Sunday, 11 September 2016

Can Grammar Schools Work?


James Dancey looks into whether grammar schools can have a context in modern day education.



Grammar schools have been a left versus right issue for many years now. However, should it be?
With more than murmurs suggesting that Theresa May is going to be the first Prime Minister in decades to create new grammar schools, many of which were converted to comprehensives in the 1960s and 1970s. There’s been an array of reaction, much criticism coming from Labour benches and support coming from more grassroots Conservative members, but is this always the way?

Speaking to another friend who was fervently centre-left, he revealed that he was in fact pro-grammar schools, and that’s a stance I can understand greatly. It's one that is dismissed too much by the modern Labourites; there is indeed a strong argument for the implementation of grammar schools which the working class would listen to. One of the prominent arguments is that they have the capacity to undermine privilege, that idea to escape the poverty loop, this concept that children can gain a significant standard of education without having to pay fees.

Statistically, this is supported by correlative data that Oxbridge intake has decreased from state schools since the abolition of many grammar schools, studies also show that social mobility has decreased. However, it’s important to note that the data is correlative, and there are plenty of other issues driving the educational decline and social divide. However, it’d be hard to argue that grammar schools don’t enhance education for the poorest who attend there.

Which also underlines the greatest problem with grammar schools; it’s often not the poorest who attend. Recent statistics released suggested that the number of students entitled to free-school meals (a barometer of how many of the poorest are in attendance) is astronomically low, and actually that grammar schools provide more of a shelter for the middle class who don’t want to pay tuition fees to go to private schools.

My friend suggested that if we implemented more grammar schools and then made comprehensive schools focused on creative ventures the system would be more efficient. I agree, to an extent, you see he also believes in the abolition of private schools, and although I empathise with that temperament I think that you’d end up flooding the grammar system with the privileged. If you want to make the grammar schools more focused on helping children out of poverty then you’d have to provide just as good education to children from wealthier backgrounds, wealth discrimination works both ways. You can’t condemn a bright student to poor education because of his upper-class background. But then the issue there is that you'd be forcibly flooding the state system with private students, private students leaving less room for the less privileged. 

Comprehensive schools are an easy option, but they are not the best option. However, if introduced, grammar schools must be done right and I’m sceptical of whether May would do them right, there are so many confounding variables that would offset any differences to undermine the systematic inequality in this country as it is.

If you did assign roles to each school, grammars as academic and comprehensive as more innovative then you would be able to have a more focused dedicated curriculum to each of them and allow students to find a niche a lot easier, giving young people inspiration is the best way to combat this disillusion that many of them hold with the system, which is, by the way, treating them terribly.  
I completely understand why people on the left are generally opposed to grammar schools; they can be futile and discriminatory in the wrong hands. However, we can’t go on with secondary education in its current state. There are a great range of issues with grammar schools, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be done right, and the only way to make progress on a flailing education system is serious reform.

I’m still cynical of whether May’s supposed reintroduction of grammar schools will do any benefit to those who are poorer but maybe in the future we’ll have a Government who will know how to handle them and realise the linear academic system is a product of the past and constrained by tradition. Regardless of grammar schools, the current arrangement has to be changed.
James X Editor