Dogma dogma

May 16, 2007

Grammar schools are an odd thing to get hung up on.

What we should be getting hung up on is these three facts

1) There is less social mobility in this country now than there was 50 years ago, and less in Britain than in almost every developed nation It has even got worse (amazingly) despite 10 years of a Labour government

2) 50% of children leave primary school unable to perform at a basic level in reading, writing and arithmetic.. This may not be surprising as many primary school teachers are now unable to pass basic literacy and numeracy tests

3) Our universities are unable to differentiate between the bright and the average student when selecting because of the ridiculous number of people achieving straight ‘A’ grades

My position is very clear, Academic selection and streaming are essential if we are to allow the brightest children in our schools to flourish. They are the future leaders of our country, our innovators, our scientists, our financiers, our doctors, our business champions, our civil servants. We NEED them to achieve their potential if we are to do so as a country. I do not think selective entry to school is necessary if schools have sufficient numbers of pupils and resources to provide a truly intellectually stimulating environment for the brightest children. If we are unable to provide that environment then we need selective schools.

The corollary to that is that most of our children are not the brightest, and they need to be given the opportunity to thrive as well. This is where the Grammar school system let us down, or rather the secondary moderns did. Secondary schools should all be able to educate children to a university standard (whatever that is these days). If there is a selective school in the area then it needs to work in partnership with the local non-selected school to identify late developers and include them.

I do not believe that binary selection at 11 is an appropriate way to sift our children, and late developers have to be given the same educational opportunities as precocious children (see above).

But my major problem with education in this country is that too many state schools are simply too unambitious for their children. No matter how well they are educated, they are not given the ambition to succeed, the belief that they can be captains of industry or prime minister. The best they can hope for is to be a ‘B’-list celebrity. That is what is missing. That is what I hope City Technology Colleges and other secondary schools in the future will provide. But we have to prioritise the brightest children



  1. From reading your post I assume that you are in Great Britian. I am not familiar with your system, if that is where you are. In the US, California to be exact, we experience some of the same issues, albeit on a different level. We expect to send eveyone on to University without allowing for adequate tech school experience. Some fear that we won’t have anyone to simply build and fix things if we keep on this path. My limited understanding of the differences in our systems is that anyone here may choose to go or not go into higher level education. Is that not true where you are?

  2. Would it not be a good idea to have grammar schools that grow in size, year on year. Maybe 100 first years selected by junior school recommendations (a set number per school). Then each year the local schools send their brightest and best on to the grammar school, until in the sixth form there are maybe a thousand pupils per year.

    Pupils would be incentivised throughout their schooling. Teachers would be empowered by having the responsibility to ‘promote’ the best pupils. Late developers and hard workers would have a route on and up. Youngsters who needed vocational training could be targeted more easily.

    This approach would defuse many of the leftists arguements against selection and would doubtless dramatically increase social mobility.

  3. Writeswell you are right I am in GB. I believe anyone here may choose to go into higher level education, assuming the most basic educational achievements. I am sure that ther eis an issue about not training fixers, but it is also true that there are actually far fewer fixer jobs than there were, so that aspect does not worry me so much as the fact that we have 3 of the world’s finest universities in this country, and we have no idea how to get the country’s brightest young people into them because we have no equivalent of the SATs and our high school diplomas are calibrated to give very high numbers of A grades.

  4. Spoken like a true Imperial graduate.

    The US system is a genuine attempt at meritocracy.

    Unfortunately this country is run according to equality not merit.

  5. Actually I’m a Cambridge graduate-but Imperial has a legitimate claim to the accolade. Some might say more than Oxford!

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