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Grammar Schools...... would you like to see a return?

(333 Posts)
Sago Thu 29-Apr-21 09:58:33

Our granddaughter is still at primary age but currently lives in an area that has a grammar school.

It got me thinking that the majority of grammar schools left are in affluent areas therefore still viewed as elitist, however statistics show that non white ethnic minorities make up 28% of pupils at grammars yet only 22% at comprehensive schools.

I truly believe that the grammar schools create social mobility and would greatly benefit many young people.

Blinko Thu 29-Apr-21 10:07:29

Someone - was it Harold Wilson? - said that Grammar Schools were the greatest experiment in social mobility in our lifetime. I'd like to see both Grammar and Comprehensive Schools running across the country to give people the best opportunity to achieve the best for each child as an individual.

The more academically inclined could gravitate to the Grammar School, the more practical or technically gifted could gain a sound education in the Comprehensive School.

They would need to be viewed as of equal educational value though, not as being in competition with each other.

I know (former) teachers will have views on this. It has probably been rehashed before on GN.

Peasblossom Thu 29-Apr-21 10:14:04

They were very good for some (me!) and not a good system for the also rans (my sister) who got the secondary modern.

Probably you expect your granddaughter to get into the Grammar in her area. I wonder how you’ll feel about it, if she’s not one of the chosen? Will you be happy for her to be in the “comprehensive” with others who were judged not bright enough to benefit from an academic education?

It is elitist in that it works well for a chosen minority.

BigBertha1 Thu 29-Apr-21 10:15:17

I agree with you Blinko.

Urmstongran Thu 29-Apr-21 10:16:40

We still have the 11+ and the grammar school system here in Trafford. Some are co-ed one is girls only and one is boys only (Altrincham, Cheshire). I think we have 8 grammar schools locally. I remember our HR department at the hospital where I worked for many years saying that’s what attracted so many doctors for recruitment as their families would be in a non-fee paying catchment areas in Trafford!

Further afield, Greater Manchester such as Bury for example have fee-paying grammar schools.

I went to one of the grammar schools in Trafford, as did my sister and one of our daughters went to a different one.

aggie Thu 29-Apr-21 10:17:28

The Grammar that I and my sisters attended is now an all ability School , but it’s streamed , so what’s the difference ? I’m really out of touch with Education

henetha Thu 29-Apr-21 10:17:44

The Grammar School which I went to in Torquay in the 1940/1950's is still there, thankfully. And long may it remain.
I firmly believe in the possibility of a different school for some pupils. We are not all the same.

Urmstongran Thu 29-Apr-21 10:21:21

Posted too soon.
Our other daughter failed the 11+ and went on to do her ‘A’ levels at the grammar school round the corner and from then on, Manchester uni to do a 4 year teacher training degree and is now a deputy head. So I dare say, if the student is focussed, either system works?

PippaZ Thu 29-Apr-21 10:27:58


The Grammar School which I went to in Torquay in the 1940/1950's is still there, thankfully. And long may it remain.
I firmly believe in the possibility of a different school for some pupils. We are not all the same.

But we should all be offered equal opportunity.

Sago Thu 29-Apr-21 10:30:55

Peasblossom I think it’s unlikely our granddaughter will attend the grammar school, our daughter and SIL are unlikely to be living in the area when it comes to making that choice.

We used to live in an area with a reputable grammar school but it was near impossible to get in, parents paid for tuition from the age of about 8 and there were many grandparents who gave their addresses to guarantee their grandchildren the opportunity.

One of our children attended the VI form and did very well much to the chagrin of some of our neighbours😩.

Witzend Thu 29-Apr-21 10:32:51

We live in a grammar school area, where house prices are inflated for that reason. People move into the area because of the schools - there are some very good primaries, too.

I know for a fact that a good many children were (and probably still are) privately coached for the 11 plus, which obviously disadvantages those children whose parents can’t afford it or aren’t interested.

