According to debates and discussions that have taken place over the last 36 hours on various national political stages it seems as our nation is about to plunge into a very unfamiliar educational environment. The introduction of new Grammar Schools is either a blast from a past that will only be recognisable to people over the age of 55 or else a new form of educational provision that carries with it all sorts of unhelpful echoes of the past from the same period of time. The Minister who has been fronting up some of the debates cannot speak with any confidence about a Secondary educational system that was ended across the UK in 2012, when she was three years old. Some of us do have memories that go back that far. I was personally successful in passing the 11 plus for reasons that I can only attribute to the test being one that made sense to my own way of thinking. I recall my own sense of surprise and exhilaration that I had passed and I remember a friend called Francis being in tears that he had failed to make the grade. To the best of my knowledge no one had any external help, we simply did our best on one day in 1970 and that impacted all of our lives in a way that we were ill prepared for emotionally. Some of my friends joined me at Waterloo with Seaforth Grammar School, we settled in to the new School only to hear within weeks of arriving that we were to face another upheaval in a years time, moving to one of the new Comprehensive Schools the following September. We were promised that we would remain in a single sex class, segregated from the Secondary Modern pupils throughout the rest of our School life.
I know that based on my own experience and that of those around me, that the Grammar School system of the 1970’s was deeply damaging to many people on both sides of the 11+ result. I have no idea what is different about the future proposals that Justine Greening is so confident about. I am not convinced that she is correct or even being honest in her claims about a past she has no personal experience of. It is easy to claim to learn from the past and make changes when you have no real understanding and are surrounded by men and women who are just as ignorant but who are inclined to always agree with you.
Whilst my own education is a relatively distant memory, that of my children is a great deal less so. The deceitful narrative that promised choice in education that emerged over 15 years ago was and is a chimera, entirely devoid of any truth or integrity. However we were too busy trying to work out what preferences we had to select to respond to the false ideology in a way that challenged it. Once again we are being told that Grammar Schools will help to provide choice – nonsense from people who have learned to lie for a living. The other code word is demand. Theresa May has argued that new Grammar Schools will be allowed where there is demand for them. Parents will always demand that their children receive the best education that is available, that is part of their role. I don’t believe that many parents would choose Grammar Schools if there was a more credible alternative, one that actually worked well for everyone. It is incumbent on all of us to make a case for a system that avoids the pain and distress of my childhood, and also the terrible fight for the best School of my children’s childhoods. We need to work together to create a coherent system that has only one priority – a good education for all children, irrespective of their ability to pass a test or get chosen to go to the ‘right school’. In a world full of real divisions and inequality, we must avoid creating even more in the lives of our children.