Read comments about life in grammar schools and high schools in selective areas.

If grammars didn't exist parents would be much happier and less stressed

February 28, 2023

The reality of living in an area which maintains a girls’ and a boys’ grammar school is just starting to sink in. We are not from Salisbury and had no reason to understand its schooling system before we moved here but it is very different to what we were both exposed to as children. We were both comprehensive educated children who went to university and gained a lot from our mixed schooling. Salisbury is dominated by CofE schools which seems inexplicable. It leaves parents who care about these things with very little choice.

This junior school has a very good academic record and in the last year it has become apparent to us that this is clearly based on its perceived ‘success’ in getting children through the 11+ and into the two Grammars. This school streams from it’s first year intake at 7. It is considered to be a ‘crammer for the grammar’. Children are pushed hard and I feel that, consequently, this has a knock on effect even on the infant school, not least because it causes parents to start stressing out about their child’s progress even at Reception stage! I find the whole situation uncomfortable and deeply worrying.

For example, I have frequently heard parents discuss and agree with the streaming of 5 year olds at the infant school my son attends. They believe this will allow ‘the best to progress’ and get through the 11+. Parents also highlight on the children’s faults and abilities in relation to the 11+ e.g. ‘he’s good at reading but not problem solving and he needs to improve if he’s to get through the 11+’. The other high schools are considered to be lower than the low and parents are horrified at the thought their child should attend one – one told me ‘I don’t know what I’ll do if he fails the 11+’ and her child is 6! I also feel that it filters down to teachers who feel they are under pressure to demonstrate ‘progress’ above what is required even by the arbitrary targets they work to.

I feel we suffer the double whammy of faith schools and 11+ selection in this area and it alarms me that very few people seem concerned about it. Yet, if these grammars didn’t exist, parents would undoubtedly be much happier and less stressed. It’s an awful situation to be in.”

Salisbury mum

School differences in Kent

February 9, 2023

We all know that when exam results come out the grammar schools look great, and the other schools just can’t compete. There are other small things that happen at school that are reminders that all schools are not equal. My son’s been selected to represent his school in a maths event. He’s so negative about it, because he attends a non-selective school. He’s joking about the school coming last, but it’s not a funny joke to me. The grammar schools will obviously win this contest. Kent’s system means the other schools are designed to be second. In other areas there is no unhealthy divide, no reminders that a school is less good at key subjects, or that children are second best. Selective education is toxic, it’s an unhealthy way to brand and divide children.

Kent mum

Inclusiveness is the future

February 5, 2023

Northern Ireland still has an 11+ and it’s called the transfer test. Both selective and non-selective schools sit the same GCSEs and A levels. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. There is absolutely no need for the mental health crushing transfer test. Inclusiveness is the way forward.

NI citizen

Grammar school catchments prioritise white middle class people

January 10, 2023

I just found out that my postcode has been taken out of the catchment area for almost every local grammar school and that’s mad. I feel really bad for these kids to be honest. The 11+ should be for kids who don’t have mummy and daddy connections, not people who buy second homes in Kingston for an exam.

If your parents can’t afford to send you to private school without breaking themselves, and they can’t afford buying a second home, or moving into a grammar catchment area, and they can’t even afford 11+ tuition then they’re the families that need to be prioritised.

It’s actually sick how the system has been gamed over the last 10 years, and it’s so obviously a classist and racist attack. I know for a fact that so many white parents who sent their kids to grammar schools were shocked that their kids were the minority, they HATED it. They hate that these kids are coming from Hounslow and Croydon and mixing with their precious Tarquin, they hate that their special little boy is making friends with the “wrong sort” because the schools are full of kids who got in on smarts and aren’t white or middle class.

So what did the schools do? Well, first they stopped prioritising test scores, and sorted by catchment instead. Now, if you didn’t live in KT1-KT7, you had to be exceptional to get in, while local kids can be relatively mediocre and still make it. Then they tighten up their catchment area IMMENSELY

As in removed ~20 postcodes. Who can afford to live in KT1 to KT7? Which class and race of people tend to live there? Middle Britain has ruined grammar schools simply because they couldn’t stand poorer and browner kids doing well.

Now those kids who were exceptional, who might have still made it despite the odds being against them, just don’t get any chance. And I’m not really for grammar schools, but they exist and are a lifeline, so they should be used as such. I don’t think they’ll flourish as much as they have done in the past if they’re going to be filled with mediocre white kids rather than a huge range of kids from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s crazy that 4000 kids were fighting for about 100-200 spots, but this isn’t the solution

I’m just using Kingston because I’m familiar with it, but all the local grammars are doing the same thing. It’s very insidious that a system designed to help lesser privileged kids is now being manipulated to stay as a white middle class establishment. That’s just wrong.

Kingston parent

11+ Refuser

December 15, 2022

This story, at first glance, makes me sound like a hypocrite. Why? Because my older child scraped a pass in the 11+ and went on to get a first in Maths from a very competitive entry university. Despite the fact that her village primary school consistently produces just 10-15% 11+ successes. (And that’s a high result for a primary in this county!)

However, my older daughter spent the next seven years driving herself to prove she was as good as her peers – which wasn’t good for her mental health. Her amazing Grades at GCSE and A level don’t tell the whole truth about her experience of selective education. She says she “hated” most of her school experience especially the sixth form, which she had hoped would be an improvement. All teachers were interested in, she believed, were high grades. Now 24, and into a career, she is still working out how to create a liveable work-life balance.

