WARNING: This post is not for the emtionally-attached to the ‘Grammar schools are evil’ idea. Only those who think there are pros and cons on both side should continue to read.
David Didau is BRILLIANT. But he has unintentionally made me think that maybe Peter Hitchens is right on grammars after all.
If you read nothing else, read this by David Didau. It is so spot-on in everything it says. It chimes with my years of experience in a variety of schools and it is for these reasons that at Michaela, we do as David says: we talk about being ‘Top of the Pyramid’. Many schools do this. It is a trick of illusion used by teachers in their classrooms and heads in their schools. “We are better than them” is the sentiment. We can behave better, work harder, strive more, and these attributes make us ‘better’. We aren’t failures like the kids who choose gang life over a life of hard work. We are better than that. At Michaela, we so believe in the sentiment that we have ‘Top of the Pyramid’ painted on the wall. We are the best. We are so damn good, we are going to give those boys at Eton who think they are the best a real run for their money. Think you are the best Eton? You haven’t met Michaela yet.
Peter Hitchens argues for an education system with grammars. David Didau does not believe in them. And yet, I find that Didau makes the most powerful argument in favour of grammars. Weird, eh?
- As Heather Fearn has discussed and Roger Scruton argues for, the purpose of education should be to impart knowledge to the next generation, not to engender social mobility. While Didau and I may put social mobility first, we also believe in our duty to pass on knowledge to future generations.
- Both David and I want a high floor for all schools. But David Didau makes a strong argument for the necessity of less good schools to exist so that good schools can set themselves up against them and motivate the children with talk of ‘being better than that’.
- Didau does say that he believes that children who do well in grammars would do well elsewhere and those who do worse in grammars would do better elsewhere. And he rightly said to me he isn’t sure how that can be construed as an argument in support. Didau is right: his heart is against grammars. But the logic of his argument is not.
- If the central point of Didau’s blog is correct, then, as he says, not all schools can be excellent.
- If this is true, the question is which schools should be excellent and which schools should not be. Hitchens makes this point and argues, rightly, that often what makes good comprehensives good is that they have huge intakes of very supportive parents who have moved into the area to get their kids into said school. Why select by postcode instead of ability?
- Of course there is also a handful of schools out there that are excellent despite intake because of the incredibly committed staff. But these are certainly not the norm. For a nationwide system, what should one do?
- Grammars have a natural ‘top of the pyramid’ position to play on and use to their advantage. If we had grammars across the country in sensible numbers, then the dynamic (currently used by clever comprehensives where they create the illusion of being better than others – explained by Didau) would give those schools the edge required to do very well.
- If Didau and I believe in successful schools and we believe in the validity of his blog post—that grammars cannot exist for all—then the question is who should get to go to an excellent school?
- Hitchens believes it should be the more able. I’m not sure who Didau believes it should be.
- If education should both promote social mobility and impart knowledge for future generations, then the argument that Hitchens puts forward for the able to be the chosen few is a good one, AS LONG AS some working class kids get in.
- As it stands, both Didau and I seem to take the position that the chosen should be those who get lucky either by post code or having pushy parents, or those who so happen to get into a school which so happens to have a strong ethos at that time because a good Head just took it over and will remain for 5 years until he/she leaves and the school deteriorates again. Our position is that the chosen should be totally random and unpredictable.
- And while Hitchens’ position in favour of grammars is coherent, I’m not sure the same can be said of ours against them.
I hope this makes sense. I find it hard to get my head around it!