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Are we missing a trick with grammar schools?

(85 Posts)
mam29 Tue 09-Apr-13 12:21:05

Always a a tricky topic but struck how many people in public eye say grammar school changed their lives for the better.


Toby young
most of bbc newsreaders John Sopel. Andrew neil.
Various other mps who all went to grammar schools and are proud.

My nan had 5kids and only went to grammar and had the best jobs.

I know some say they unfair but do wonder if they in someway improved social mobility.

Of course its changed today.

Theres very few grammar schools none here or where I grew up.

Now seen preserve of middle class wanting private education cheap.

That the child has to be tutored within inch of life to get in and that those who went prep had advantage as state does not prepare for 11+.

To me it seems vastly unfair that they exist but not in every area.

Wondering if comprehensive is a failed idea and that they should have kept grammars but reformed secondary moderns,

Would all the people named above be where they are now if they went to comp?

What is it that grammar schools do that comps dont?

Theres that old chestnut a bright child will do well where ever they go.

Do the new grammar entrants today especially in super selectives need to be brighter than the kids who passed in the 50,s?.

Pyrrah Tue 09-Apr-13 13:43:46

Back in the 50's, there was a much smaller population. Private schools were also much more affordable to the middle-classes: the local doctor and lawyer could afford the fees for a decent prep and public school - few of them could now afford the £30k/per child/per annum.

It was also easier to get into university and to get a good job at the end of it.

We now have a situation with a hugely increased population, private school fees out of the reach of most ordinary members of the middle-classes and university is massively more competitive as are good jobs.

I went to a grammar school in the mid-80's. In those days, the top 25% of the local comprehensive automatically got places. Today every place is competitive and parents pay a substantial premium for a house in the area AND send their children to the local private preps to secure a place.

Grammars were seen as a way for the bright working class child to get a step on the ladder. Today the places are sought after by parents who in the past would have been able to afford to send their children privately but have been priced out of that market.

Personally I can see that a great comprehensive school with appropriate streaming should be the ideal across the country, but in so many places this just doesn't exist. My own (partially selective on faith) local comprehensive doesn't even manage to get 50% getting 5 A-C grades - and that is in an area with no grammars or indies in the vicinity.

As a result, parents in areas with grammars - especially the super-selectives - will do everything possible to improve the chances of their child getting a place.

A good comprehensive's fast stream should be the same as a grammar. Basically it is assumed that the children are academically able and so lessons are faster and cover more ground. Disruptive pupils are rare and so there are few discipline issues in class slowing down learning for the majority.

Many grammars also base themselves on private schools - certainly mine had sport 4 afternoons a week and other activities on the 5th, Saturday school, matches against other schools on Sat afternoon, longer holidays etc and there was an expectation that ALL students would go on to University.

mam29 Tue 09-Apr-13 14:32:12

Thanks pyrrah great explanation there.

Dident really start the thread to have usual grammer debate as some would argue it was a school sytem of its time and not right for now or gove be persueing it,

I guess many see it as private school but free but in reality flipping catchments and cost of tutoring not to mention costly commute must add up.

How do the remaining few grammar schools perform?
Better than most comps?

My local comp fairly affleunt area 43%a-c pass rates,

other options 3faith 2 rc and 1 coe very hard to get into.

3lottory academies 2 used to be independent before converting again hard to get in, the 3rd was good school before coverting and has entrance test but no 11+.Other 2 have language/music aptitude test of 10%rest banded.

the very posh areas city have new amazing academy with small catchment.

The free school now where near me and seems to like west london free school toby young model itself on a grammer school minus the 11+.

Gloucestershire over hours commute does have grammars and gets bitter about people taking their spaces plus its huge commute and highly selective.

So whats the solution?

how do we acheive what grammer schools acheived back then?

Will free schools and naming a school an cademy and giving it new blazers and ties will make it good.

Havnt started looking round senors yet seems lot window dressing.

We now have huge changes seems gcses are staying yet devalued.

yet private schools offer interenational bac and igcses.

school leaving age will be 18.

uni is very expensive these days yet to get good job and work way up without degree is hard.

saw newsnight thing about teach first and how london schools and how they outperform even the leafiest areas of schools around uk.

seems like state education is very unequal in uk its postcode lottory.

yet most weeks turn on tv and someones raving and thankful of their grammar education.

wonder how many of the media and mps went to comp as most seem to be private grammar and send their own kids there yet they go on and on about the comprehensive systems best!