Another part of this story concerns my other child – the 11+ refuser. She told us, aged 9, that she wouldn’t be taking the test. She encouraged several of her friends to refuse also.

As we live near a county which is non-selective and her year had fewer students in it, she went to a comprehensive (not her catchment secondary modern). Like her sister, she worked hard, and got an excellent degree from a competitive entry university. However, she was surrounded at her university by people from selective schools, either private or state grammars. Her close friends refused to believe she had been to a comprehensive; but she didn’t tell most people because there were judgemental remarks about comprehensive schools.

Why didn’t I consider our local secondary modern school? Because the opportunities are much better at the comprehensive in the next door county – a better range of subjects, lower staff turnover, better extra-curricular offer, more consistent homework policy, and yes, better exam results. Everyone is at a true comprehensive: students aiming for Oxbridge and students aiming for apprenticeships. It’s not a perfect school by any means, but staff showed they cared about my younger daughter, no teacher ever set limits on her achievements and she had until she was 18 to prove herself (better than taking a test at age 10 – the true age of most 11+ takers)

I used to be a secondary school teacher, mostly in comprehensives, but more recently, supply teaching in secondaries and grammars in the selective county where I live. I taught English, a subject everyone takes. And this is the truth: there are bright, academically able students in every type of school and there are hard workers too. The biggest differences? Grammar school parents pay for more private tuition (GCSE and A level) and expectations are generally higher at grammars from staff, from parents and from students themselves. In other words, there is a lot of social manipulation and paying towards higher grades. If a child is perceived as “one of the brighter ones”, they’ll often achieve more on average. Then there are the more generous grammar school teacher assessments – included in coursework for various subjects at A level. Add the fact that grammars have a lower staff turnover and don’t forget that grammars are “pickier” about who gets to take certain A levels (skewing their statistics).

If I hadn’t learned all this from teaching, I could have simply observed it in my own daughters’ experiences.

The 11+ does damage even to many who pass it – because it leaves a legacy of handling any challenge through hyper-conscientiousness. It does damage to those who fail or who are too terrified to take it, because they carry with them a feeling of exclusion from an elite within their peer group.

Anxiety about the 11+ starts very early. 5 or 6 year olds hear parents say “Blue table children are seen as 11+ passes” etc

My younger daughter was never on “blue table” and she worried about that like hell. At the age of 5.

My daughters were relatively lucky but I’ve seen too many children in tears in this village and I’ve heard too many parents uphold the myth that grammars are “where they want to work hard”.

It’s a system that doesn’t select the most able children and doesn’t indicate achievement at 16,18 or beyond. It isn’t helping lower income families because too many grammar places go to children from private preps. It favours boys over girls because they score lower but there is an even number of places for boys and girls.

It’s damaging nonsense.

Parent and ex-Teacher, Bucks

The school is left with the ones that couldn't afford tutoring and the ones who have failed

December 15, 2022

I live in Totnes and the 11+ is BIG round here. My son is about to start the local comprehensive secondary school, as we decided not to tutor him for the test. Yet all of his friends did the test and passed. It’s hugely sad and disappointing that the local community of schooling from 11 years and upwards is split up like this here. The grammar school is a half hour bus ride out of Totnes, so it’s not even local. The local school is left with the ones that couldn’t afford tutoring and the ones who have failed. Very very sad.

Totnes parent

International Child

November 18, 2022

My two children were top of their class in the US. Upon arriving in the UK, they were not able to get in to a grammar school. Every school in our area had a several year long wait list. General education schools also all had wait lists. The kids were placed in schools 45 minute drive from each other and a minimum of 25 minute drive from our house. Also, they were denied education for 4 weeks as we fought with every school to get a slot and were denied at every turn. English schools do not care about children. They care about their antiquated rules. We switched to private and had to take out of our retirement savings. I can see now how England is the worst performing country of the top 7.


School differences

October 11, 2022

One thing that people never talk about is the subtle inequality between grammar schools and the schools that surround them. Grammar school selection is social selection. The kids that pass the Kent Test are mostly tutored and middle class, or have great parental support. This goes without saying because to try for a grammar school you need to care about education and have a certain confidence.

The schools surrounding grammars are not only lacking the bright kids, they contain more than typical SEND kids, more than typical disadvantaged kids, more than typical kids with parents who don’t prioritise education. It drives me mad that our new PM talks about creating new grammar schools, without seeing that she will be creating more schools that are placed in a tough spot with a harder than average balance of pupils.

I’m a governor in a Kent non-selective and I know that the most dedicated teachers and school leaders are in schools like mine. I send my own children to a non-selective, because the teachers and leaders work super hard to get great outcomes for the children. The grammar schools select pupils who will get top grades, they rest on their laurels, they can get away with being lazy. The non-selective schools work to sort great behaviour policies, the best safeguarding systems, the best learning structures, and do a fantastic job. There is a certain passion and commitment to the teachers in schools like mine, its more likely to be a vocation not a job. Our non-selective school in a deprived coastal town has sent kids to Oxbridge most years, proving that grammars are unnecessary.

Non-selective schools are regularly fantastic, but none of this excuses the councils and governments who let our children be divided at the tender age of ten. All for no real purpose, and in a manner that creates a horrendous social divide. The 11+ is a bad system that mostly seems to continue to give middle class parents an easy life.

