Grammar schools – giving poorer children a brighter future

Grammar schools – giving poorer children a brighter future

It may sound like a worn-out cliché but it’s true – I wouldn’t have had all the opportunities that I have had without a fantastic education.

And it is time to give that back to the children of the working classes by having a grammar school in every town.

If that raises your eyebrow, let me explain why:

I’m from a working-class background and I’m proud of that. I grew up in the 1960s in a council house – my father was a railway guard and my mother a cleaner. I should have been destined for a life as a manual worker (and there’s nothing wrong with that) except I was academic.

So why should I have trodden that well-worn path of generations of working-class people when I knew I had the intellect to do something different with my life?

It was the swinging sixties and the beginning of progressive education methods. Everything was a fight for me because of the chaotic way I was taught – I succeeded because I fought for the right to learn.

But it shouldn’t have to be like that for academic ‘poor’ kids and, after nearly 50 years, it’s even worse.

The comprehensive system, which was designed with the intention of making everything equal, has instead cruelly blighted bright children from less affluent areas.

Instead, we have an unofficial two-tier system that only benefits the wealthy.

Middle-class parents are moving to good catchment areas so their children go to the best comprehensive schools, thus pushing up property prices – making it even more difficult for poorer children to get a look-in.

The schools in those areas attract the best heads, the best teachers, and secure the best grades.

Then the very few grammar schools that have remained – once the place where poor children could shine – make their entrance exams even tougher because the competition for places is so great.

So what happens? Affluent parents pay for extra coaching and tuition to make absolutely sure their children get those precious places. And who can blame them?

Meanwhile, 11-year-old Joe Bloggs, a very bright lad, finds himself going to a poor performing comprehensive with poor-quality teaching – just because of where he lives.

So when I say a grammar school in every town will help Joe, and thousands of boys and girls like him, I sincerely mean it.

Quite frankly, our current system is failing those children.

Having more grammar schools will greatly increase the chances of bright, poorer children receiving the education that matches their ability.

As in Northern Ireland, having more grammar schools will see the 11+ entrance exam set at a more realistic level, decreasing the reliance on extra tuition and increasing the chance of entry for all.

Further down the line I’d like to see a more continental system, where children can change schools part-way through their education to reflect the talents they’re displaying – whether that be academic, sporting, creative or technical.

There’s a place for all schools – comprehensives, academies, free schools and grammar schools. More choice can only increase the chances for everyone and not just the few.