Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Tories and Grammar and Technical Schools

The Tories proposals, for a return of Grammar Schools, will probably never be implemented. Even within the ranks of Tory MP's, there is opposition to the proposal. With a majority of only twelve, any legislation is likely to be difficult to get through the Commons, let alone the opposition it will face in the Lords. Theresa May has thrown this proposal into the ring, to provide the Tory rank and file with a bit of red meat to chew on, whilst distracting wider attention from the Tories bigger problems over Brexit.

But, like Brexit, the Tories proposals and arguments around Grammar Schools, are thoroughly confused and lacking in substance. On the one hand, they say they want to reintroduce Grammar Schools, but do not want to reintroduce selection. But, without selection, by a return of the 11 plus exam, there is no rational basis for determining who should go to a Grammar School. They say they want to provide the higher standard of education that Grammar Schools can offer. But then, the logic would be to make every school a Grammar School! If every school was a Grammar School, how is that different from simply making every school a comprehensive school, with far better resources, so that it can provide everyone with much better education?

The Tories answer to this seems to be that, rather than a division into Grammar Schools and secondary modern schools, there would be Grammar Schools, providing the academically gifted with a direct route through to university, and Technical Schools providing a route through to vocational courses, and apprenticeships. But, this is built upon a fallacy, which is that anyone who is not academically gifted, or at least does not pass some equivalent of the 11 plus exam, must then be technically gifted, and destined for such work.

I failed my 11 plus, I can't blame the fact of coming from a working-class, rather than middle class, family, because there were lots of other kids that went to the same Junior School as me, who lived in the same terraced streets, and had the same working-class background, who did pass the exam. The reason I failed was that, in the year before taking the exam, I was rarely at school, because I was suffering with silent pneumonia. Of course, I can never know whether, had that not been the case, I would have passed.

My wife says she also failed her 11 plus, which I don't really understand, because she was always a year ahead in school; she took her 'O' levels when she was fifteen, and passed all of them with top grades, and took her 'A' levels when she was seventeen, again passing all of them with good grades. She later flew through an HNC Business Studies course, passing with a Distinction.

However, the point is that, according to the logic the Tories are now using, having failed the 11 Plus, both me and my wife would have been designated as academic failures, and instead been channelled towards a Technical School. In my wife's case, that may not have been too bad, because she is also very good at painting and decorating, and with the assistance from the brickies' labourer, who was our next door neighbour, at our first house, she also became quite proficient at brick laying and other construction skills.

In my case, however, it would have been completely useless. I can't remember any time, at school, when I was any good at anything craft based. At secondary school, the woodwork teacher thought I must be taking the piss, my woodworking skills were so bad, and I lost count of the number of times the same teacher rapped me over the head for making a mess in his Technical Drawing class. It was only by the last year I was at school that he seemed to realise that I really was that bad at all these things, and became quite helpful, and organised for me and several others to take part in a general knowledge quiz, on local radio, which was something I was good at. 

I can remember, when I was fourteen, beginning to get rather stressed at the implications of this. In fact, I can remember the very occasion when it first began to occupy my thoughts. It was during the Summer, it was a Sunday afternoon, and I had gone for a walk with my mum and dad. It was quite a long walk. We had already walked a couple of miles, or so, and it may have been the fact that, by this time, we were now outside the old workhouse on Turnhurst Road, in Packmoor, that turned my thoughts to my future.

What was to become of me, I began to think. I was not going to be a Professor, as I had imagined when I was 5, nor even any other kind of professional. Other lower status, white collar jobs seemed out of the question, because, at the time, most of those clerical and secretarial jobs were assigned to women. But, if I was going to try to earn a living using my hands, as my father did, as a skilled engineer, that seemed out of the question too, because I had absolutely no aptitude for such work. It would have been useless sending me to a Technical School with a view to such jobs.

I remember that I mulled all this over, during the next couple of miles, and by the time we had turned back towards home, past the church in Tunstall, I resolved that I would have to make an extra-special effort in filling in my dad's Vernon's coupon for the following week, so as to win the Jackpot on the Treble Chance.

Fortunately, for me, that year, as I returned to school, in the Autumn, the teachers at the school, had managed to get permission to run 'O' level classes. Pupils were allowed to decide whether they wanted to be in such a class. In my year, nearly everyone decided they wanted to be able to take 'O' levels, which meant a class initially of around 30, though some dropped out over the next couple of years.

As it turned out, like my wife, I wasn't an academic failure after all, as the 11 plus exam would have suggested. In fact, it turned out that both of us were very academically gifted, despite the fact that neither of us had the kind of educational resources, in the secondary schools we went to, that we would have had, had we gone to a Grammar School, or indeed, had we been born several years later and gone to a comprehensive school.

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