There’s been a lot written about grammar schools. All the evidence shows that they are inequitable, that they will lead to worsening conditions in non-grammar schools, that they are hopeless for those with a Special Educational Need or Disability (SEND) or for those on pupil premium and that they don’t improve the lot of ‘poor bright pupils’.
DYT’s Fact Sheet on what Grammar Schools will mean for SEND shows that “the % of SEND learners, not sufficiently severe to receive a statement or an EHC Plan for example dyslexics, is 3.6% in grammar schools, compared to 11% nationally.” In September, the Education Policy Institute published evidence that found that only “2.5 per cent of grammar school pupils are eligible for free meals, compared with 13.2 per cent in all state funded secondary schools,” the House of Commons Library has similarly damning statistics here.
The latest report from the UCL Institute of Education shows clearly how it will only be the affluent who benefit, even when their children have the same levels of achievement at primary school as others who are not so well off.
So what can I add to the debate? Well, only a very personal view. People like grammar schools for many reasons. When you are starting your journey as a parent you want to do the best for your child whether it’s by pureeing spinach and freezing it in ice cubes (yuk!), reading books to them when they’re just weeks old (yes, I did that too), taking them to art, sports and all other form of extra curricula activities and providing them with the best education. Grammars seem a no-brainer – free, excellent education even if you have to travel a bit for it. Here’s the thing – all middle-class parents think their children will get into a grammar school, much as they think they will play for England as they watch them totter around a football or hockey pitch. That’s why ‘middle England’ think they are a good idea.
However, the truth is that it’s a very hard ‘game’ to get your child into a grammar school and this is important because those less well-off will, whatever the Government says, find it even harder. When I was looking for schools for my children I was clue-less, even turning up to a secondary school open day when my child was only 3. (Part of this is because I wasn’t brought up in England and the system is complicated). However, I wasn’t that way off the mark when it came to our local grammar school. I was told there was only one tutor to be had, that you had to get your child’s name down almost before they were born and even then, she would ‘test’ your child to see if she was willing to take them on. Having got this far with my first child, there followed a year, yes, a whole year of intensive tutoring which seemed to consist of repetitive timed tests at great expense, something beyond the means of the majority of parents. When we visited the school itself, we were informed that parents as far away as Edinburgh (we live in Twickenham!) applied to the school and, even now, I understand there are services out there advising parents of which grammar schools are easiest to get into around the country. Can you see why I say it’s a ‘game’ and one that middle-class parents are better able financially to play?
Needless to say my first two children didn’t get in and by then I gave up, realising that with dyslexia, a grammar school was a ‘no go’ area. Now here’s where I declare my hand and say that yes, I did pay for my children to go to secondary school and for my youngest I sent him in year 3 to a private school. Why? When I went to our local secondary school and was told that pupils finished at 2.30 because they couldn’t keep their concentration, that triple science wasn’t taught, nor was French at the time and heard pupils saying out of a 40 minute lesson there was about 15 minutes of teaching time, I looked elsewhere. For my youngest, I took him out of the state system because they simply had no idea how to support him with his dyslexia.
I made the right decision for my family and I was lucky enough to be able to afford to do that. Parents make decisions for the best for their children. But the government needs to make decisions that are best for all, and grammar schools are not. What is best for all is a relentless pursuit to improve all the schools across the country, for all children, not just for some. This includes improving not just exam outcomes but providing access to the sports and the arts and to providing a well-rounded education. Incidentally, in my experience many parents sending their children to private school do so because their children will get more specialist support if they need it and also because of the ‘extras’, the sport and the art, rather than because they will come out with better grades.
At Driver Youth Trust our flagship programme, Drive for Literacy, is a model that aims to improve outcomes in all schools for those who struggle with literacy and may be dyslexic. We have a history of exceptional education in this country, we have great and committed teachers and we have a legislative framework in place to support all pupils under the Children and Families Act and its supporting Code of Practice.
What we need is a government that believes in the right for every child to have the best education, a government that listens to those in the system – parents, teachers and learners themselves – and one that works relentlessly to ensure that all the elements of education are joined up so that we produce adults who have enjoyed their education, have achieved either academically or vocationally and are ready to contribute to our society.