Like most suburban teenagers with more than a few A*s at GCSE, I harboured faint ambitions of Oxbridge. However faint such ambitions were is irrelevant, but the fact I was able to harbour them at all serves as testimony to my schooling – a state funded, free education from the grammar school ten minutes down the road.
Growing up in Kent was hardly the most glamorous experience a teenager could have. There were no particularly big cities, good nights out or even a premier league football team. But Kent’s one saving grace was its schools, and with the recent decision to grant grammar school status to The Judd School in Tonbridge (Britain’s first new grammar in 40 years), I think it’s clear the rest of the country should follow suit.
You may remember 2010 as the year of David Cameron banging on about this “Big Society” and that “we are all in this together.” Well, I’m afraid, Dave, the reality of our education system tells a very different story. With 66 per cent of the coalition cabinet privately educated and Etonian backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg desperately insisting, “I am a man of the people. Vox populi, vox dei,” not only does it seem politicians from ordinary backgrounds are becoming an increasingly rare feat in the Westminster clubhouse, but British society as a whole is becoming tailor-made for the gentry.
It hasn’t always been like this though. Before grammar schools had been hunted to near extinction, these majestic redbrick creatures provided a golden age of meritocracy, defined by ability and ambition rather than the depths of one’s pockets, and we saw some ordinary students exhibit some extraordinary talents to really give these toffs a run for their Daddy’s money.
My Alma Matter (as well as that of ex Prime Minister Edward Heath), Chatham House Grammar School for Boys in Ramsgate is my case in point. While I am very tempted to regale you with some self-indulgent merito-scholastic academic odyssey, that saw me captain my house and be awarded school colours, my point is, I had a very private education and it cost my parents absolutely nothing. Periodically, the school sent students of working and middle class backgrounds to the country’s leading universities and rivalled the local private schools ably in Ofsted reports and examination results.
With only a handful of state grammar schools remaining, let’s clear up a few misconceptions. Intake is by no means heavily skewed towards the more impecunious layers of the petit bourgeoisie nor is the principle of selection to venerate the bright and neglect those who need help.
Rather, the function of the grammar school is to separate the faster learners from those who require a little more time. This measurement is made entirely independent of class and income and allows aptitude to play a huge role in suitably placing the child in an environment appropriate to his or her own intellectual pace.
But what happens to the children who don’t go to grammar school? I’m glad you ask. As an academic rapture saves but 20 per cent of pupils, it seems a great injustice to cast the remainder off to the erratic performance and low expectations of the comps; which is why we should embrace the ideology set out by vocational and technology schools, that allow a child’s practical talents to be nurtured in tandem with – and notably not instead of – the national curriculum.
While the liberal fantasy of education for all has foolishly assumed that anyone can and should go to university, by appropriating the learning process, we see the academics and practitioners not divided by some elitist apartheid, but simply encouraged to actualise their respective talents in a fitting environment.
Moreover, if students are to pursue what they’re good at rather than their appointed societal role, we may then make some progress in solving the overcrowded admissions crisis and stop elevating sub-standard polytechnics to university status simply to fuel a political statistic that more working class pupils are attending higher education. This would in turn mean fewer loans and fewer debts, and far fewer hobbies trying to pass themselves off as degree courses. I’m looking at you, Surf Science at Cornwall Tech.
Ultimately though, the grammar school presents a ladder of opportunity, the perks of a private education for those who could not otherwise afford it, and if reintroduced on a national scale, I’m sure we would see a new breed of politician and professional alike; one not so shamelessly distanced from the plight of the working man.