Kent school governor

Getting a place was more about income than ability

October 8, 2022

I was always absolutely average when it comes to academic achievement- not bottom of the class but definitely not gifted or brilliant. I was lucky enough to get into the local girls’ grammar school probably based on a mixture of luck and my parents being able to afford tuition for me when I asked for it. Everyone from our primary who got a place had a tutor (many for several years) and there were a few very able students- certainly more capable than I was- who did not pass. I remember being terrified of the local comprehensive, which was in special measures and had a reputation for being full of bullies. I don’t think the grammar school offered any kind of social mobility for working class kids at all. It just kept the ‘nice’ middle class kids away from the ‘riff-raff ‘.

Having worked as a teacher in a number of tough comprehensive schools over the years, I am so grateful for my education. I got to learn in a calm environment, I had teachers who expected me to get the best grades and taught me exactly how to do that without having to waste time dealing with poor behaviour, I did not have to worry much about bullying or attend alongside peers whose challenging and resulting mental health challenges had a serious impact on their behaviour at school. There was a good atmosphere because the students I attended with valued their education and wanted to succeed. We very rarely had teachers leave or were taught by supply teachers.

In the comprehensive school where I used to work, I often saw students of a similar profile as me- shy, anxious, middle ability, parents who do not necessarily push them- disengaging with their education or dropping out of school entirely out of anxiety. I think the most able tend to find a way to succeed anyway, it’s the middle and lower ability that need the best teachers, the extra academic support and opportunities on offer at a grammar school.

For grammar school student/teacher from Kent

"Failure' best thing that ever happened

September 24, 2022

My son was expected to walk through the 11+ and get entry to the local King Edward school. In the end he didn’t do well enough but was offered a place as a fee paying pupil. Although he had been to a private school since infants, the fees were beyond my reach….so I had to tell him I couldn’t afford it . Luckily he had liked what he saw of the local comprehensive so he was not unhappy. Although that school then went through problems and ended in special measures, he got good results …the only ‘failure’ being that the school wanted him to try for Oxford…he was rejected at the first hurdle….Oxford don’t take pupils from schools like that! He ( and I) both feel what he lost in terms on academic rigor his time at the comprehensive gave him a much better education for life than a private school would have. ..something that I know will stand him in good stead as her pursues a possible career in politics. But that is only because I did not talk in terms of ‘success’ or ‘failure.’ Parents attitudes can cause many problems for the children. Although I am a successful product of the grammar school system, I feel it is too elitist, and adds division in an ordinary divided society.

Parent Birmingham

Education should not be purely based on academic achievements.

September 23, 2022

My daughter went to a local all girls grammar school and after the first couple of years became extremely unhappy. Her confidence plummeted and all her teachers seemed to care about was how she would achieve an A!

Without going into details she left with very few GCSE’s but has over the years found her way and worked hard to achieve a 2:1 in her degree. She ironically now works in an educational child mental health setting and most of the referrals to her work place are from grammar schools.

My son, even though he got into a grammar school refused to go and is very happy and achieving well at the local comprehensive school.

As a teacher myself I believe that creating confidence in young people is paramount and the grammar system is divisive , creates even more inequalities in society not to mention the feelings of failure, the competition from both children and parents etc etc…..I could go on!!

Parent and teacher

A slice of living with a grammar school system

September 23, 2022

I am a single mum living in Kent who has 2 daughters and who has been a teacher at a grammar school. The 11+ system permeates everything. It starts when your children are around 7 and slowly builds so you can’t escape it. It’s crushing and intense. Constant conversation of tutoring; the best tutors; the costs; the thoughts about what are you going to do if your child doesn’t pass grow bigger and bigger and by the time year 5 arrives the conversation is everywhere.

Being a single mum meant I couldn’t afford tutoring. It meant I had to listen to constant chat, that I was excluded from. The stress it caused me was horrible and sometimes I found myself not socialising with friends, who were all paying for tutoring for their children. Some even from year 2. I couldn’t join this race. I knew my kids were bright and very able and more importantly loved learning. But, still no guarantee they would pass. Anything can happen on the day.

One of the biggest problems is the disparity between the behaviour at grammars and non selective schools. And the impact this has on learning. This for me was the biggest concern. The choices if they don’t pass were poor – really poor, and the thought of my quiet, kind and reserved children been eaten alive and not being able to access learning was a huge concern. Not just for me, but for them too. The conversation is on the playground too. The girls were very aware of what was coming and what their choices were. They were just 10 years old. The pressure on their shoulders is insane. Tears been shed about what would happen. Sleepless nights. It’s inhumane.

Living in Kent and listening to our young people it is apparent that there is segregation. There is an us and them culture. Tribes are formed and there are feelings of difference and a sense of being less than if you don’t pass. You feel a failure.

I didn’t pass. I am a 50 year old woman and it is still with me today. That feeling of having failed has never left me. I didn’t want my girls to carry that feeling.

I enjoyed being a teacher at a grammar school, but I do not agree with it. However, I chose to work in one because I wanted to teach and not spend the majority of my time managing behaviour. However, the elitism is palpable and unhealthy. Grammar schools breed inherent inequality, and non selective schools breed a strong sense of failure. It is backward thinking.

Parent and teacher from Kent.

Social exclusion

September 23, 2022

I remember, at the age of 10, being asked by a supply teacher whether I were sitting the 11+, meant as a compliment I think, but sounding rather snobby at the same time. That was the first time I’d heard of it.