Some would say selection by


or catchment-given property prices are so high is unfair.

is it more unfair than 11+.

Can there really be such a thing as one system fits all?

Scrazy Tue 09-Apr-13 14:37:29

Short answer, they should have got rid of them all or kept the system as it was, open to the top 25% in every area.

I was under the impression that it was a labour initiative to go fully comprehensive but then the tory's took power and it still kept on happening in lots of areas, under the education secretary non other than Margaret Thatcher.

It's a terrible idea to only have them available in some areas and not others.

LaVolcan Tue 09-Apr-13 14:54:27

Pyrrah - precious few went to university in the grammar school heyday. Girls grammar schools used to send droves to teacher training college, which offered non-degree certificates (mostly) until about the mid seventies.

An awful lot of grammar schools were not especially good e.g. my GS which out of a 60 pupil entry had 30 get less than five O levels. Ditto the same performance at my brother's school. This was supposedly the top 25%.

However, there were some good Sec Mods and some diabolical ones, so maybe they could have tried to replicate what the good ones were doing.

mam29 Tue 09-Apr-13 14:54:30

I agree Scrazy.

just if they worked and helped the poorest and the cleverest

that if they perform better than most comps and people who go grammar have advantage of equally clever people elsewhere then that seems unfair.

Seem some parents go huge lengths, time, money to get their child into a grammar so demands still there as they perceived as better.
Ukip want to bring them back

Ironic Thatcher was product of grammar and scrapped them.

Even the left mostly grammar or private yet they preach about the poor,social mobility and comprehensives.

Seems bit rich only people lucky enough to have grammars are south east home counties and spa towns think tunbridge wells has 4 in 1 town.

I went to bog standard crap comp in rural welsh town.
The welsh are behind the league in education compared to england.

I do worry about how many real options have for my 3.

realised through applying for primaries not everyone has good choices.

Guess fed up of the smugness I went to grammar school and look how well I did.

We have high independent sector here but not affordable.

We have one of worst lea in uk.

so many comps now academies with rubbish results.

I dont even know if nay of mine will be bright enough but be nice to have the option as imagine theres probably few bright underachieving kids out there.

mam29 Tue 09-Apr-13 15:33:42

La volcan rasies good point,

be good and bad schools whatever sector.

Although on the whole I imagine most grammar schools do fairly well.

My aunty went to grammar school and ended up working in bank.

I forget teaching and nursing were non degree then so grammar school was seen as step to reasonably good vocational job.

Im not sure every career needing degree these days is good thing.

as long as they get high standard gcses. alevels and train on job or in colleges would be lot easier than saddling kids with debt for not very well paid careers.

My dad went grammar but couldent afford uni so went to college and trained to be civil engineer and apprenticeship with local planning department which then led to a job.

Now most graduates need to do masters just to stand out.

Just baffled if system worked and we see and hear the benefits why its been dismissed .

I wouldent have got into grammar i was middle but do think if top 25%had not been in my comp then people in the middle and bottom would have got more attention and be raised up.

TeWiSavesTheDay Tue 09-Apr-13 15:57:01

I think there would have to be a lot of significant changes to the system for me to accept that Grammars are a good thing for social mobility.

I agree that currently they are vastly dominated by families who are already at an advantage, but can't afford private school.

I would prefer all schools to have better standards and options available.

Scrazy Tue 09-Apr-13 16:04:12

Nursing requires a degree that doesn't charge tuition fees atm. Teaching does charge up to 9K. I think this is wrong.

My DD attended a bog standard comp the same one that let me down grin. Out of a bright year of 100 or so 6th formers. I could count on one hand how many got into top uni's.

whistleahappytune Tue 09-Apr-13 16:52:17

OP, small correction - Toby Young never went to a grammar school, but a comprehensive (pretty posh comp) in Muswell Hill.

mam29 Tue 09-Apr-13 18:26:16

Quite a useful article by toby young and love some of the comments from people

that back in day grammars were inner cities and took poor kids not just middle class ones.

As for toby young he started at a bog standard comp in devon.
He got 1 c at o level english not sure what else he got

went away travelling to israel.

then he did a levels at william ellis london in its last years as grammar school to do 3alevels.

Then got into oxford got a first and did phd.

I guess initally at 11-not sure if he did 11+ and 5th form o level hes wasent deemed to bright.

