I owe everything to my Grammar school education
It’s about time we brought them back
To me and many others, grammar schools are synonymous with one word: opportunity. They miraculously bring private-quality education to those whose families cannot afford to send them to the UK’s best schools. If that isn’t social mobility, I don’t know what is.
As someone fortunate enough to have attended a grammar school I was delighted to hear that Theresa May intends to scrap the ban on new grammar schools. I wouldn’t have achieved what I have done without them and I think this opportunity should be extended to as many people as possible.
Brought to us in 1998 by everybody’s favourite war criminal, Tony Blair, the ban represented a betrayal of opportunity. He and David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, removed the only access many people had to a quality of education so tragically denied to them.
Despite this, Mrs May’s plans have not been lauded by everyone. Far from it. The debate over grammar schools is still a fierce one, with opponents arguing that selective schooling undermines the whole idea of universal education. As well as this, they also claim that grammars perpetuate a class bias, accusing middle class parents of coaching their children with private tutoring for the Eleven-Plus entrance exams.
However, as a former pupil of both a comprehensive school and a grammar school, someone who has never had the advantage of a tutor, extra course books, or after-school sessions, I know which side of the debate I stand on.
Earlier this year, my alma mater, Bilton School, was put into special measures. Sadly, I was not surprised. Bullying, poor attainment and often substandard teaching blighted my time there. Classes were regularly disrupted or entirely derailed by the poor behaviour of just a handful of students. It could be a nightmare at times.
I remember once reading that only 37% of the Class of 2015 achieved five GCSEs graded A*- C.
I was fortunate however and with my grades, managed to scrape into the sixth form of my local grammar school, Lawrence Sheriff – one of the 164 remaining in England. Sheriff also happened to be one of the consistently highest performing schools in the country. The chance to move from a struggling school to one of the nation’s best was open to everyone in the area, regardless of income or faith.
Unlike many catchment areas, Rugby is fortunate to boast two grammar schools. It was at Sheriff that I excelled and was given the chance to develop my love for my chosen subjects into good grades. It was a launch pad that took me to the Russell Group University of Warwick, one of the top higher education institutions in the UK. If I hadn’t gone to Lawrence Sheriff I would be in a wildly different situation than I am today.
I was privileged to have this opportunity. Many are not. The 1998 ban on the introduction of new grammar schools has snatched this ladder away from countless children. Due to where I lived at the time, I never have the chance to sit the Eleven-Plus, I’m not sure I would have passed it, but if I had sat it and I passed, I am certain that I would be in a much better position than I am in today.
The benefit grammar school gave me is clearly seen when I compare my GCSE results to those of my friends at Warwick. Where they have half a dozen A*s, I have none. Where they have excellent grades in Maths and Science, subjects with which I struggle, I have low Cs. True, there are many people with poorer grades than me, indeed, some have none at all, but I owe my place at the UK’s eighth best university and everything that entails to the teachers, pupils and environment of grammar school.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptional comprehensives out there and I am not saying that sending a child to a non-selective school is to condemn them to a life of mediocrity. It’s just that many comprehensives do not foster the same environment that nurtures academic attainment in pupils, an environment that comes naturally to grammar schools. They take bright pupils and hone their talent, almost always producing excellent results.
In a society often criticised for its lack of social mobility, grammar schools represent a desperately needed window of opportunity, a window that has been taken advantage of by me and many others but tragically denied to countless more children in areas without it.
In this debate it is common to refer to people like me and others as ‘anomalies’, to be blinded by numbers for league tables and the Department of Education. It must be remembered that these statistics are more than that, they are people who thanks to grammar schools will go on to enjoy a life that may very well have been out of their reach. To withhold this opportunity for other children is nothing short of criminal and that is why Theresa May is right to tear down the ban.