Grammar schools: elite rich kid institutions
Capitalism reigns supreme.
Grammar schools should be a brilliant idea: a top-notch education which pushes gifted students to their limits and a purely academic selectivity criteria without the costs associated with private schools.
It would be great if that really was the case but sadly it simply isn’t. The postcode lottery of grammar schools means that they are undoubtedly more prevalent in very middle class areas. You wouldn’t expect to find many in inner city areas or in other places with family incomes well below the national average. These inequalities are intensified by the process of academic selection.
I totally agree that more gifted students should get access to education that will stretch them more. As a Cambridge student, it would be very hypocritical of me to say otherwise. However, it is not really possible to fully prepare for the Cambridge interview; interviewers test your innate ability.
The ‘11-plus’ on the other hand is about as tutor-friendly as tests come, arguably even more so than GCSEs and A-Levels. Most genuinely academically gifted students have not reached the point where they particularly stand out by the age of eleven and so passing the test is more a matter of how good a tutor the parents can afford rather than the child’s actual ability.
Then there’s the question of how realistic academically selective education at that age is anyway. Even if a test could be developed which tested the full natural ability of eleven year olds and grammar schools existed in every catchment area for easy accessibility to all families, how easy is it to fully measure someone’s academic potential at such a young age? I myself feel as if I did not really start to stand out as particularly adept at physics and maths until late into my GCSEs.
Instead, academic selectivity from the GCSE years onwards, and possibly even just sixth form, would be a far more reasonable system. However, the possibility of totally foolproof selection tests being developed and implemented is highly unrealistic. The best option may be a system whereby University is the only point at which academic ability impacts upon whether or not you have access to the education you seek.
Ultimately though, the idea of a blanket ban on grammar schools and shutting down those that already do exist is completely ridiculous. It would be about as anti-capitalist as you could get and would probably start some sort of black market for education. A ban would deter many would-be teachers from going into education too with some of the best, most knowledgeable teachers around only wishing to teach in grammar and private schools that pay them more than a state school would. Surely letting some kids have access to these teachers is better than none?
Yet the fact that there are plans to create more is incredibly dangerous. With the other big barrier to Oxbridge being A-level grades, the plans to increase numbers of grammar schools will impact the futures of an awful lot of young people. It is a sad fact that it is still very easy to ‘teach to the test’ and this strategy is unquestionably carried out more effectively at grammar and private schools than it is at state schools. There is no clear path of direction to in this debate, no obviously fair outcome.
The only way that the situation can be made any better is to vastly improve the quality of state education more broadly by offering good teachers better pay and more incentives to teach to a better standard. Smaller class sizes would work wonders too if it could be made possible by employing more teachers across the board as well as enforcing harsher exclusion punishments for the sorts of children who only wish to impede the learning of others. Until this is done, there should be no further efforts to create new, government-subsidised grammar schools.
Sadly however, private schools, unlike grammars, cannot be stopped or controlled. Capitalism once more reigns supreme and the very best teachers will always be lured to them by the large salaries on offer.
Such is the way of the world. Sad, really.