammar schools are commissioned, there may be enough places for most kids to attend one and I wonder then if there would still be the waves of self-righteous people complaining about them?