I never did sit the 11+ nor study it’s material, and the only ‘pressures’ I faced at that age was sitting the advanced SAT paper for Maths. The headteacher suggested to me to approach the paper out of curiosity rather than expecting to attain a higher grade and I remember whilst sitting it being really stretched and figuring things out during the paper which led to me running out of time. The paper itself showed me there was much more to the subject, it wasn’t about the grade for the headmaster, nor the preparation for the paper, he knew I could have been trained to pass it, for him, and me it was about discovery, an experiment, which led to a persistent pursuit of mathematical concepts that remained with me into adulthood.

Coming from a working class background, my dad was of the belief that I go to the local school and if I do well, it’s mostly down to my own gifts of memory, creativity and logic, enhanced by teacher stimulating any desire to learn as most teachers tend to do.

So that’s exactly what happened, the school I attended was in the bottom percentiles in league tables for the area, but I did well in terms of grade attainment. I’m socially more aware of the difficulties that peers face, but those issues never hampered my own ability to learn. What I’ve found later in life though is that it is the middle classes’ attitudes to comprehensives that prejudice decisions about me and my abilities and there are simply ideological disagreements on these matters and I’m usually outnumbered. For me social mobility has come at a cost, it’s one of a certain kind of loneliness being surrounded by people who know nothing of the struggles and distractions that poorer people face.

There are some that wish to solve this by preventing people like me climb the social ladder, to retain a justification for why some ‘deserve’ things others do not.

This is just a mask for not wanting to accept that talents and skills permeate all social stratas and aren’t distributed just to the rich. What is siphoned off by the rich are the resources and this leads to a segregation that ultimately harms the collective shared capital of education.

Pupil from Wirral

I went to grammar it was great but our aspiration should be all pupils have a great education not just a few

September 22, 2022

I went to Grammar school in Sutton and thoroughly enjoyed it got a great education and went on to Oxford. But!!! My oldest friend failed the 11+ even though in primary school we were neck and neck in everything. He went to an local comp. We got nearly exactly the same GCSEs, A levels and were reunited at Oxford in the end.

If nothing else that proved to me grammar schools don’t enhance the education of bright kids and comprehensives don’t hold back bright kids either.

Also even at the time I could see those at the bottom end of attainment in my class suffering, the educational style didn’t always suit them and there were few vocational options for them, these were still very clever kids.. Just getting C’s and Bs not As .

Now a lot older with two kids of my own I can’t imagine putting them through the stress of the 11+ . We were looking at houses in Kent and then I realised doing so would subject my kids to testing at 11. I couldn’t do it and left for Sussex instead.

When I was leaving school the careers/uni advice was all engineering, law, medicine, accountancy, business. I unhappily explored all these options in my twenties and then somehow I fell into being a drugs worker. Now after two decades working in addiction, social care and prison healthcare I really regret not training to be a social worker or nurse. I love my job but I regret I couldn’t spend more of my career in front line work. Sadly these options were never even presented to me by my school.

Children thrive in a supportive environment where there are a range of options for them to develop in the direction that suits them.

I don’t want to do down my school, I had a great experience and my teachers were committed and supportive. I just think all kids need that from their education not just a lucky few.

Patent in Sussex

Grammar school made my son feel that he was a failure

September 22, 2022

My son sat the 11plus 7 years ago after I was informed by other parents that I should encourage him to sit the test because the comprehensive schools in Bexley were ‘rubbish’ schools due to a higher rate of supply teachers and that all the best teachers gravitated towards teaching in grammar schools.

I had moved only recently to a selective area, and had never really heard of the 11plus having been educated in a comprehensive non-selective borough. It quickly became common knowledge that entrance into an ‘outstanding grammar school’ would be competitive, and that tutoring was the only way a child would stand a chance of passing, largely because there were parts of the test that are not taught in primary school, plus the high percentage of children being tutored.

I was lucky that I could put money aside for tutoring. He started his tutoring in yr5. Lots of children started in years 3 & 4. The tutor said that a child was only likely to pass if they were achieving 75% or more in their mock tests (a lot of pressure). Hence the ensuing months involved lots of scores, percentages which unbeknown to me was already severely affecting my sons confidence and esteem. Interestingly, a lot of the parents encouraging tutoring had been grammar educated themselves, or already had older children attending grammar schools.

My son sat the Bexley and Kent tests and passed both. He received his results and informed me that the other children had discussed their scores and my son had the lowest score. He told me he felt he hadn’t done well despite passing. On his first day at grammar school, again he told me that everyone was talking about the 11plus scores they had achieved. Again, this reinforced a sense of failure in my son. Yet he’d passed by 6 points. Hence this pattern continued and inevitably, he really believed he was stupid and struggled to apply himself in an environment where ‘failure’ isn’t an option. He was placed in the bottom set in maths and felt humiliated by his teacher when he asked him ‘Do you know what two plus two equals, because your results reflect otherwise!” The bottom set had four different maths teachers over a short space of time. The higher sets had the same consistent teaching.

