Grammar schools: back to the bad old days of inequality

May 4, 2017 by

Theresa May wants to bring back selective schools, but what about the kids who fail the 11-plus? A secondary modern pupil remembers the inept teachers, classroom riots and useless qualifications of the two-tier education system

by Chris Horrie –

A brilliant early summer Saturday in 1967, as I recall. A knock on the front door. A kid who had been in the same class as me at Parr Lane primary school in Unsworth, a 1960s housing development centred on a long-neglected mill village in a stretch of country heading towards the Pennine hills. The area might be known to you as the blur of mid-rise housing, crinkly tin sheds, barbed wire, drainage ditches and litter you see from the M66 if, for some reason, you should take it upon yourself to drive from Manchester to Burnley.

It was mid-morning, and I was supposed to have turned up at the school grounds to play in a game of softball. My visitor’s nickname was Spud – universally thought of as being dumb, the victim of countless playground hoaxes and practical jokes. Spud had been sent to get me. I was needed to make up the numbers. I said I didn’t feel like it. Spud persisted. It would spoil things if they didn’t have enough players to make two equal teams. Anyway, everyone was having a laugh because they’d got their 11-plus letters and, as it turned out, the whole team had passed. Spud hesitated and checked if I had got mine. I told him that I had not received my letter. This was a lie.

Earlier that morning the postman had called, and my mum and dad had opened the letter. I had failed the 11-plus. This was a shock. At age 11 it had been scientifically determined that I was stupid. I remain to this day a member of that segment of the British population who are not only dim-witted but officially clueless, with a letter from the government to prove it. That was just the way of it – a stone‑cold, independently verified, rock-hard fact. I went upstairs to my bedroom, drew the curtains and sobbed for days.

There was a token right to appeal. But the local grammar school was so oversubscribed that, during a trip to my headmaster’s office the following Monday, it became clear that this was purely theoretical. The headmaster candidly explained that the grammar school basically never took kids on appeal because it was too much trouble and, anyway, they didn’t need to. “Sometimes life throws you a googly,” he smiled, sympathetically. “The thing is to keep a straight bat.” I had no idea what this meant, and I still don’t.

Part of my problem was that I not been aware that you were supposed to game the system. I had not practised the 11-plus in advance. This was probably my downfall. As recently as March 2017, the former headmaster of Manchester grammar school popped up on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze to explain that no child who had not seen the verbal reasoning tests that formed the basis of the 11-plus before attempting them would have a “hope in hell” of passing them. The headmaster said that he had organised selection by academic merit, and dispensed with the 11-plus as “worthless”. Instead he used personal interviews. “If you can detect a sense of irony in an 11-year-old, then you know they are clever,” he said.

Source: Grammar schools: back to the bad old days of inequality | News | The Guardian

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