Grammar schools are an entrenchment of privilege and should belong in the past.

Grammar schools are an entrenchment of privilege and should belong in the past.

Theresa May has unveiled proposals to lift the ban on Grammar Schools banned by Tony Blair in 1997 – although at the time 167 schools were allowed to keep selective education. She also has stated that there will be an annual £50 million to support the creation of new Grammar Schools, as well as allowing current academies and free schools to introduce academic selection for enrolment.
The original creation of Grammar Schools in 1944, known as the “Butler Act” under the Conservative politician R.A.Butler, was hailed as a social revolution. It hailed a change in history when parents didn’t have to pay fees for their child’s education. You have to imagine a time when you had to pay for your children to attend a secondary state school after the age of 13, and money basically paid for the kind of future they’d live; not that this doesn’t happen now, but the distinctive lines of class were drawn  far more clearly in the sand back then . The system split education in 3 ways based around the 11+ examinations: Grammar schools for academics, Technical colleges for agriculture, engineering, and crafts, and secondary moderns for the rest. Again at the time this was part of a social revolution, suddenly fees were paid by the state, and there was a genuine chance for social mobility which was welcomed by all political parties. Ironically once upon a time, the Conservative party had values and idealism, whether you disagree with them or not, they had hard principles which distinguish them from the party of wealthy interests we see today.

However, the paternalistic idealism of Butler – and to some extent Labour at the time – failed to build many technical schools  , and allowed for a new form of class division in the resulting bipartisan system. Funding was unequal between schools, with grammar schools enjoying the lion’s share. Secondary Moderns perversely languished in the poorest areas in the country; resources were stretched to such an extent that a lot of schools used primary school furniture to get by and staff turnover was a continuous revolving door.

This doesn’t alone explain why grammar schools are a bad idea,  just that comprehensives should have no reduction in support. The real problem is the concept of segregating children based on a basic interpretation of intelligence.  It’s all very well creating a supposed meritocratic system in education, but unless your testing is varied , innovative, and complex, you are basically allowing a significant hand-up to a child who is simply exceptional at Maths and English.  Not only that , but you’re giving a golden handshake to children who pass these tests at 11 years old, not taking into account the variation in children’s development, emotionally, intellectually and socially at this age.

So let’s ignore history for a second, and pretend that suddenly the Tories have grown a conscience for publically funded education and social mobility, despite the damage they’ve done since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Let’s also imagine that the testing for Grammar Schools is fluid through all ages up to 18, and that it’s varied to take into account a range of abilities. Would grammar schools then be ok?

For me those problems still don’t underline the whole issue with segregation, and the ability for sharp-elbowed middle class families to rule the roost over school admissions. Even with my own family history, grammar schools divided people. There are thousands of stories where brothers and sisters become separated based on academic ability and sometimes those scars never heal.  How do you tell an 11 year old that they’ve already failed at an opportunity to change their life? There is also the issue that working class children will be up against the driven middle class parents who will not only pay for private tuition but regularly move to areas where their children’s chances of a Grammar School place is greatly increased. Wealthy parents also see the economic advantage of getting their child a Grammar School place, to avoid paying the high prices of private schools.

The worst part is yet to come however, as there are proposals to allow academies to become grammar schools, or at least have the freedom of a selection policy. School places are in total disarray around the country, as the Conservatives have created a centralised system which doesn’t take into account local issues, and is woefully bad in placing children around the country into their school of choice. Any complaint about admissions, instead of the previous system which was controlled by the local council, now has to be made to the office of the schools adjudicator, in London. So much for the devolved power Tories harp on about.

Now imagine a situation where academies can become grammar schools, and why wouldn’t they? You can guarantee good grades by cherry picking the smartest children in the area, but you would also force local children who don’t make the grade to travel to a worse school further away because they didn’t pass a maths exam at 11 years old. And how would admissions work then? With free schools, academies, and grammar schools all having their own selection policy? I can imagine the remaining underfunded state comprehensives turning into super-sized schools to allow enough places for the remaining children, stacking classes with 40+ children per teacher; sadly we can see this situation happening already without the added grammar school issue.

Personally I think Theresa May’s speech is an insult to comprehensive schools and the teachers that work there. I have experience working in a school with no sets, where children of all abilities share a class together through the years, and the teachers are skilful enough to push the lowest ability children without it affecting the highest achievers. In fact the school received the highest grades in the surrounding area. This is also a testament to the main ethos: that children learn the most productively when you take into account their social, personal and academic needs. These are all as important as each other and loosely resemble the famous Finnish model of education, where children achieve the highest levels of results in the world.

Our children benefit from sharing their education with a variety of abilities, as well as culture and religion. Social mobility is about building bridges not walls.

Lots of money and stuff, the sign of a high achiever?

Lots of money and stuff, the sign of a high achiever?