My son was never included in activities that encouraged him to develop his confidence or esteem. It was all about high attainment and gaining a 6 or above. Even a 6 was frowned upon by some teachers, whilst I continually battled and encouraged my son to find his own path and to remind him that he was in an environment where high grades aren’t necessarily realistic. Rewards and invitations to celebratory events went largely to the high attaining academic students. My son ‘scraped’ his A-levels (in grammar school terms). Actually, he did really well, but not to grammar standards and expectations. His form teacher told him to only consider a Russell Group University because the ‘thickos’ go elsewhere despite the teacher knowing my son wasn’t predicted to achieve the grades required to get into a RG uni.

He is now taking a gap year having left grammar school this year, to reset his thinking, to recover and have some space from an institutionalised system that is, I believe, elitist, only offering opportunities to those families with money and time behind them. I’m hoping that his eventual experience at uni will be more rounded and he’ll be mixing with students from diverse educational backgrounds.

Hence, despite my second son passing the Kent test (he wanted to give it a try) I encouraged him to attend his local Bexley comprehensive which he loves. They encourage a growth mind-set and have a healthy approach to failure. Unsurprisingly, this has enhanced my sons confidence, and he is sitting comfortably in top sets because he has been supported by the school to believe in himself. He is given roles and responsibilities that again encourage him. And this is given to every child, not just those children ‘at the top’. This good school which I was told would be a hinderance to his education, has been really positive so far. Some parents were aghast that I’d sent him to a secondary school despite him passing his test.

In hindsight, I wish my eldest son had experienced the same, and I honestly feel that his level of confidence and self-belief would have been very different in a comprehensive school. The reason I know this is because he told me so. Plus a lot of his friends who didn’t pass went on to do well in their secondary schools. I also blame myself for not having done more research at the time, rather than being swayed by other people’s opinions. I wish I’d listened to the teachers at my sons primary school who didn’t support a selective education. They knew what they were talking about.

I believe it’s time to challenge what grammar schools represent in this country, because it has radically changed over time. It was devised to give every child a chance, but it’s now excluding families from lower-income households. They don’t necessarily encourage equality and inclusion or an opportunity for all, because it comes at a price both emotionally and financially! Plus Bexley Grammar schools take a percentage of privately educated students. Only a minority I feel truly benefit. We need to learn from our International Schools what an equal inclusive education system looks like. Finland is a great example.

The government need to focus on supporting a non selective education where every child matters, whatever their background or educational needs and where a Comprehensive school can be an ‘outstanding school’.

Parent from Bexley

Low expectations

August 31, 2022

I moved from a comprehensive area to a selective area, and attended a non-selective school. I had a good education, although fewer subjects, and less diverse subjects, were available than those in the comprehensive area I had left (and than those of peers in grammar schools). Thankfully I had great teachers and did well at school, but it is not about the grades. When you tell children aged 11 that they are no good at education it is a destroyer of confidence and self esteem, and with years of education to go, demotivating.

It lasts too because the failure is associated with the individual and the school. We joked about being the thickos and failures. Years later I introduced myself as a former pupil to a teacher currently working in the school I had attended. The reply was ‘haven’t you done well for yourself!’ with a shocked/surprised expression (this teacher didn’t work at the school when I was there so it wasn’t about a remarkable personal turnaround!) Why wouldn’t someone educated in a secondary modern be able to lead a training session?! I felt cross for the pupils the teacher currently works with if she has such low aspirations for them.

former secondary modern student

The difference in schools is stark

August 10, 2022

Having experienced both non-selective schools and grammars in Kent I fully understood why parents feel the need to play the game and try for grammars – even if they hate the 11+ system. My daughter went to a high school that did it best, but there were behaviour problems, constant teacher shortages, lots of children from difficult backgrounds. The grammars avoid all this by mostly accepting middle class kids with motivated parents. The problems the high schools face is caused by the grammars! Grammars find it easy to recruit teachers, they admit no difficult kids. This whole system breeds inequality. I was lucky enough to go to a comprehensive school which was a whole lot better as a school system.


“We only have the best of the best here.”

August 5, 2022

The selective system is divisive. This was demonstrated to me when we attended the open evening at our local grammar school, and the headteacher announced in his welcome speech that, “We only have the best of the best here.” I was appalled. What sort of message is this? If this is the message given in that school, the kids who go there can only end up thinking they are ‘better’ than others like my boy. How is this good for either set of children or for society?

I have a son, currently in Year Five, who is dyslexic. I know that there is simply no point even considering entering him for the grammar school entrance exam as I know he would fail, despite being above average intelligence. It is my understanding that the grammar school makes no allowances for dyslexic children, such as extra time etc. This sends out a rather strong message that these children are not welcome. In Trafford children with SEN seem to be forgotten about, in favour of lauding our grammar school system.

It feels very much like there is an ‘us and them’ situation in Trafford. Those parents whose children pass can feel somewhat superior, while those whose children don’t make it often feel resentful towards those who do. People won’t admit it, but that is the truth of the situation.

It would be so much better if our children could attend an outstanding comprehensive school where they could all receive the best standard of education, but without all the stress and division created by the selective system we experience in Trafford.

Trafford Mum

As a grammar school girl I think the 11+ should go

June 1, 2022

Having had the opportunity to attend a grammar school, it’s easy to say that I’m being hypocritical; I’ve benefited from the system and now want to deprive others of the same opportunity. Yet, in reality, this isn’t the case. Whilst the grammar school system may benefit a select few, many more are suffering as a result.