He talks how grammar was better school and how its inspired lot ideas for his free school.

jckhgg Tue 09-Apr-13 19:50:36

My son took the eleven plus and passed, about five hundred took the exzam and 200 passed but there was only one hundred and fifty places at the grammer school. Unfortunately he did not get a place, but was told that he was ninth on the waiting list. What chance has he got of getting in, and do some children pull out before they get to grammer school.

muminlondon Tue 09-Apr-13 23:04:08

mam29 if you look at this link on p.8 there is a chart showing proportion of comprehensives compared to grammars:

Margaret Thatcher was education secretary from 1970 to 1974 and this was the period with the most rapid increase in comprehensive schools. This was not so much as a result of the number of grammar schools that were abolished but the number of secondary moderns that converted to comprehensives - and could start teaching O-levels and attract better qualified teachers (at a time when universities were expanding). Three times as many secondary moderns were 'upgraded', compared to grammars that became comprehensives. More comprehensives also had a sixth form then, and there was a big phase of school expansion and new buildings, often with extensive grounds and new science labs, etc. So it was a very popular move because the majority benefited. In my comp in the 1970s streaming and setting was quite rigid but there were more opportunities for children to take O-levels than under an 11+ system (which no longer existed in my area). And we did Latin ...

GreenShadow Tue 09-Apr-13 23:14:12

jckhgg - I don't know where you are, but in Gloucestershire there tends to be a similar situation and in the end it seems to sort itself out quite well with just about all of those who pass eventually getting a grammar place.

Not everywhere is the same though - West Kent is very competitive whereas East Kent ends up with lots of children securing a place despite not passing the test (ie. get in on appeal).

deleted203 Tue 09-Apr-13 23:36:09

We have the grammar school system locally. No comprehensives, no private schools. You take your 11+ and either go to the local grammar, or the local secondary. If you want your child privately educated it means sending them away to boarding school - and I do not know anyone personally who can afford to do that.

This is not an affluent area; the grammar school offers bright children a really excellent education and gets 98 - 100% 5 A-Cs. The local secondary had a pass rate of 44% 5 A-Cs (including Eng and Maths) and 78% 5 A-Cs if you didn't include English and Maths.

I like the grammar system, personally. I think it allows children to be taught at the level they are realistically at - neither holding back the brightest, nor being completely over the heads of the ones who are really struggling academically.

muminlondon Wed 10-Apr-13 07:08:37

mam29 one other thing - the improvement of London schools is not just down to a small group of Teach First graduates - it is the London Challenge programme. Ofsted and the DfE have produced glowing inspection reports and Michael Wilshaw also confirmed this. Toby Young is Michael Gove's biggest fan so he is very biased. Gove is trying hard to ignore it because it was a big success under Labour but, although not led by LAs (their school imprivement teams did benefit), community schools did better than academies because it involved cooperation between schools so the whole area could benefit and not one school.

muminlondon Wed 10-Apr-13 07:32:57

The average GCSE pass rates for those who gained Level 5 SATs is 94%. A tiny proportion are educated in grammar schools and not all those at Level 5 would have got into a super selective grammar. So yes, on the whole bright children do well wherever they are.

Whatalotofpiffle Wed 10-Apr-13 07:42:45

I adored my private school... But dh went to 25k per yr boarding and detested it!

muminlondon Wed 10-Apr-13 07:48:37

It is easier to timetable and teach Ebacc subjects in grammar schools though as all the children are likely to pass. Equally, pupils in a secondary modern or company in grammar school area have much poorer opportunities for Ebacc.

'In selective schools, an average of 84% of pupils are studying towards the EBacc compared with 48% in comprehensive and 33% in secondary modern schools.'

exoticfruits Wed 10-Apr-13 08:00:52

A comprehensive is merely a grammar and a secondary modern under the same roof. A good one will be streaming and not holding the top end back and not going over the heads of the bottom end. The vast majority of the population attends a comprehensive school , they still get to top universities. Aspirations of the pupils and parents are no different because they didn't get separated at 11yrs.
Margaret Thatcher - she would still have been surrounded and taught with the same pupils if the grammar school went.

VelvetSpoon Wed 10-Apr-13 08:01:32

I live in an affluent grammar school area. Private secondary schools locally are pretty average - all the wealthy parents go down the private prep/tutor route to ensure their DC get into grammar school. The numbers who get in from local primaries without extensive tuition is tiny.

