Through the letters page of the Times of Tunbridge Wells (my local weekly free newspaper) I have recently become embroiled in debate over academic selection in post-primary education.
A satellite grammar school is to be opened in Sevenoaks (several miles from its main site in Tonbridge) and comprehensive school zealots are enraged.
The “one size fits all” mantra is being threatened and the “high priests” and “high priestesses” of misguided egalitarian educational dogma fear a dam has been breached.
What’s not to like about accepting the clearly expressed wishes of a local community? What’s not to like about democracy? What’s not to like about challenging a school system that fails most children? For failing most children is certainly built into the current system, as our performance on the OECD international league table of educational performance at age 15 makes clear.
The argument against grammar schools on the grounds of selection is, a non-starter. Selection is ubiquitous in the state school sector. It is based on a parent’s ability to buy a house in the catchment area of a good school and, if necessary, to hire tutors.
The argument for grammar schools is that children should be educated in line with their ability and aptitude. We need grammar schools for academic children just as much as we need gold standard vocational schools for youngsters whose aptitude is practical rather than academic. These are the youngsters who should go on to earn lots more money than many of those who are more academically-inclined. Bricklayers in London, for example, currently earn between £50,000 and £100,000 pa, and there is a severe shortage.
It is remarkable that, according to the OECD, Britain is the only country in the developed world in which grandparents, educated under the old tripartite system of the 1950s and 1960s, outperform their grandchildren in terms of educational attainment.
Less remarkable, perhaps, is the fact that N.Ireland, which has kept its grammar schools, consistently outperforms the rest of the UK in public examination results.
Clearly, the lessons all of us (wherever we live) need to learn are, firstly, to quit denigrating the 11+ and our grammar schools; and secondly, start championing raising academic standards and extending parental choice in education!
Christopher Luke, Kent