I caught a glance of the front page of the I newspaper today. The cover story was of Theresa May bringing back the grammar schools. I’m afraid I haven’t read the article, so you can criticise this article for my ignorance, if you like. But I don’t think it’ll make any difference to what’s written here. I’m annoyed by the policy, but not surprised. I think Mike published something on his blog a few weeks ago reporting that May was trying to bring back grammar schools. And others have also seen it coming years ago. The author of a book I reviewed a few weeks ago on this blog, which attacked the foundation of the City Academies under Tony Blair, believed that this was all going to lead to the return of grammar schools, as the academy system leads to the separation of the bright, wealthy elite, who can afford to pay, from the poor and less intellectual.
It was also on the cards, given the immense nostalgia there seems to be in this country for grammar schools, if not the 11 plus. That was the exam that decided your future. If you were bright and passed it, you got to go to a grammar school, and could look forward to a middle class, clerical career. If you failed, you went to a secondary modern to be taught a mostly practical education to prepare you for one of the manual trades. A similar system survives in some continental countries, like Germany.
Some people continue to support the system, because the less academically able were nevertheless directed into an area more suitable for their abilities. This might be so, but it was also responsible for creating massive social inequalities. Tony Crosland, one of the founders of the modern comprehensive system, passionately advocated them because of the way the 11 plus discriminated against the poor, and reinforced the British class system. If you were poor, you were far more likely to find yourself failing the exam, and condemned to a life of manual work. There were scientific reports at the time also pointing out that the test itself was unscientific, and that a single exam at that age did not give an accurate picture of a person’s true intelligence.
Even some Tories despised the exclusion of working class pupils from ‘O’ levels. Rhodes Boyson, who was one of Thatcher’s education ministers, described in one interview how he felt it was unfair to discriminate against working class pupils in secondary moderns. They were prevented from taking ‘O’ levels at the time as part of the focus of the secondary moderns on technical and manual trades. He talked about how he led a group of his pupils through the ‘O’ level syllabus and got them to pass the exam, which technically they should not have done. Boyson was a grotty education minister. It was he and Thatcher, who began the process of destroying the Local Education Authorities and trying to take schools out of their control, thus laying the basis for the academy system. But Boyson had at least been a teacher, and had done something radical which genuinely helped working class pupils with this action back in the 1960s.
But nevertheless, there is still this continuing nostalgia for the grammar schools. They were supposed to be better than the comprehensives, which some no doubt were. Many comprehensives were too big, and there was immense harm done to pupils through some of the ‘progressive’ education policies. There were real horror stories in my part of Bristol about Hartcliffe school, which had a reputation for theft, bullying and very low academic standards. But this has changed. The school has been re-organised, and I think standards have improved massively. But the stereotype of the failing, substandard comprehensive, compared to the glittering excellence of grammar schools remains. One of those, who continues to demand their return is a certain Charles Windsor, or as he is better known, Prince Charles. Among his correspondence that became public a year or so ago, to the embarrassment of the government, which had been trying to keep his interference in politics very quiet, were his letters asking for their return.
And now it seems he’s going to get his way. And millions of working and lower middle class children are going to find themselves kept down, by an educational system that deliberately discriminates against them achieving any kind of career above the low paying trades deemed to be their lot by their social superiors. Ultimately, this isn’t about excellence in education. This about reinforcing the traditional British class system, and keeping the lower orders down and away from the middle and upper classes.
Tags: 'I' Newspaper, 'O' Levels, 11 Plus, City Academies, Class, Clerical Work, Grammar Schools, Hartcliffe, Manual Trades, Margaret Thatcher, Middle Class, Prince Charles, Rhodes Boyson, Schools, Secondary Moderns, Theresa May, tony blair, Tony Crosland, Upper Class, Vox Political