Education ~ manners or grammars?

I could not disagree more with Julian Brazier, MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, he wrote about Education in the Adscene, this week. This is a relief as I was worried when I found myself in agreement with the sentiments of leader of the Tory party recently. Am I mellowing in old age?

As a local MP, not surprisingly, he is over enthusiastic about the Kent education system, a very strange system of 11+ and selective grammar schools for those who perform best in a test at 10-11 years old. He says he is concerned “that four fifths of the country has no selection and does not have enough good schools.”

Which implies there are more ‘good schools’ in Kent compared to the rest of the country, relative to children numbers, and that this is connected to selective education. On what evidence? There are Comprehensive state schools which appear higher in the league tables than the Kent Grammars – however, I do not think position in league tables of GCSE results is the total measure of a ‘good school’.

As a new comer to Kent, my impression gained from several years of hearing parents complain about the selection procedure is that it is a shambles or a disaster for the majority of children. I’m sure there are many good schools, the problem is the process for getting in to them.

I went to a High School in Worcester. There was no 11+ and no grammars. The children came from all social back grounds and all abilities. Mathematics and English were streamed by ability from our first year of entry, and most other subjects were taught in mixed ability groups in the first year. As we got older, almost all subjects were streamed.

Before I reveal to you just how well or badly my old school performs let me list the numerous advantage of my school experience:

in my junior school (1970’s) there was no training, pressure or competition to pass the 11+ (it didn’t exist);

at secondary school we mixed with others of all abilities and back grounds;

all children had the opportunity to move up or down the streams as a result of their intelligence and effort;

children could be brilliant in some subjects and poor in others.

Julian Brazier is worried that a mixed ability Comprehensive school can not challenge the brightest children, he says:

“Even with streaming, a school in a poor area is unlikely to have enough bright mathematicians in each year to fill a whole class.”We do not need to guess the answer to this, as the vast majority of the country does NOT have selection.Whilst I was at school, in my Comprehensive, I remember other pupils passing the Oxbridge entrance exam.

I was not the only child in the school to get an ‘A’ in my ‘O’level Maths (the best result

you could get in those days). Clearly, our maths lessons were as good as they could be, as was the rest of our education.

Friends Reunite reveals that many of my year went on to University or professional/higher education (at a time when only 5% of the population went to Uni.).

What about the vast majority who FAIL the exam in Kent? Some of these children also have grade A potential in some subjects but in Kent, they will not mix with the most able. I could go on and on…. but I think there is overwhelming feeling against selective education, which was so unpopular and, therefore, scrapped in most of the country a long time ago.

Being the kind of woman I am I must say SIZE IS IMPORTANT, probably.

I really do not like the idea of secondary schools with a thousand students or more. I suspect size is important: my school had around 500. The children knew all the teachers, and they knew all of us. All children could be made to feel important and valued.

We can’t all be Einstein! A debate about grammars is irrelevant to most people. The really important issue is how to engage, interest, teach or train the majority of young people who are not going to be doing well in GCSEs.  The children who would have left school at age 14 or 15 in my grandfather’s day.  He did very well for himself through the old apprentice system.What about the offspring of Mr & Mrs T.P.?  Like any parent I want the best for him. His parents have brilliant brains so he may genetically blessed in the IQ department. In other parts of the country I would be happy for him to go to a good Comprehensive. As he is only 5 we have a few years to see what life will bring.

As someone with varied life and a string of academic achievements I feel quite strongly that is more important in childhood to develop skills for living rather than obtain umpteen grade A exam passes.

Life skills that all children could learn: numeracy and literacy, of course, but also to have social skills. To be able to communicate clearly, confidently and politely. Good manners, good posture and charm will get most people a long way in life and are more useful than A levels in most situations!

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