GET RID OF ENVY POLITICS AND BRING BACK GRAMMAR SCHOOLS
1944 AND ALL THAT
The British are a quirky tribe and if you doubt that please explain to me why ANY country embroiled in a battle of all battles for survival would choose that time to produce a major overhaul of Education for the future. Yet that is just what happened in 1944 when "THE BUTLER EDUCATION ACT " was passed by the Coalition Parliament.
At the time I was 4 years old and one year away from entering Primary School on my personal journey of enlightenment. As such, my generation and myself were thus the first beneficiaries of the change in the educational format for the future. Clearly it meant nothing to us, for not knowing what had obtained before, we just assumed that it had always been thus and would always be so. Wrong on both counts!
Basically what the politician Rab Butler and his advisors did was two things. First to seek to give to each child, according to their talents, the best opportunity to develop those talents whilst receiving a mainstream education. Secondly, and also importantly, the changes took into account what the Country needed to make it strong again and to ensure that across that wide board, the young people were educated to fit those needs whether they were intellectual, administrative, skilled or non skilled areas. It recognised that it would be a poor country that turned out only Bank officials on the one hand and labourers on the other.
Each local authority, within the framework of the act, developed their own particular model based on Primary Education till 11 years, then Secondary to 14, soon raised to 15 years after the end of the war, Advanced Education to 18/19 years followed by University or entry to the professions for specific work based activities such as accounting etc.
In the industrial town of Huddersfield, where I underwent my time in the system, the mix was made with great care and skill by those involved. Thus, at the end of Primary days, a test called "11 Pus Examinations was put in place. This involved 3 separate tests over 2 terms, each held at a central school on Saturday mornings. The results of these tests determined where you were to spend your next 5 plus years in full time education. There were 3 "lists" of results, The first list passes went direct to the Grammar School list, the second group were either allocated to Grammar or Technical High Schools. List 3 were almost exclusively Technical High Schools and those outside all three were allocated to the Secondary Modern School alternatives. However, it did not end there for at 13 years, there was the opportunity for another test to be taken. This became known as the "late developers exam" and I can recall boys joining our school as a result of it. A very comprehensive system that, supplemented by Technical Colleges that were in place for "FURTHER EDUCATION " for those who entered the working population at 15 but wished, or were advised to obtain specific qualifications to aid their advancement, were able to go under what was popularly known as "night school". A system that worked and provided both opportunity and the skills needed to drive progress both individually and collectively. As a result it was bound to be threatened once the war clouds had rolled well away and the country began to gain the benefits that it provided. The politics of envy , put aside during war and rebuilding times began to resurface.
My recollections of Primary School focus on 4 rows of double desks. In the first row were those thought most likely to be educationally talented, in the second, those a little less so and so on. In row 4 I recall 2 boys especially, both poorly dressed and shod and both inclined to smell somewhat. Years later I discovered that they came from very basic homes near the River and that both the fathers were in Leeds prison for substantial periods. I have often wondered what became of those boys, both of whom I am sure left Primary School unable to read or write. They stood out because out of 40 boys who left Mr Draper"s Class in 1951, they were the only ones in that category.
The 11 plus split us up and we all went differing routes. Having "passed" the exam you were asked to put down 3 choices for the transmission to Secondary School. I put down the 2 Grammar Schools and the Technical High School. I was disappointed to be allocated to only my second choice and thus joined Amondbury Grammar School in September 1951 along with several of my former Primary School classmates. I did not realise then how fortunate I was, for in the rural setting of Almondbury, at a School originally founded as a "Chantry School" to educate the poor in 1608, I was placed in the exact environment to help my holistic development. Others also flourished there as they did in other schools and I was never aware of any who went to Secondary Modern Schools complaining that their place was inadequate and indeed I can recall those who left at 15 as we were about to enter 6th form and sometimes envied them as they fitted into a working life with a wage each Friday. However, that aside my 6th form years were the making of me and I have fond memories of them and for the things that that School and a wonderful Headmaster stood for.