By splitting pupils up, based on a test that actually isn’t fair at all, you essentially split them up into two tiers – those who are intelligent and will do well as a result, and those who won’t. Labelling children like this at such a young age isn’t right, if anything it causes more harm than good. The majority of children are essentially being told that they’re not good enough – which will contribute to the creation of self-fulfilling prophecies. Those who do pass the test are essentially being told that they’re better than everybody else – which too creates more problems further down the line.

If we were aware of the consequences that grammar schools would have when they were proposed, they would rightly be the subject of mass opposition both within Parliament and from the public. They were pitched as a way to increase social mobility, as a way to increase the life chances of everyone, no matter the background they came from. In reality, this isn’t how it is in practice.

Yet, somehow, this reputation is still one that the public believe in.

We’ve come to accept that grammar schools are a good thing because they provide an opportunity to disadvantaged students. Whilst this sounds good in theory, they’re the group that’s most likely to be negatively impacted by the solution that’s supposed to enhance their lives.

But what actually causes this attainment gap? Why can’t disadvantaged students access grammar schools? Why is the test unfair, it’s standardised? The answer to all of these questions is ultimately the 11+ itself, with those from richer and wealthier backgrounds being tutored in order to pass it – with these parents having access to both the material and cultural capital that the test requires. They use sophisticated vocabulary within their households, they have the skills to research the examination itself, and they have the money to get their child tutored. We’re told that it’s impossible to tutor for this test, but this isn’t the case at all. The majority of my year group were tutored to pass the exam, most of them come from households that earn more than the average income. The girls in my year groups often had parents who graduated from University themselves and were working in industries that were skilled based. This isn’t uncommon for the middle classes either, with my town falling on the London commuter belt.

Yes, this isn’t the case for everyone. But it was for a significant amount of people. At my school, the amount of people claiming free school meals is around 13%, nationwide 35% of students are eligible for it. Even with regional and local discrepancies, the number of students eligible is much less than expected in a fair system.

The culture in the school is also an unhealthy one. It’s the one where you’re pushed to apply to Universities and where sixth form students feel entitled to get into Oxbridge. The amount of times that I’ve heard people refer to non-grammar school students as “stupid” is ridiculous. One time, a girl in my year group didn’t get into the University she wished, remarking that “the decision was stacked against her due to her coming from a grammar school,” and that “she didn’t understand why she was rejected, when kids who couldn’t even pass the 11-plus got in.” The grammar school system creates a toxic culture of entitlement to those who pass, with kids assuming that because they were the ‘best’ at passing a test at 11, they deserve the best jobs and access to the highest education institutions.

But grammar schools not only create a sense of entitlement among pupils, but also a fear of failure. The system, and the school that I attend, taught me to believe that getting a ‘C’ was unsatisfactory. I’ve seen students open their report cards and be disappointed to receive this grade, despite it being counted as a pass. The school itself didn’t help with this, instead they pushed the narrative further. Receiving a B or a C often means that you were required to attend tutoring or lunchtime sessions to help push your grade up. The idea that these grades, ones that are perfectly okay to achieve, aren’t; is one that that the school, subconsciously or not, pushes.

Grammar schools existing not only damages the area, with them actively reducing the amount of social mobility that occurs, but also the livelihoods of the students that attend them. They don’t solve any of the problems that they were designed to solve, instead they make them worse. The system doesn’t even work for those that it is designed to help, with grammar school students being pushed into a small academic bubble and, at times, being unable to see the bigger picture or the world around them.

We need an education system that works for all children, no matter their background. An education that both exposes children to, and helps them to prepare, for the world around them. One that moulds students into adults, helping to both further them academically and personally. Grammar schools aren’t the way to do this, with this system actually fuelling the problems within our education system in the first place.

Grammar school girl

Moving my son out of a grammar school

June 1, 2022

I went to a comprehensive and it never really occurred to me that in some parts of the country, the grammar school system was still alive and kicking – until I moved to Kent.

And this is where it got difficult. It would be easy to say that I should have stuck to my principles and refused to let my son take the 11-plus and just boycotted grammar schools. But this is much harder than you think. In Kent we do not have a fully comprehensive system. The non-selective schools will tell you that they are comprehensives but they are not. They cannot be all-encompassing and comprehensive if the grammars have skimmed off 30% of the cohort – who are of a certain ability and, controversially, largely of a certain demographic.

So in Kent you cannot simply veto this antiquated system and send your child to your local comprehensive. Because they don’t exist. Additionally, the whole education system is geared around the Kent Test. The primary schools, despite what they say and despite what they’re supposedly not allowed to do, revolve around it – they set practice papers as homework; they go over questions in class; they hold parents’ meetings advising you on how to prepare your child for it; they fill the children’s heads with the build-up to this test. And thus, we have to exist in the system we find ourselves in.

It was not surprising therefore that propaganda – both indirectly from the school and directly from classmates – soon trickled down to my son, convincing him that his future happiness and life prospects depended entirely on his performance in these test papers. So reluctantly I registered him for the Kent Test which he would sit in his own school the following year. I refused to pay for tuition for him and I refused to force him into hours of practising. If he had to be tutored to pass, a grammar school would be the wrong place for him, I reasoned. He went on to pass it, as did most of his close friends. Not letting him go to the boys grammar school with his friends for the sake of my own principles felt at the time like I might be denying him something. Predominantly happiness but also, perhaps a better education. Because for the last few years, other parents around me had done nothing but go on about how “grammar schools are better schools”. So perhaps they were.

It took me a while to realise I had a made a terrible mistake.