Shouldn’t the Prime Ministers critics admit that they really hate anyone who has a hint of wealth in their life? If we don’t challenge these critics we risk having a house of commons which is stuffed full of low achievers, who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family, and know absolutely nothing about the outside world

This is a statement made during a house of commons debate by Sir Alan Duncan, who has claimed in the past that MP’s effectively live on rations and are treated like shit – For the benefit of any readers Sir Alan gets paid £74,962 a year, plus the ability to claim for a expenses for transport, and a furnished flat in London. He was also forced to repay £5000 in 2009 for claiming expenses to renovate his garden.  To put that in perspective, the average wage in the UK is £21,000 a year.

I take real issue with this statement, of course there have been oppositional backlashes, he has been forced to issue a pathetic apology and this has already produced an aggressive debate on the definition of achievement; but even with this statement stuffed behind the greasy curtain of Tory political discourse, the fact remains that not only do Tory voters believe in this definition of success and achievement, the very structure of our society is moving in this cold, pitiless direction.

Whilst I was teaching in a secondary school, covering a range of subjects and different abilities, I took great fulfillment from working with children with behavioral issues or special needs. They carried me through every day, my life had some form of meaning and this led me to believe that teaching full-time should be my career. However with many friends,  about 75%  had gone into teaching and dropped out, or at least considered other career options. I was told repeatedly to try other careers first, to understand that teaching was a fraught profession struggling to cope with ever growing pressure of increased class sizes, endless paperwork, and receding wage levels.

I left to Australia to travel, play some rugby, and eventually try some other work. After one enjoyable party at the top floor of an apartment block In the centre of Sydney, I asked the hosts – who were the same age, with the same level of qualifications – “what jobs have led you to this amazing apartment and lifestyle?”, “Recruitment Consultant” they replied. This became an ultimate goal for me, surely a profession matching people to jobs would be fun, ethical and ultimately financially rewarding.

I first became a Career and Education consultant, a deceiving and pretentious job title, I basically sold highly expensive government diplomas in a telesales call centre. Unfortunately I happened to be quite successful, I was consistently hitting near the top of sales every month, I was quickly promoted to Team Leader, and even managed my own office after 5 months. I earnt enough money to rent a dreamlike studio in the centre of Sydney, in a big complex with built in swimming pool and gym, right next to Darling Habour. For all intents and purposes, under Sir Alan Duncan’s definition, I was, or at least on my way, to being “successful”

However I started realizing that a lot of the data gained to make phone calls, came from job applications to our sister recruitment company, who were creating fake jobs. Some of the people who I signed onto course’s, which would cost them $18,000 in the long run, were long term un-employed and desperate for anything in their life to change. Not that I realized at the time, they were a number on a board, they were the sale I achieved that I could smile about, as the directors treated the staff and I to free boozy boat rides round Darling Harbour on weekends.

Upon the revelation that I was in a soulless sales company with unquestionably disgusting sales tactics, I managed to build my sales rep enough to get into recruitment – I was advised that I needed to talk about two things for the interview, how driven I was, and how much money I wanted to make.
So I told them of the sports car I wanted (I can’t even drive), I told them of the houses I wanted to buy, the dream of an Armani suit (quite happy with Matalan) the sales I wanted to make so I could go on the company incentive trips to the Alps or Las Vegas ( all paid for), and I managed to gain employment with the recruitment company.

Now surely this couldn’t be as bad as sales, surely my last sales gig was an anomaly, private business can’t all be an unscrupulous, unsympathetic rat race in a consumeristic culture? I was proved wrong. Upon starting the indoctrination to change my character began, I was treated to luxury meals by the company, I was provided by free alcohol every Friday night in the city’s finest bars. Sounds great right? Well maybe if I was a promiscuous 16 year old again. My co-workers discussed money, everything they wanted to buy, how much they earnt, and if you were lucky something about football (I don’t even like football, but it was a nice change)

So the culture was superficial, staff lacked any depth to their personalities, but I still wanted to make money, I still wanted to be “successful” I wanted to make my family proud, and I had a point to prove to my all the doubters in life, so I persisted. My role was to ring as many specialists that had a CV or resume on our computer system as possible, I had to convince them that I had a job lined up for them ( I didn’t) and then ask them were else they applied for, and if they had any interviews. I would use this information and contact the managers of the jobs they had applied for, and try to sell them new candidates. This disingenuous tactic is called “Information Trading”  and was eventually the reason I left, to some extent I enjoyed the nice suits, the luxury, the idea of an opulent future, I just couldn’t become passionate about lying 8 hours straight every day.

I left my nice flat in Darling Harbour, I’m back living with my parents in England, and I’m developing educational programs for Autistic children, for about 4 times less then what I was earning, and I finish every day with a great sense of fulfilment. And my future in this profession won’t lead me to making millions of pounds; in fact the glass ceiling tends to be below Sir Alan Duncan’s wage of 75k a year, that’s if the Tories don’t continue the trend on downgrading my profession.

My point is not to demean salesmen, recruitment consultants, or any other private business. If you want to make money, then go ahead and make money, just don’t value yourselves above people who earn significantly less.

If I end my life without multiple houses, without that convertible BMW, without ever owning a Armani suit, and I’ve managed to build confidence, self-esteem and happiness into children’s lives, I will be successful – and people who agree with  arrogant prats like Sir Alan Duncan won’t take that away from me.