We were living abroad until dd1 was 10, so coming up to senior school age. Before we were back for good, she’d been entered for exams for a couple of independent junior schools, and in at least one such exam she was bemused by the verbal reasoning paper, having never seen such a thing before.
She failed that exam.

At the time, the 11 plus consisted solely of VR papers, and after she’d failed we were told by a friend of MiL, who ran a private prep school, that experience with VR was not needed - the tests were designed to ‘show the child’s potential’.

Naturally both we and MiL were distinctly hacked off at the implication that dd’s potential was lacking!

At the school she started in the September - just one term before the 11 plus - they practised VR every day. In the beginning dd’s scores were around 45%, but by the end of that term, after so much practice, they’d risen to 90% +.

She passed the 11 plus.
So it was clearly rubbish that practice was not needed.

I’m in two minds about grammar schools really. If some schools and some parents don’t provide the necessary practice, it’s hardly a level playing field.

I did hear not long ago that one of the local grammars (we have a boys’ and a girls’) had ditched VR for the 11 plus and was using old fashioned maths and English papers instead. This was because many new pupils who’d scored very highly in the VR papers, could barely write a coherent sentence, so they were having to provide remedial English lessons.

Ilovecheese Thu 29-Apr-21 10:35:03

We know so much more now about brain development, that pigeonholing children at eleven years old ought to be seen as the ridiculous and shortsighted idea that it is.

rafichagran Thu 29-Apr-21 10:48:31

Yes, my daughter went to the Grammar School, passed her 11+ and went on to University.
My ex husband and I were not wealthy or affluent, and if there was not Grammar Schools because of her ability it would have mean't many hours overtime for both of us, no holiday, and possibly giving up the car. Due to the Grammar system I did not have to do that.

I think the system works and in our case we were very happy. This system does not work for all children, my son did not go, and did not want too.

It worked for us and also for alot of parents who could not afford a private education.

Doodledog Thu 29-Apr-21 10:48:51

I don't care how much people say that a two tier system is 'equal but different', it won't be. Look at the number of posts on here in which people mention that they went to grammar school, even though it was 50+ years ago.

I agree that the system was/is good for those who went, which was the point of them - to separate people at the age of 11 into 'academic' and otherwise, and educated accordingly. It perpetuated the class system, was skewed in favour of boys, and caused splits in families when siblings were given different life chances. For those who didn't go, the system was less good.

There is already a huge amount of snobbery surrounding education in this country (again, as can be seen on GN every time the subject comes up). Even degrees are divided by which University awarded them, which subject they are and so on, and it is very clear that a lot of people sneer at those who are perceived to have 'lesser' qualifications, even though there is no universal standard to compare one against another - it comes down to snobbery and prejudice.

Doing this to 11 year olds whilst pretending that it is for their own good is cruel, and does not take account of the different rates at which children develop, or of the impossibility of making the entrance exam 'fair', and will doom those children to a lifetime of people looking down on their qualifications, however hard they have worked for them, and regardless of how well they could have performed if they had been given different chances.

For the record, the grammar/secondary modern system had been abolished in my area by the time I was 11, so I didn't take an 11+.

Alegrias1 Thu 29-Apr-21 10:59:25

I'm in Scotland so I don't have direct experience of the Grammar School system and I've never worked in education. It seems to me that separating children at age 11 and basing their future life chances on an assessment done that early is not the right thing to do.

I went to a large secondary school where all subjects were streamed. If you were good at Match but not so good at English you went into the relevant stream for each one - you could be in Steam A for Maths and Stream G for English. So you got the level of teaching that was right for you and nobody got left out.

Its probably a utopian dream but I think all schools should be run that way

Alegrias1 Thu 29-Apr-21 11:00:33

Maths, not Match!

Grandma70s Thu 29-Apr-21 11:05:53

This is a really difficult question. There is no denying grammar school were (mostly) excellent for the 25% who went to them, but choosing who should go on the basis of one exam doesn’t seem very fair.

