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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Eleven Plus Crusader

Back in 1902 the Education Act abolished the 2500 school boards and established the equivalent of our Local Authorities. The state therefore took on the role of organising the senior schools.

The old grammar schools were used a model for the newer grammar schools. The grammar school became the preserve of the middle class. Problems came when it was evident that the lower class were not being represented fairly.

Grammar schools one hundred years ago were trying to develop a love of learning, and a place where children could work hard. In today’s parlance a grammar school was a place where `children could achieve their potential’.

The grammar schools that are left are encouraged to include children from poorer homes. Children who are in care, for example, are helped by the grammar school, as much as possible, to win a place.

We must look forward to changes coming in the composition of the grammar schools. The changes may not come early enough to affect the children who are writing this year. Change may be wrought by political will – as happened back in 1906 – when education was very high on the political agenda. It is unlikely that any government today will want to effect change – simply because of fear of a general political backlash.

It does seem likely, however, that a climate of opinion will one day change the attitude of the country to grammar schools. We have had well known crusaders for education over the years. Once the swell for change begins it may land up in an avalanche. We all thought, for example, that banks were inviolable. Yet in a few days the whole banking world was turned upside down – and with this collapse the lives and hopes and dreams of millions around England were affected.

We want a crusader who will drive for a fairer system of entry. We want a more level playing field for children from all walks of life. We don’t want a system, however, that militates against parents who have the will and the money to be able to help their child to do as well as possible.

The crusader will not argue the need for change for change’s sake. We do need a different range of tests. This will drive the need for new materials and new methods of teaching bright, able and articulate children. An examination system that relies of exercises similar to: Rearrange the letters to make the name of a bird: (SGKIERFNIH) must be both dated and suspect. Surely our understanding of the nature of intelligence has developed to a position where grammar schools could look for children who want to be stimulated and excited by preparing for an examination.

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