I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about an eloquent, authentic argument against the reintroduction of Grammar Schools.
Wisdom is priceless. The author of this letter is a retired judge and a retired governor of Huntington School. I am hugely grateful to him for allowing me to publish his email.

Hello John,

I read of your reaction to the proposed new policies on education and wonder if my experiences might help.

I went to my Grammar School from 1948 to 1955 and was fortunate to do so. The teaching was generally to a good standard (sometimes outstanding) with the result the School was high achieving.  It took me and many of my friends to University and into the professions and on this basis I ought to be a supporter of the eleven plus selection. However, as the years have gone by I have realised none of this happened without enormous cost to the community.

From the outset there was an unbridgeable gap between us and the majority who had not passed the exam. Those of us who passed were immediately regarded (and self-regarded) as superior to those who failed and there was a corresponding dejection and feeling of inferiority in those who had not made it. In later life I have spoken to some who failed and they tell me these scars lasted well into adulthood. As our schooling progressed this division between those who passed and those who did not increased. Those superior/inferior feelings were always there and at every level the Grammar Schools ignored the Secondary Schools and accentuated the division. We played sport against other Grammars in (e.g.) Manchester, Bolton and Bradford, but there was never any contact with another school in the City. As individuals socially we stayed with our school friends and our paths never crossed those of the other schools.

Inevitably those in the Secondary Moderns never had the benefit of the stimulus the more able pupils might have provided. But equally the Grammar School boys were deprived of any meaningful insight into the social and developmental problems of the less fortunate, so reducing the maturity and devaluing the intellectual benefits the Grammar School education had brought to those who enjoyed it.

Any comparison with fee-paying schools is not really appropriate: we live in a free society and we all use our means to finance the lifestyle we choose. If some choose to bear the cost and spare the community the expense of educating their children that is a matter for them. But grammars and comprehensives are each financed from the public purse and it does seem basically wrong that that purse should be used to establish the huge inequalities and unfairness selection at so early an age brings.

I am sure you will receive a mountain of comment from others in the City. My view is you know about these things better than most!

My kindest wishes to you and to everyone at Huntington…

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This post has 5 Comments

  1. Excellent John (and your retired Governor). Such a good point towards the bottom that the public purse would be setting these divides in place… sad.

  2. I am a headteacher (2 years into my first headship!) in Derbyshire and feel strongly that education should be comprehensive for all children. I am totally against selective education on so many grounds. Although my entire teaching career has been in Derbyshire, I actually live in Trafford which is a Tory stronghold and its education system is selective. My children were subject to this and I can speak from a personal perspective of how socially divisive the 11+ system is. My daughter passed her 11+ and went to the local grammar school. However, on results day she was mortified that her best friend had not passed it by just a few marks. Her parents were both educated and appealed against the decision and she did manage to secure a place at the grammar school. However, we saw at first-hand how children in her year 6 class were divided into failures and successors and this left a terrible atmosphere during the last year of their primary education. My daughter was very successful and is now a lawyer but she did not enjoy school and found her lessons boring. My two sons did not pass and they were confined to the local all-boys secondary modern school with very poor pass rates. I was determined that they should not go to these all male environments and fought hard to get them into a school out of the area. I was successful but only because I was in the education system and had to cultural capital to fight their cause. I cannot believe that despite all the evidence which categorically demonstrates that selective education is socially divisive the Conservative party are determined to go ahead with this policy.
    I met with the parents of a year 6 child this week. They wanted to meet with me to help with their decision about whether to send their son to my school. They had lots of questions and they were clearly not sure if my school was right for their son. I answered all of their questions honestly and in particular their question about comprehensive education. They were clearly concerned about their child mixing with children whose parents don’t value education the way they do and don’t have high aspirations for their children. They were concerned that having such children in a school would compromise standards! It was at this point that I asked them to come and take a walk around the school with me to see for themselves. This meeting made me even more resolute in my determination to ensure that my moral purpose in ensuring all children have the same opportunity is at the heart of all that I do.

  3. John you are cherry picking and I am afraid you have not mentioned grade inflation – an A level grade C in the 1980s would now be equivalent to A today…

    1. Paul Harty – I hear this so many times and nobody ever supplies evidence… It’s just an unsubstantiated, recycled, urban myth. I wouldn’t mind betting you’re the type of person that tells people at dinner parties that drinking red wine helps fight cancer, a duck’s quack doesn’t echo and water has memory.

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