Practising Good Grammar

Practising Good Grammar

Once a British Institution, in practice only three English counties now operate the Grammar School system. Though its decline has been more of a lingering fizzle than a spectacular bang, the issue still burns brightly for a lot of families.

Polling website isidewith.com shows the latest figures at about 50:50 in terms of support for Grammar Schools. Considering that only 23% of voters think that railways should be run privately, which they are, and 49% of voters (compared to 41%) oppose the bedroom tax, which is still in action – perhaps this fossil of a debate deserves a bit more attention.

Advocates of Grammar School’s point to three main arguments for a full return to the system:

1.       Social mobility – Grammar schools are seen as a chance for bright children from lower socioeconomic circumstances to get a better level of education than might be afforded them anyway. Since the decline of Grammar Schools, Oxbridge intake from state schools has decreased and, from a report by LSE, social mobility in the country has decreased.

2.       School environment – As classroom discipline becomes more and more of a hot topic, it is worth remembering that Grammar school often see far less disruption, including exclusions. Gifted children are seen as successes by their peers, not as pariahs and “geeks”.

3.       Academic success – In terms of academic results, Grammar Schools, often outperform non-selective state schools. In 2006, pupils from 164 Grammar Schools produced over half the number of As at A-Level in traditional subjects than 2,000 comprehensive schools combined.

However, as with all decisive issues, there are two sides of the story. Opponents of Grammar Schools also stand by three main lines of argument:

1.       11+ Problems – Opponents of Grammar Schools argue that the 11+ is an incredibly poor syphon: numerous studies have shown cognitive development continues well beyond 11 years old; some children can fail under the pressure of such an important exam; and parents can easily pay for tuition and training, skewing ability levels greatly. Claims have also been made that not passing the 11+ has a lasting psychological impact on pupils who then consider themselves failures.

2.       Lack of diversity – This argues directly against the claim made by LSE of social mobility and points to lack of diversity within Grammar Schools. Highly middle-class, mono-ethnic, single-sex Grammar Schools are common and can create unfavourable conditions for pupils who fall outside the majority. More affluent families also have the choice to relocate to Grammar catchment areas, perhaps further exacerbating current problems.

3.       Academic Equality – A York University study showed that the average GCSE results of able pupils are on a par with those from Grammar Schools, potentially evaporating the myth that Grammar Schools produce better results.

Both sides seem to have reached stalemate, through with the upcoming election, we could be due for another Grammar School shake-up.

·         Conservatives – Historic support for Grammar Schools with a recent message of endorsement from David Cameron

·         Lib Dems – Unsurprisingly neither for nor against the current mixture

·         Labour – Historically anti-Grammar School and presided over the downfall of the system

·         UKIP – extremely pro-Grammar School

·         Green Party – extremely anti-Grammar School

Perhaps the answer lies in some sort of middle ground as is now being explored by some Kent schools. Here a ‘Grammar Stream’ exists within a comprehensive school, where the most gifted and able students receive ‘Grammar School teaching’ in a ‘Grammar School atmosphere’. This seemingly has all the benefits of the Grammar system, with none, or almost none, of the drawbacks.

But is this system really stable? The exact intricacies of how and when students would pass into the ‘Stream’ are unclear, and what if you are tried out in the ‘Stream’ and are subsequently ousted. Could that not be more damaging than not passing a test that most fail?

It remains to be seen if this new approach will take off, and what May 7th will bring, but we could all be hoping for our children to be in the ‘Grammar Stream’ soon, rather than the ‘Grammar School’. There is always the chance, though, that the new system will end up exhibiting the flaws of both the Grammar School and Stream. What a mess we would be in then!

What are your thoughts? Are you for or against Grammar Schools? What about ‘Grammar Streams?’ Let us know via Social Media!

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