Parents who tell you that “Grammar schools are better schools” rarely make any effort to explain exactly what ‘better’ really means. They may well, of course, mention results. But really? Is a school that has creamed off the top performing pupils more likely or less likely to get the best results? The answer is obvious but it still baffles me that most parents can’t get beyond that basic fact.

But those who do often then talk about how children there get a different education, “a grammar school education”, a so-called ‘better’ education. What does that mean? Is it still the 1960s? When kids went to grammar schools to learn Latin and sit O-Levels whereas those in secondary moderns were taught sewing and woodwork and left at 15 with a handful of CSEs? How have they not noticed that it’s not like that now? Hasn’t been for years and years, in fact. Whatever school you’re at, you’ll still be doing the same GCSE curriculum. You’ll still be learning pythagorus and photosynthesis and iambic pentameters. “But they have better teachers in a grammar school,” I’ve heard it said. Again, really? Teachers are teachers. They’re all trained in more or less the same way, to more or less the same level. And there will be both good and bad teachers in any school.

And of course, there is a problem with teacher recruitment and retention nationally. That said however, I’ve met a lot of teachers over the years, especially when I was involved in recruitment as a school governor in London, and I have to say that I have never met so many weak and uninspiring teachers as I met during my son’s time at that grammar school. Quite frankly most of them wouldn’t last a minute in a comprehensive. I got the impression that many had either failed in the normal state sector or were seeking a cushy number. Surely teaching is a vocation, one that is filled with a desire to really make a difference to the lives of children? But these teachers seem to have instead opted for an environment of spoon-feeding – teaching by rote, handing out downloaded worksheets and getting the class to copy stuff down off the board. And in an era where children are used to fast-moving innovative content at the click of a button, teaching like this can no longer cut it. Even in a grammar school.

My son would frequently come home with tales of boys running rings round the weaker teachers, some of them by the time they got to Y11 even jumping out of windows or jumping around the desks, while the teacher sat there totally helpless. Yes, in a grammar school! Staff turnover was thus fairly high and therefore highly disruptive to his education. Many of his teachers didn’t really seem to know him very well at all. One teacher called him completely the wrong name throughout the entire parents meeting, even though he’d taught him for several years. Another one, asked if he was new, despite her teaching him for the whole of the previous year. A friend who is a private tutor says almost all his pupils come from grammars and that it is very evident from his pupils’ existing knowledge that much of the teaching is at best woefully inadequate and in some cases non-existent.

Moreover, the general quality of my son’s education was far from being at a high level. The whole school always felt humdrum, where children seemed to have almost lost their sense of identity, going in and out of the school like factory workers just carrying out their allotted tasks to get by. I never felt a spark of excitement in the school. I never felt anyone was doing anything remotely innovative that I had seen in other schools that weren’t grammars. Education should be inspiring and teachers should be nurturing pupils’ interests and encouraging a lifelong love of learning. But my son never came home excited about a subject – ever. And when I went to parents’ evenings, it was obvious why. Most of his teachers had become result-obsessed who seemed to have lost both their own fascination with their subject and that pedagogic desire to pass on their interest to their pupils. Their only motivation was to get their pupils to a target line that someone somewhere had generated on a graph.

It would be pointless trying to getting the pupils enthused anyhow. Let’s not forget that grammar schools are packed to the rafters with kids who have been trained within an inch of their lives to perform to a very specialised test, and specifically taught not to think outside of the box. Indeed many of these children have had the creativity and initiative sucked out of them. In fact, far from being educated “among the brightest and best” as the grammar school propaganda will have it, my son seemed to being educated among exam robots who were treated like assets in the school’s flotation on the annual league tables.

These are accusations that you could level at some non-grammars, of course, but the problem is significantly worse in grammars because there is a complacency there. They don’t feel the need to try very hard with their pupils because the school results are fine and that seems to be the only thing that drives them. But there are struggling children. Many in fact. Many are struggling because the 11-plus is not a perfect indicator of a child’s educational potential. But many are just struggling because children do struggle with things. They are children, after all. And the grammars are just not set up for dealing with it. Teachers don’t come up with anything innovative to motivate their pupils. They don’t use technology inventively for example. They don’t embrace the kids’ interests and incorporate that into their teaching methods. Their main mantra was always “Come on boys, you’re in a grammar school, you worked your socks off to get here and you should be doing better than this.” Which is not remotely helpful. With this attitude towards pupils’ learning, children will, and did in fact, fall by the wayside. Several of my son’s friends ended up with the absolute bare minimum GCSE grades and a few even left with grade 2s (equivalent of an F, a fail) in English and Maths and are now being forced to retake them. Yes, in a grammar school! The problem is that a few failures in a grammar will have a smaller impact on a grammar whose overall results are already coasting near the top of the league tables, than in a non-selective school where teachers will be doing everything they can to get each child to reach their potential in order to push their school’s position.