1944 and the Butler Education Act worked for me and as far as I can recall for my peers and it seemed to me to be something that would stand forever. How wrong was I ! However, I went on to become a Teacher myself, again so lucky in my choice of College and entered the profession in 1962. I was appointed to a large Secondary Modern School in Kent. The boys there were as broad in ability as we had been in Grammar School. Some left at 13 to go to Grammar School, some stayed to 16 and then went to Grammar Schools armed with good GSE passes and others entered the workforce in a wide variety of ways. The most educationally challenged were with us as a single class, their needs tended to by a superb teacher day in day out. His patience and firmness was amazing and his charges adored him.
My next move was back to the Grammar School, this time in Essex for 4 superb years in an excellent school and environment. It was whilst there that I became aware of the almost vindictive war that was being thrust down against the Grammar Schools from those with no understanding or experience of them. Whilst at College I had had to spend a month teaching at a large Comprehensive School Birmingham.
THIS SEEMED TO ME A HORRIBLE FACTORY TYPE ESTABLISHMENT. THE 2000 PLUS PUPILS WERE SPLIT IN 3 SCHOOLS BY AGE AND RARELY MIXED. EACH "SCHOOL" HAD A STAFF ROOM , SO THAT STAFF, NEVER MIND PUPILS, NEVER KNEW COLLEAGUES IN THE OTHER AGE GROUPS IN THE TOTAL SCHOOL. TO ME IT SEEMED LIKE BATTERY FARMING EDUCATION. THE ETHOS WAS NOT ON HOLISTIC EDUCATION AT ALL.
THE COMPREHENSIVE MYTH.
As things progressed in my time teaching and then later whilst lecturing in Universities and Teaching Colleges, I became more and more aware of the almost hatred that some, without real knowledge were in the process of stoking up against the Grammar School. In the years of the trendy lefties, logic, reason and sense were relegated firmly to the back burner and as time went further what can only be termed a Medieval witch hunt was turned on the Grammar Schools by the High Priests and Priestesses of Envy. It seemed to me as if they saw the Grammar School as the flagship they had to bring down to serve their own obsessions. No matter if they did good for their charges, they had to go because not everyone went to them. Absolute lunacy, just as we see today where in other areas "quotas" are established to ensure that there is equality between men and women. To me, the best person, regardless of race, colour, creed or sex is the one for the job regardless, just as the Grammar Schools were the best vehicle, and remain so, for holistically educating the more educationally gifted in the community.
The myth that all are better served by being lumped together in education factories has to be dispelled. In these environments the best levels will still rise academically, but they will not bring the rest along with them. The pendelum swung to Comprehensive education based on this in the 1960"s and so we have now had 50 years to see the results. As always, the pendelum swings right across before it starts to return and thankfully now we begin to see that happening and that those of us who have cried in the wilderness that it is a King with no clothes begin to be heard. The myth begins to implode.
It is not widely known that currently in England, it is against the law to open a NEW Grammar School ! It is fine for crackpots to take their kids out of the system and "home school" fine to have parents with no training set up "schools or academies" etc etc but form a new Grammar School and the law comes down like a ton of bricks.
That this is a nonsense is proven by the fact that some authorities have, through thick and thin, held on to their existing Grammar Schools. Where we live in Essex is an excellent example. This proves that even in the face of great adversity, right can survive. Now even better news for those who refused to see the idiots throw the baby out with the educational bathwater. Whilst it is against the law to open a new Grammar School, it is acceptable to extend an existing one.
This is now happening and provides real opportunity to demonstrably prove the parental interest in having a true Grammar School education for their children. The pendelum is slowly swinging back to the point established by Butler in 1944. This time it will not be driven by central Government but by local people working together with their established schools. The abuse of comprehensive education in this country which has seen standards fall, examinations dumbed down and children taken down false paths leading to spurious and often useless qualifications can be challenged. The absurd notion that 50% of the population should go to Universities says everything about the political opportunists who have used education at all levels during my lifetime. They are exposed as peddlers of untruths offering false dreams to those vulnerable and to completely ignoring the needs of both the individual and the country. They have had their day, had their way and palpably failed. Now once more let us see real people put real effort and values to restore the Grammar Schools to their rightful place in the fabric of our society. The rewards will be tangible, the disasters in failing to do so frightening.
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