I went to a selective independent school, as do my grandchildren. My own children went a comprehensive because I was going through an idealistic phase and thought ‘levelling up’ was a good idea. (I didn’t think of levelling down.) They did very well, but they have had a lot of catching up to do since, particularly in cultural things.

One of the problems is that academic children need a different kind of teaching from the less academic. My father taught French and German in a grammar school, and was good at it. When he retired he did a bit of teaching at a comprehensive, and found it a difficult experience. He just wasn’t used to mixed ability teaching, or to children who weren’t reasonably clever.

As you may be able to tell, I am muddled about the whole question. I do know I am glad that my grandchildren aren’t at a comprehensive, at least not where they live in London. One conversation with a friend always sticks in my mind. She had come to my school on a scholarship from a very uneducated background. I was making the standard woolly liberal remarks criticising the grammar school system, and she said, quite sharply, “It’s all right for you with your background. What about me?” It is true that our school (which wasn’t actually a grammar school but had similar or higher standards) completely transformed her life.

growstuff Thu 29-Apr-21 11:06:58

My children went to a comprehensive school which offered them an academic education as good as any grammar school.

By definition, grammar schools and comprehensives can't co-exist.

Chardy Thu 29-Apr-21 11:12:39

A couple of points.
You can't have grammars and comprehensives - it's grammars and sec mods (no matter what they call them)
A lot of able pupils are at the bottom of a grammar and carry that 'failure' with them through adulthood. Likewise those who missed out a by a bit, also feel like failures. (That's an awful lot of able kids)
Most of pupils who get into grammars in 2020s are heavily coached (possibly for 2+ years)
Lastly 'streaming' is pupils being put into inflexible bands, they have all their lessons with the same people - pupils might be in a middle stream, very good at English, weak at French, with pupils who are weak at English, excellent atFrench. 'Setting' means a pupil can be top set for English, bottom set for French.

Grandma70s Thu 29-Apr-21 11:13:11

Alegrias1 - were there different teachers for the different streams? The brightest need very intellectual teachers, the lower streams need a different kind of teaching. This is what puzzles me about the idea that streaming solves everything. Can schools afford so many teachers?

Redhead56 Thu 29-Apr-21 11:15:57

Doodle dog totally agree with you I went to secondary modern then it went comprehensive. No qualifications told to get out and get a job this was 1972. I returned to education and gained a degree and diplomas as a mature student.
My dc both went to the same school as me I encouraged them to do well with their natural abilities. They both have been successful my daughter went to university she is an artist. My son went to college and works for a bespoke design company. It’s best to encourage natural ability rather than focus on the best schooling.
I know and hear too many parents going to extremes moving house living beyond their means to get their children in certain schools. It’s too much pressure on young adults especially now when there are so little opportunities.

Alegrias1 Thu 29-Apr-21 11:19:22

Grandma70s yes there were different teachers. There were about 2,000 pupils at the school and they all needed teachers all the time so I'd never thought that the number of teachers was an issue. Class sizes were about 25-30, if I recall. If there were eight English streams, you needed 8 teachers.

Although in sixth year science classes there were about 6 - 8 of us and we got amazing teaching. For first year Chemistry I had a level of knowledge that was way above the other people at Uni - not because I'm particularly clever but because the teacher was getting us ready for Uni.

Alegrias1 Thu 29-Apr-21 11:21:52

Chardy I take your point about streaming and setting. Like I said I've never worked in education so I don't know the right thing to call it - but I agree with you.

Sarnia Thu 29-Apr-21 11:31:39

I went to a girls Grammar School. In my day passing the 11+ meant Grammar School and failing it meant Secondary Modern. I think education is best served when streaming is applied and schools have similar ability students in their classes. It takes a good teacher faced with a class of 30 pupils, some very able, most average and some with needs to ensure every one of them gets something from the lesson.

mumofmadboys Thu 29-Apr-21 11:39:23

I went to a grammar school. 4 of our 5 sons went to a grammar school. However I think a well streamed comprehensive with movement as appropriate between the streams is the best idea. No child should be made to feel a failure at 11.