In my early days as a barrister I was having a conversation with another, more senior, barrister in the robing room. The conversation turned to schools. He asked me where I went. I told him Kingsway, a comprehensive school in Cheadle.
“Really,” he said, “what was it like being a grammar school boy at a comp?”
I pointed out to him that I was not a grammar school boy at a comprehensive. I was just a boy at a school.
That is why the Government’s announcement about grammar schools is just so wrong. At the age of 11 my life should not have been defined by the school that I went to. At the age of 11 children should be equal, with equal opportunity and shared experiences.
I am not proclaiming that I went to a school where the lessons were in hard knocks and life, albeit I recall vividly the time when one of my teachers knocked a classmate to the floor twice by punching him to the face and then made us all stand behind our chairs for an hour before telling us not to tell our parents. What I would say is that I went to a school that was reflective of society, a broad spectrum of society. And there are aspects of my “education” that have been important in my life that had little to do with books and grades.
I like to think that I would have passed an 11+ examination. In fact I will let you into a secret, I passed the entrance examination for a local private grammar school but failed to secure a scholarship. Had I gone to that school I may well have been someone who believed that life was divided into grammar school boys and comprehensive school boys. Why create that division?
Our Prime Minister had introduced her grammar school plan by saying the future of children are being held back by “dogma and ideology.” I suppose the dogma is that access to education should be on an entirely equal footing, irrespective of social position or wealth. I suppose the ideology is that every child in this country who has the ability should go on to achieve their ambitions.
A grammar school/non grammar school is defining those likely to go to university at the age of 11. My “Frere Jacques” was spot on at age 11. I only discovered I was really bad at French during my A-Levels. Children develop at very different times and in very different ways. A grammar school system locks children down far too soon.
If the Government’s plans go through, in thirty years from now will we have a lawyer expressing some surprise that a boy from a comp has managed to qualify? If we do, the country has taken a massive backwards step.