The problem is that the alternative schools (certainly where I live) are utterly shit. My DSs school achieves about 30% A-C passrate at GCSE (it is 100% at the grammars). He is in top stream yet the education he receives is nowhere near as good as those even in the lowest grammar stream - they get to do mandarin and economics, and will get a total of 11 gcses. My ds has no choice over languages (only french on offer) and will only get 8. He is receiving a completely second tier education.

If grammars are to be kept/ improved then we need to improve the standards of other schools. My son is predicted As and Bs at gcse - better tham many of the grammar school children. Annoys me to think how much better he might be doing at a 'good' school.

muminlondon Wed 10-Apr-13 08:04:34

Sorry, 'or comp in grammar school area' (may not be called a secondary modern but will have a much smaller top stream and more in the bottom stream).

TeWiSavesTheDay Wed 10-Apr-13 08:06:54

What a shame Velvet.

I know for me, that's why I didn't want to live in a grammar area. I was worried about my DC not getting in because they bloomed later, or competition just being really high, and ending up with fewer choices because of it.

It's not fair, at all, on those who don't make it to grammar.

mam29 Wed 10-Apr-13 11:05:06

Thanks for input guys.


Thats sounds frustrating hes done really well to get to such high place and hopefully stand a a chance of getting a place. ins some grammar areas there,s a few at least near each other.

The left argument would be having the bright ones in same school will boost the middle and the ones at the bottom.
But this could well be to detriment of the very bright in some cases.

I am not sure if it does have much benefit.

I remember in my school at least the bottom sets in comp were dire rubbish behaviour, teachers. I always felt like the top were the favourites the ones focussed on.
I witnessed this myself with my french teacher gcse who just said french not your thing you not very good at it I predict you an e. I got a tutor and got a c.

I guess what I do find unfair is unequalness of provision.

say for example

my comp educated child applies to uni and is competing against grammar pupil are they at disadvantage

if grammar child has better grades
slightly more academic range of subjects
more gcses ie triple award science, latin.
slight better extra curricular eg music because the grammar had orchestra and good choir.

As applying for uni you competing nationally.

If the grammars achieving good results then why are we not expanding the model however

improve secondary education so they not like the old style secondary moderns.

Those I know who went to secondary modern dont feel hard done by they all mostly got into good trades mechanicsm plumbers, secretaries they were not doomed to life of low skilled jobs.

I think if both grammar and comps offer gcses.
but comps offer much better vocational qualifications.

They need to improve fe colleges and invest in that as I much prefered college to 6th form.
Now they extended the school leaving age to 18 what are they doing to cater for kids who alevels are not for them?

Its argued londons improved due to cultures that value education more, lot of economic investment, good teachers and just so much on doorstep for kids to aspire to.

How we transfer this to rest of uk?

maybe im totally mad but cant see why both cant exist and seems morally wrong not every areas kids have the opportunity as well pay through taxes for our education and feel bit shortchanged.

I do think grammars with 11+
then a test at 13
then possible opportunities for new people to join for 6th form be very fair.

as long as state primarys not allowed to prepare for 11+
then those with money for tutors or prep schools will have an advantage.

Im skeptical about academies as initially here was the very bad schools and although they improved they not on my choices list due to such low gcses rates.

The well performing comps and the ex independent schools who converted will continue to do well there are 2 very different types of academy here they not the same.

The catchment areas for good schools are incredibly small although most of the best performing schools here have no catchment its faith or lottory based on bands postcodes.

I think parents are just crying out for real choice if we had this then the private school sector would shrink.
Some here choose private by default as couldent get a place they happy with.

The lack of discussion in politics about it is a bad thing.

I think if did survey demands quite high if you compare applications to current grammars to places.
Even if my child would not make grade feels wrong to deny opportunity for those who could,

As long as there,s good alternative provision and later opportunities to opt in and every child properly prepared so not set to fail then dont see the problem.

seems fairer to earn a place through hard work and academic merit as opposed to what house and catchment you can afford as that just creates middle class ghettos too.

housemad Wed 10-Apr-13 12:01:53

I totally agree with Scrasy. They should leave things as they were or get rid of them all - a total reformed. It is very annoying when the policy makers just left a little bit of job unfinished.
We are just about to move into a new area close to a good comp. We can’t wait to get out of this grammar school town. We want to ensure that my dcs (summer babies) will get into a good school . Living in a grammar school town doesn’t provide us with that security. Also I don’t want my child or myself feel like somewhat second class if they cannot get in to gs. It shouldn’t be the case but just can’t help it.

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