Since their decline under Margaret Thatcher, and the eventual forbidding of any expansion of them by Tony Blair’s government, grammar schools have been given a poor voice. Often touted as a place for the privileged, a divisive component in a new ‘comprehensive’ education system, and damaging for those unable to attend them, one can see why they were perhaps not all that popular with politicians in the late 20th Century.
However, these reasons are debased, and have continually been debased by a misunderstanding of what grammar schools are. Designed under the 1944 Butler act, which divided the education system into three parts to suit the skills of pupils, and help children develop specific and desirable talents that they already showed proficiency in by age 11. Grammar schools made up one third of the spectrum, the other two were secondary moderns (which have developed into comprehensives), and technical colleges (which have essentially fallen out of the system). Together they were meant to fulfil the roles of Academic, Functional and Technical forms of education.
It is true that the old tripartite system failed, but this is for two primary reasons, neither of these are related to the existence of grammar schools which during this time excelled overall. The first reason is the failure of technical colleges, as not many were set up; they were less popular as a result, and many became comprehensive schools or grammar schools after a short time. The second is the poor management of funds across the education system, and the beginning of the misunderstanding of the nature of grammar schools.
Grammar schools became seen as prestigious, and as such garnered more funding, despite having fewer pupils than to secondary moderns. This caused a funding deficit and a gap pupils’ education. However, rather than fix the funding problem, the decision was the closure of grammar schools, and an attempt to shoe-horn every child into a one-size fits all comprehensive system. In my opinion, this is failing.
One of the greatest complaints of pupils today is that everyone is measured and expected to perform well in what can be said to be a very narrow band of assessment. Ambition and aptitude is not well rewarded, and encouragement and enthusiasm cannot be given to meet the needs of individual children, only the average. The current system does not benefit people as individuals, and makes it more difficult for people to succeed overall.
Since their abolition, grammar schools have become further misunderstood, leading many to confuse them with the elitist private education system, which has led to the label of privilege being reinforced despite being untrue. What is true however, is that today grammar schools retain a higher level of academic achievement, while simultaneously allowing comprehensives to focus upon their pupils better. This provides more social mobility, and access to higher education. In 2012, Government statistics displaying the feeder schools to universities were released, and despite their comparatively low number and low funding, grammars proved their worth where they have been retained.
Without nationwide grammars, Britain has seen fewer state school pupils benefit from the highest levels of education available (at Cambridge and Oxford), and a stalling in social mobility. An example of this is in Ebbw Vale, one of the most deprived towns in UK, where an increasing number of under-21s remain out of work or education despite local government investment. Yet in areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire, which host grammar schools, pupils who attend them are much more likely to move on to higher education, and eventually earn a higher wage as a result. As such, Teresa May’s shake-up of the education system with new grammars, giving more options for children of all families, will once again bring benefits across the UK, and (with the funding previously revised) to all people, not just where they’re already established.