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GUEST BLOG: Stan Tomkinson, student at Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, asks the question ‘Grammar schools, do we need them?’

Earlier this year, the Conservative party announced their plans to spend an added £50million on grammar schools. This raised the very important question of whether we should still have grammar schools.

The concept of grammar schools has been around since the 16th century, with the more recent concept of having grammar schools and secondary moderns, for those who did not meet the grammar school’s entry requirements, first being put in place in 1944. However it wasn’t long before this was changed with the Labour government in 1965 pushing local authorities to phase out these and replace them with the standard comprehensive schools, as they claimed that the system reinforced class division. This was met with resistance in some conservative counties such as Kent, where there are still a number of comprehensive schools. In 1998, Blair’s Labour government passed legislation prohibiting the creation of any more grammar schools. After this the debate had seemingly ceased and many people were willing to turn a blind eye to the remaining number of grammar schools. However, recent revelations under the Conservatives have seen the debate be reignited.

Perhaps the most prevalent argument against grammar schools is the two-tier education system they create. This is caused though many different factors, but none more so than their ability to select their students. Meaning that through the selection process they can select the most ‘academic’ students and children who are ‘likely to succeed’. With the students who have been turned away ending up in the comprehensive schools. From this alone it is clear to see the divide that is created in ability but also in mentality, with those turned away thinking they aren’t good enough, which is contrasted by the ‘you can succeed anything’ mentality of grammar schools, which, in contrast, is shown by comprehensive schools often performing worse than the national average in areas with grammar schools. And while in the 1940s those who were not accepted would often find themselves working in trades, this is no longer the case as our country has gone through significant changes since, such as the primary and secondary sectors deceasing dramatically and the huge increase in the tertiary sector’s input into our economy. This would suggest that the two-tier system that is created is no longer fit for purpose as it doesn’t fit our nations demands as many people in grammar and comprehensive schools will find themselves in the same fields of work, especially with the increased number of people taking up further education from low- income households.

Conversely, people may argue that grammar schools should be more prevalent in our education system because they get results and perform well. Which on the whole is a true and fair argument, as grammar schools perform way above the national average. For example in 2016, according to the BBC, grammar schools had 96.7% of their students achieving A* to C in at least 5 subjects, compared to the 58.1% national average. Based off these statistics it is quite clear to see the case for grammar schools. However, these should be taken with a pinch of salt as there are many factors influencing this. None less so than the fact that grammar schools hand pick the ‘brightest’ students who are deemed most likely to succeed, based off their 11 plus entry exams. These students are taught in classes, often smaller than the national average, with students of similar ability to themselves. From this it is clear to see that there is a huge difference to the mixed ability state comprehensive schools. It also remains unclear whether the grammar schools actually contribute to the students’ success, as many argue that the students who succeed in grammar schools would achieve very similar results in comprehensive schools. As their results often similar the results of the ‘brightest’ students in catchments without grammar schools, suggesting that they have little to no impact on those specially selected intake who would seemingly succeed anyway, however we cannot know this for sure.

Grammar schools can be very harming to our education system with the 11-plus exams adding a large amount of pressure on to the children who are still in primary school with this possibly removing what should be a positive learning environment. Not only this but by the time thee children take the test there is a large divide just based on prosperity. As in Kent in 2013 a child on free school meals was 5 times less likely to achieve key stage 2 results by the age of 11, than those who were not, and in turn almost identically less likely to be accepted into a grammar school. It is no secret that prosperity plays a large factor in a child’s likelihood to succeed in terms of exam results, with the most deprived often performing far worse than the most prosperous in society. Furthermore, wealth does play a large factor in the grammar school debate as they under-represent the poorest children. And a possible cause of this is the availability of private tutors to help your child pass the entry tests. Because many of the poorest cannot afford this service it allows the more wealthy children get a helping hand, creating an uneven playing field. As well as children from main-stream primary schools not being specifically taught how to pass the test adding to the inequality and creating a divide between the richest and poorest children, which is why Labour opposes them.

On the whole grammar schools are extremely divisive. They add to inequality by creating a two-tier education system and harming social mobility, as areas with a selective education system reinforce and, sometimes, increase social segregation by endangering the social cohesion between those with and those without. Not only this but dividing the most able and the rest from an early age adds to the long list of problems grammar schools have. By looking at the evidence it is clear to see the issues there are with the selective school system and how it is no longer fit for purpose. The proposal of the additional funding appears to be taking our education system back a step. And I for one would much rather see that money being used to fund the comprehensive schools that are struggling to remain open, or to improve the schools that perform the worst so that everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Toby Perkins MP with Stan Tomkinson, student at  Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, who has been on work experience in Toby's constituency office

Toby Perkins MP with Stan Tomkinson, student at Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, who has been on work experience in Toby’s constituency office

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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