I have no problem with selection. I do not have an instinctive aversion to grammar schools. I do think that the current school system is failing our children. And I do think that something radical must be done to save it (and the country). I also believe that the school system of the 1950s was not failing the country and I do absolutely believe that we have been on a downward slope ever since.
So I really should agree with Peter Hitchens’ (@ClarkeMicah) position on grammar schools.
Except that I don’t.
And despite having had a long to and fro with him on Twitter last weekend, I am still not convinced of his pro-grammar stance. 140 characters just aren’t enough.
For those of us who believe that there are pros and cons in this debate, but are still anti-grammar, I think there are two issues for us.
- We are not convinced that the reason progressivism (child-centred teaching & lower behaviour standards) consumed our education system was because the grammar schools were abolished and comprehensives established. We think it was a sad coincidence that these two things happened at the same time. Indeed, we are certain that grammar schools now and the grammars of the future will simply perpetuate progressivism because generally speaking (not in every classroom but in many), as a society we believe that the teacher teaching from the front is bad, that lessons must be ‘engaging and fun’ and that strict behaviour systems are, well, not very nice.
- The old grammar/tripartite system of the 1950s belonged to a different society. It may well have been successful then with some 50% or 60% of pupils being from the working class. We do not deny this (unlike many anti-grammar people) and nor do we insist that similar standards of both behaviour and achievement are being met by our current comprehensive system. But we are unsure of how we would recreate this now for two reasons. a) The stable working class family with dad working at the factory and mum at home with the kids doesn’t exist on anything like the scale that it used to (today barely half of households with children are conventional two parent, married families). b) The 11+ used to be a test that was fairer. It was fairer because hot-housing did not dramatically affect who got in then. These two reasons help to explain why poor kids have a far harder time getting into grammars these days. We do not believe that this is only because grammars are in affluent areas. Middle class people are everywhere.
So how would I be convinced grammar schools could work?
- Convince me that somehow by establishing grammar schools, this will help to reduce the impact of progressivism. I believe that our main focus in education should be in establishing what works well in schools. Does having high expectations on behaviour work, or not? If not, fine. If it does, then let’s start expecting this across the country. Does having teachers teach from the front work? If not, fine. If it does, then let’s start rolling this out in all our schools. I think progressivism is harmful. I don’t see how establishing grammar schools that will themselves be progressive is in any way addressing the more urgent and dramatic issue for our country: an education system that is broken at its roots and in need of a radical rethink.
- Convince me that we can test pupils in a way that isn’t unfair to the poor. I can even accept that it might be a little unfair. But grammar schools cannot just be a clever way for the middle-classes to get a private education without paying for it. How you do this in 2017 with the hot-housing culture that we have where the poor are at such a disadvantage, I don’t know. How on earth the government is going to insist on 30% of grammar schools having poor kids without lowering the test results for them, I don’t know. Tests require cultural knowledge. Tests require either a home filled with books and someone to give you practice tests and/or a teacher teaching knowledge from the front of the classroom. Our schools on the whole don’t do that. So how on earth are the poor kids going to get in?
Often I read stuff on the anti-grammar side and I cringe. It can often be too emotional and assumes that people who are pro-grammar are mean and nasty and have another agenda.
The simple fact is that the anti-grammar people and the pro-grammar people all want the same thing. They want a fair and successful society where our children, ALL of our children are educated in the best way possible.
We simply disagree on how to do it.
This – Changing my mind on grammar schools, from one of Michaela’s teachers (mike_taylor11) is well worth reading. I only discovered his thoughts on grammars upon reading it and then I thought, yes, I think that’s right.
Peter Hitchens responded to my post above in tweets below: