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Why Grammar Schools Should Stay in the Past

A response to The Saint’s article, ‘Bring Back Grammar Schools’

Last week The Saint published an article entitled ‘Bring Back Grammar Schools’, leaving me compelled to discuss my reasons for believing this is a bad idea.

For any non-Brits who may not be entirely familiar with our education system, a grammar school is a form of selective school, which requires you to pass an exam to get in, with state funding. In the 1960s, the British government made a move to abolish these grammar schools, coinciding with the introduction of comprehensive secondary schools which accept everybody. Most existing grammar schools at this point either became private schools, or merged with existing non-selective schools. Some areas of the UK, however, for reasons unbeknownst to me, were able to retain their grammar schools, and I grew up in one of these areas.

Photo: Wikipedia

I attended a standard comprehensive until I was 16, before switching to a grammar school for A Levels. Though I massively enjoyed my time at a grammar school, it really opened my eyes to a number of issues, and I now firmly believe they should remain as non-existent as possible.

Archie Batra of The Saint writes that grammar schools were “designed to be great engines of social mobility.” Whilst this was certainly true when they were first introduced, this is sadly no longer the case. Grammar schools have instead become vessels for wealthy parents to ensure their children gain a first-class education, without having to fork out private school fees. Children arriving at grammar schools in Year 7 invariably all already know each other because they attended the same private tutoring service in preparation for the entrance exams.

My boyfriend tells a story of a Year 7 parents welcome evening at our grammar school where parents were, in as many words, asked to donate large sums of money to the school, which they all had in abundance as they were getting away without paying private school fees. There is a certain expectation of wealthy families even amongst the teachers and leadership teams at most grammar schools in the UK. To be frank, the elitism of St Andrews came as no shock to me, because I had already experienced it all at school; I was definitely one of the worse-off students in my year, despite coming from a distinctly middle-class background.

Photo: Flickr

Furthermore, the environment at grammar schools can be incredibly toxic due to a lack of diversity, with large numbers of highly gifted children all competing to be the best. I have never experienced the sort of pressure to achieve as I did whilst at a grammar school, and it was reflected in the mental health of myself and my classmates. Off the top of my head I can think of 3 girls in my year alone who publicly had to spend significant amounts of time in hospital due to eating disorders. This, compared to no one in my class at a comprehensive school publicly suffering from such things speaks volumes about the sort of environment cultivated at grammar schools.

On a different note, grammar schools can be wonderful centres for learning; they have wonderful resources, and attract all of the best teachers. So where does that leave the less “intelligent” children who have to attend comprehensives? Should they not also be given the opportunity to have a decent education? Instead, they get left with often sub-par teachers, despite being the students who would arguably benefit the most from good teaching.

I concede that the concept of grammar schools is alluring. In a perfect world they make a lot of sense, and I do value my time at one. However, in the interest of creating a sustainably inclusive society and education system, they need to remain in the past, and the government needs to work on improving comprehensives so that everyone can access good education, not just the lucky few.

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