Thursday, January 25, 2007

Closing grammar schools "reinforced class divisions"

Education Minister admits grammar schools should never have closed.

Lord Adonis becomes yet another Labour Minister to hail the success of David Cameron and the revitalised Conservative Party. In an interview in The Spectator he admits that Labour could and should have been bolder in eduction and that if he could redo the education policies of the 60's and 70's he'd do it rather differently. Lord Adonis denounced the "comprehensive school revolution, which destroyed many excellent schools without improving the rest".

He said he deplored the end of grammar schools, a move "carried out in the name of equality but which served to reinforce class divisions"

The comments are a stunning repudiation of the 'one size fits all' education policies which Labour clung to for decades and many MPs still support.

His words effectively admit that Labour has failed an entire generation of schoolchildren.

Critics last night said Lord Adonis should go further and call a halt to the destruction of grammar schools.

Labour has recently ordered the closure of selective schools in Northern Ireland.

This is a subject which very recently has been discussed on the message board, and I'm afraid to admit that one or two 'old Labour' stalwarts still believe that pupils who were educated in a grammar school were from the middle or upper classes. In a town like South Shields of course, nothing could be further from the truth, we even heard arguments that certain schools provided more passes in the 11 plus examinations because their cathchment areas contained more wealthy families, again pure fantasy. I was educated at Barnes Road Junior School in South Shields, down by the riverside amongst the packed terraced houses and shipyards. I joined 10 other boys and 13 girls that year who passed the exams and qualified to go to a selective grammar school. Of those who didn't quite make it, they were determined to have a second chance, hence the 13 plus examination provided a route for a further intake. It was this sense of achievement that drove pupils to excel, call it a naked ambition if you must, but those whose education took place in the secondary modern schools certainly didn't feel left out (if they had ambition) and many of them went on to achieve the necessary A levels to qualify for a university place.

A place at a local grammar school for some was a big goal, a target, a stepping stone along life's path of progress. I somehow cannot imagine what pupils of my generation would have thought of the 'one size fits all' comprehensive school. We are not all the same, we do not all have the same abilities, or the same rate of learning and achievement. To separate those who achieve faster does a great service to those who cannot acquire knowledge at the same pace and allows them to flourish in the companionship of others of like ability. There are no class divisions here (in the 'old Labour' sense) , there are no social stigmas attached, just an acknowledgment that pupils learn better when grouped together with others of the same talents and abilities.

The assessment of Lord Adonis is essentially right, the selection system was a good one, grammar schools produced good results, and allowed the secondary modern schools to produce results which would probably be difficult to achieve in today's comprehensive schools.

Alas, I think it would be a very brave Education Secretary who decided it was time to turn the clocks back!


The Daily Mail.

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