The debate on “Grammar Schools are Best” was an inaugural event by the Spectator.
The surroundings were superb – built in times when austerity and credit crunch were not dynamic foreboding words. We gathered, before the debate started, for `drinks on the terrace’. It was so civilised. I kept wondering how many of the past geographers had been grammar school boys and girls. One teacher arrived with around eight girls in tow. She peered at the queue waiting for drinks and said, “You are on your own. Do not stray!”
Around two hundred and forty of us must have attended the debate. As we walked in there was a poll - `For or Against’. Mr Neil, the Chairman, announced that 173 had voted for the motion, a few against and about 50 `Don’t Knows’. A secret ballot was taken at the end of the proceedings where some of the `Don’t knows’ had become `Against’.
Those debating for the motion relied heavily on the how grammars schools had opened up opportunities for children with poor prospects of any real social mobility. Those `Against’ pointed out that grammar schools were still the preserve of the middle class.
The audience were given ample opportunity to make a variety of points. Most of the speeches were short and to the point. One teacher, however, went on and on and had to be restrained.
There were some witty extemporised remarks. Some people do think on their feet. A statistic had just been quoted, by a main speaker, about the increased number of comprehensive children passing their GCSE examinations. When the speaker drew the point out that strong leadership and gifted teaching in the comprehensives had led to a rise in GCSE grades, when compared with those of forty years ago, some wag in the audience raised his voice to yell; “The GCSE examinations are easier today than they were forty years ago.”
The motion was carried. I felt privileged to be there.