The Case For New Grammar Schools in England and Wales
A contentious issue since the first utterance of a possible change in the UK’s current grammar schools policy, two students give their reasons why they believe Theresa May’s plan to allow new grammar schools to open in England and Wales is set for success.
In recent weeks, the new Prime Minister Teresa May has outlined plans to reintroduce selective education, primarily in the form of grammar schools. Although the right-wing of British politics is largely in favour of this change in educational policy, the left are not so happy, expressing fears it may hinder their children’s chances.
I attended a normal, state run school in South London, so it may be surprising that I am supportive of this change. However, there were no grammar schools near enough to me for it to be an option, and private education certainly wasn’t. Grammar schools (generally) are known to produce pupils with above average qualifications. Yes, this evidently comes down to the standard of teaching, but it is undeniably also related to such schools having more choice on the pupils they admit. Snobby, elitist, ‘not fair’, some cry, but true.
That is what it comes down to. Better education. And who doesn’t want the best education?
The young couple that have just moved in next to you might be complaining about this change to education policy but guaranteed the nearest grammar school will be first choice on their child’s form, fifteen years down the line. In theory, the left might think selective education is ‘unfair’ and ‘unnecessary’. However, in practice, these new schools will undoubtedly be oversubscribed, with parents desperate to get the best for their children. People don’t like the idea of grammar schools simply because they’re worried their child wouldn’t get a place.
The concern expressed by the older generations is justifiable. Once upon a time, grammar schools were all the rage, and of course there were negative sides to this selective education system. It’s been claimed children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be overlooked during the selection process, just as they are for many opportunities. However, with this new wave of grammar schools may come a new set of rules, quotas and so on. Only time will tell.
Where the British education system stands in relation to the rest of the world is constantly debated, once being labelled ‘far from perfect’ whilst it was claimed the UK education system was the second best in Europe in 2014. There are many issues in the current education system and consequently there is a lot of mending to do. However, I believe the reintroduction of academically selective schools can only be a good start. It doesn’t mean those not academic enough to be selected will be left behind completely, it simply means those more able will be pushed further, something I find hard to label ‘unfair’ or ‘harsh’
I didn’t go to a grammar school and from years seven to eleven, I was reasonably happy. Then for sixth form I had a pretty evenly balanced selection between grammar and comprehensive schools. Aside from the school I’d been at, there wasn’t a single comprehensive school I applied for. Why? Because for five years I watched as my classmates who were predicted low grades get most of the attention whilst I among others got ignored. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying those that were weaker in certain subjects deserved to be ignored but in a lot of my classes, especially those that weren’t separated by sets, my school seemed to go by an attitude of “if you’re predicted an A, you’ll get there by yourself”. Needless to say, this wasn’t the case.
The point I’m trying to make is, not every school has the same priorities. Most excel more at helping people of certain ability, whether it’s those who get straight As, those who scrape Cs or those who tend to vary depending on the subject (the latter including myself). So it’s only natural that grammar schools, which base acceptance on the Eleven Plus Exam, would be more apt to accommodate the straight A crowd. I only came to believe this more when I had to continue attending my state school for sixth form. While a friend of mine, who’d gotten into the grammar school we’d both applied for, was frequently being pushed to do better, I often felt like I was being told to quit while I was ahead. When I wanted to try and make the B on my essay an A, I was told to quit because “only one girl in this school has ever gotten an A on this essay”.
Personal experience is one thing. What about statistics? In the 2014/15 school year, 99.1 percent of pupils at selective schools achieved five or more A* to C grades. This is compared to 66.3 percent of pupils at comprehensive schools. Now, while comprehensive school pupils immensely outnumbered those at selective schools, there is no denying that pupils at these selective schools are almost certain to get 5 A* to C grades. Though there is some elitism in the system from a class standpoint, it’s shown that the grammar school model of teaching higher achieving pupils does work to at least some degree.
My younger sister recently had some reservations about going to a grammar school for sixth form. However, when asked her reasoning for ultimately going, she cited the main reason being the change of environment and that is what it comes down to. Like it or not, the environments of the grammar and comprehensive school are vastly different. So wanting a change of scenery doesn’t necessarily mean grammar schools as a whole are a failure.
Grammar schools have their problems but they have a lot of advantages too, especially for higher achieving students. With that being said, if some comprehensives were willing to change their ways, we would no longer need them. The current education system seems to encourage the “teach for the exam” method. This is less of a problem in grammar schools because more of their pupils are expected to achieve high grades and therefore are pushed to go for it. But in comprehensive schools, you have to accommodate for all levels meaning the main priority is to make sure everyone is achieving the bare minimum to pass the tests, leaving higher achieving students to fend for themselves.