Monday, 28 May 2007

Grammar Schools-Cameron is right

What a fantastically interesting issue. My gut feeling, after a beer or two is I should do this extempore and see how it goes.

I am a grammar school boy. In fact I'm the classic example of the current debate's poor kid made good. I was born into a very poor family, probably out of wedlock although my mum refuses to concede that 45 years later. My father was an arse of the first water and, as he's now dead, I will not go into detail, suffice to say he left us when I was seven and I never missed him.

From a very young age, I harboured a desire, inspired by my grandfather, to join the Navy. My primary school years were up and down. I attended an infant school and two separate primaries. I was bright but un-preposessingly shy due to my background. I passed my 11 plus with ease and went to Weymouth Grammar. But, but.... I passed partly because I was an august baby and therefore had a potential 11 month march on my class mates because age in year was considered important at 11 plus.

Still, I got into Weymouth Grammar and instantly, er, floundered. I initially struggled academically but also struggled socially with people who were very different from me. I ended up in a low set. I was bullied incessantly from 12 to 15. Hmm, Over time I realised I was clever, I could do things and worked my way up the "pecking order". I ended up doing my maths "O" level at 13 and getting a B, because I was good. Subsequent "O" level activity was mixed and I ended up with 7. Average. But in that time I'd fought my way to acceptance, it was hard graft and often literally painful but I became well liked. The minor point here being that grammar schools are not, and never were, paragons of virtue and harmony, they can be as tough as any comp.

I moved on to the sixth form and was adamant that I was going to to do Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry as my core subjects. I was advised early on to drop chemistry,primarily 'cos I'm a lazy bastard, I did not demur. 3 half decent A levels later I joined the Royal Navy as an Officer.

Result for Grammar Schools! Er, yes, 30 years ago! Let's fast forward

My son Ben is the son of a Grammar School boy and a Grammar School girl.... let's hold onto that idea.

Ben goes to the local comp. It's ostensibly one of that hateful twat Campbell's "bog standard" comprehensives but yet it's not. Thanks to a visionary head and stunningly well utilised investment, it's a school to die for in the area. And yet, bizzarely, due to the town's mining history it's not seen as being as good as Bath Schools! I would send anyone to his school it's a place of real quality.

As for him? He's top in his year in Maths, Science and (er) Technology (woodwork I think). He didn't quite make the national maths challenge finals in London but he was, by a league, "best in school". At 13 he realises that he needs to have all the talents and works really hard at English, he's good at it but by no means perfect, he continues to strive. He's also a fabulous rugby player and wants to join the school's CCF. In short, a well rounded pupil in a good school.

So. Where are we? Right where David Cameron is as far as I'm concerned. He is utterly right to call the the grammar school debate "sterile". Yes I was a grammar school boy but my son is doing better at his state school than I ever did. Let's be grateful he's the product of a parental past that was grammar school based, and move forward to what creates a culture of excellence in all our children. Ben's school aggressively "sets" its pupils and gives them individual targets EVERY SINGLE YEAR! This is, I think, Cameron's vision and it's one I utterly endorse.

So my conclusion, albeit a little obvious, is that where I once trod, Ben is now following. Today's good comprehensives can, and do, deliver the same level of performance as my school back in the 70's. Let's just teach to ability, let's let talent flow, and let's fund the right class sizes to do that.

Parents should be up in arms that less than a third of comps are like that despite so called "record government investment." Therein lies the scandal, not that grammar schools may or may not have a viable future but that this government cannot, or more likely will not, see the wood for the trees.


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kid992 said...

The debate wasn't sterile then. It was and is about equality of opportunity. Luckily for you, you passed your 11 plus, otherwise you would have been sent to a local secondary modern such as Westham and you wouln't have been able to take O'levels (no matter how clever you were) and thus wouldn't have been able to join the Navy as an officer, just as a rating. The grammar school system was about perpetuating the class sysytem and it did a pretty good job.

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