Every hour or so, Twitter becomes obsessed with the ‘thing’, not just the ‘thing’ but ‘this’, the ‘thisness’ of the ‘thing’. It becomes bigger than itself, tweets amplify and enhance the wrongness of this ‘thing’, the moral outrage that this ‘thing’ even exists is palpable.
My Twitter feed tells me that Grammar Schools are wrong. Not just wrong but evil, divisive, harmful, unfair, elitist ...
Yet they’re not.
Sending a talented singer or actress or dancer to Stage School isn’t wrong, it’s what they need to develop their talents. Coaching a child to run, swim, jump higher and faster, to represent our country isn’t wrong. Giving an academic child an academic education isn’t wrong either, it’s what they need to develop their talents. But somehow, it is deemed ‘wrong’.
Those who support this argument are observing it from the wrong end of the telescope. They are focusing their outrage on schools that are intent on providing children who have a talent for academia with a good education. And ‘this’ is deemed a bad thing.
Where is the outrage for a child with an innate talent for playing the violin having private music lessons, where is the outrage for a child who can run like the wind having tutoring, or coaching to develop their talent, where is the outrage when a child can paint or sing, or draw or swim or … pretty much excel at anything other than academia?
Is it right to put a child with oodles of vocational talent but without academic interest or ability into an environment that is not designed to develop their talents? Isn’t that as cruel as sending an academic child to a vocational centre which specialises in an education that they are not equipped for?
What is wrong, completely wrong, is that the alternative is dubbed ‘bog standard’ and implies we are sending our children to a comprehensive system that seems to be failing to develop individual talents and particularly maths and English, in our children. Why are we not railing against this argument? Instead of banning Grammar Schools to remove this privilege, why isn't the comprehensive system being raised up to give every child a privileged education?
We should be demanding that all schools meet all our children’s needs. That all our schools are excellent, that vocational education is valued as highly as academic, that children with different needs, the disabled, the ethnic minorities, the disenfranchised, the whole spectrum of children have access to an education system that doesn’t fail them and gives them options.
The problem isn’t with Grammar Schools; the problem is with:
Society, parents, the media and our own prejudice. There is a belief that a Grammar School gives someone a special gift that we can’t all have. It’s not fair we yell and if we can’t have it, nor can they. The politics of envy. If this is the way forward, then I will banish all of those who can sing (I can’t – so why should they?). Instead of taking it off the few, we should be extending it to the many. If you have two bars of chocolate and ten children, you don't leave eight out, or withhold it from all ten, you ensure that everyone gets a share.
Parents and employers who, to some extent, still believe the perception that vocational education is not as thorough an indication of ability as academic. The endless changes, the emphasis on apprenticeships, the qualifications that don't meet current, let alone future employment needs, the under-resourcing and endless media driven sensationalist headlines comparing us to others do little to help this.
The endless changes to qualifications, curricula, teaching methods, new types of school that have undermined education and their faith in it.We are not now comparing apples and pears but butterflies and chondrites. New is always promoted; quick, easy, shiny are the buzzwords, when it should be content and impact. Everything is counted, but little is really measured.
The values of society, which continues to secretly worship at the tweedy altar of academia (hence the awful mimicry of Apprenticeship Graduation ceremonies) whilst the government continues to display the dual agonies of lip service and contempt towards vocational education.
The continuous linking of Further Education and Skills, which no matter how much glue is applied, are not and never will be the same.
Failure to provide different types of education for different students in one good establishment. Equal but different.
How can we change this? By stop messing about with education and qualifications, improve maths and English so that children are better prepared for college and life and stop making a new type of school every five minutes and allow the ones we have got to stabilize, develop and become even better. We can support our teachers, put faith in them and their abilities, give them proper resources, enable them to develop their teaching so children are prepared for life after sixteen. By providing stability in all things educational, allowing development through empiricism. Magpie education does not work.
As teachers, we teach the way the child understands. To develop new ways, new technologies (funding permitted) to enable them to understand, to modify our practice to develop their knowledge. If a child requires us to teach them academically, we do. If a child requires a vocational approach, we do that. We do what is best for the child.
As a society, we are obsessed with labels. A ‘Grammar School child’, a ‘sink estate child’, an ‘upper class child’, a ‘lower class child’. It is time that we stopped judging everyone by their label. It is that compartmentalizing, the overall lack of excellence, for all children, everywhere, that is the problem not Grammar Schools.
It is time to stop being cutting off avenues for education, stop painting ourselves into a corner and ensure that we educate each child in the way that suits them best, even if that is a Grammar School or a Studio School or a Sports College or a Stage School.
p.s. I was a Grammar School brat. I passed exams. My parents refused to allow me to go to university (days of parental signature needed for a grant) because I was a girl. I went a bit wild, then learned good vocational skills at work (programming and systems analysis in the early 1980's). I put myself, as an adult, through the Open University and a PGCE to teach. Did the Grammar help me? I think it did, it showed me that there were options.