And then there’s the pastoral care. Ask any grammar school parent who has had a issue with bullying, fights, friendships or their child’s wellbeing and mental health, and they will all tell you the same: The school were totally ineffective in resolving it. Indeed poor pastoral care seems to be just accepted as part of the grammar school system. A pay-off if you like for the supposed ‘better’ education. In fact it seems that they have no effective system in place for dealing with anything outside their remit of getting students through exams. And there’s a reason for this. They don’t need to. Schools who don’t deal with behaviour issues soon find themselves in very hot water. Parents go to the press, they talk on social media, a school gets a bad reputation, numbers fall, staff leave, results drop, the school gets a bad Ofsted report, its reputation plunges further, its roll totally dwindles and it’s not long before it faces Special Measures and potential closure. I know this only too well as it happened to my old school a number of years after I left. It started with only a handful of parents complaining to the local paper but took only a couple of years for the all the above to happen. The school has now gone. The site is currently being sold off for housing. But grammar schools don’t have to worry about any of this. None of it will ever happen to them. Parents can complain all they like, they can remove their children, there can be huge stories about bad behaviour in the local paper, but there will always be hundreds of parents clamouring for every available place. Fifty children could leave in one day and they’d fill those places by the next. So why waste energy on coming up with effective strategies and programmes to deal with those extra challenges?

I sought help from the school when my son finally revealed to me that he had been the victim of a long bullying campaign culminating in a video posted by a fellow pupil on YouTube mocking him. The school simply said there was nothing they could do as it wasn’t a school matter. The video was being shared around the school and he was coming home in a state of significant distress. Still not a school matter, apparently. And also, did I not think my son was being a bit overly dramatic about it? Other parents will tell you similar stories. Later in his time there, my son was suffering with mental health issues and took a number of days off. I felt reassured when the school offered him counselling. But I was stunned when after a few weeks, I was told the counselling was being discontinued as his attendance had now improved and the issue was now resolved, revealing of course that their strategy had never been about my son but rather their attendance figures.

There’s a general perception that bad behaviour does not exist in grammar schools whereas secondary moderns are hotbeds of anarchy and pandemonium with out-of-control kids lads chucking chairs at teachers. Perhaps a concept generated by various 1960s film and TV shows. But if parents really believe that sending their child to a grammar school will shield them from any unruly behaviour then they are in for a rude awakening. At my son’s school there were regular fights, punchings, kickings and regular incidents of kids smashing windows, setting off smoke bombs, chanting racist insults, getting high at lunch – much of which was was never properly dealt with. Schools with challenging pupils will dedicate time and energy to ensure behaviour does not impact on pupils’ learning and affect results, but grammar schools sitting comfortably at the top of the league tables won’t bother and so behaviour issues are often left to just bubble along.

There was an additional element of behavioural issues too at the grammar school – one of elitism. Several teachers would frequently say “If you don’t do homework, you will end up at [name of neighbouring non-selective school] which is full of all the thick kids”. This still shocks me when I think about this. It goes against everything that schools should be teaching about inclusion. Rather than teaching about equality and tolerance, they are sowing division and entitlement. It is reinforced in many grammar schools each morning in assemblies where they are told they are in one of the best schools in the country. This is utterly wrong and is doing nothing but breeding a generation of kids who think they are above the rest. Add this to the all-boys environment and you’ve got a potential problem with misogyny too.

I know there was a pack mentality at my son’s school and was one of the reasons my son was so miserable there. The boys’ general attitude to girls was horrendous and highly sexualised, if not threatening. Now in a mixed school, my son says the attitude of the boys is significantly different towards girls and is certain that the predatory culture was entirely down to segregation. My elder daughter attended a different boys grammar school for Sixth Form and there was an incident when the year group were told they were having a talk about consent. A large bunch of boys started loudly objecting saying they didn’t need the talk as their social class weren’t the rapists! They were shouted down by a small group of horrified girls.

My son spent five years at his grammar school. Most of it in utter misery. Many times he begged me to let him leave but I was worried about the impact of moving him to a non-grammar in the middle of his education. In the run-up to his GCSEs he and I looked round a nearby non-selective school for Sixth Form and the difference to me was astonishing. There was none of that complacency at the open evening. They weren’t bombarding parents with an arrogant show of results but rather explaining what they would do to support pupils and inspire them to reach their potential. My son attended the induction day and I am not exaggerating in saying that I saw him return from school with a smile on his face for the first time in a very long time.

He did well in his GCSEs and his grammar school told him he was making a big mistake not staying on. I was told the same thing. Friends told me that he wouldn’t be challenged, that he wouldn’t be around like-minded people, that it would look bad on his university application. But it was all nonsense. Like much of the myths around grammar schools.

Since September, my son has been a totally different child. For a long time his low mood had overshadowed everything – he rarely spoke without anger and resentment and I was genuinely very concerned about his wellbeing. He was motivated to do nothing but sit in front of his Playstation but now it’s like his mood has cruised up 20 new levels. Suddenly a spark has been ignited in him. He actually whistles around the house, he hardly powers up his console and even asks me about my day. Every day he comes home and tells me excitedly about everything he’s learned, about his new friends, about the discussions he’s had in class, about his teachers. And then he phones his grandparents and tells them. He seeks out extra information on the history topics he’s learning and is constantly talking about the English books he’s reading. I’m aware it’s early days and this could still be a novelty factor, but it’s given me a chance to really reflect on how destructive the grammar system was on him. There is much talk about the effects on those who fail the 11-plus but this divisive test is creating a huge rift in educational practices across the board and is deeply damaging both those who pass as well as those who fail.

Round here, children are continually judged by what school they attend. People will ask you what school your child is at and they make an immediate assessment. “Oh jolly good,” they will say if your child is at a grammar, “that’s a very good school.”. But answer with a rather sheepish “Oh well, I’ve heard there’s a good bus service there,” if you say your child is at a non-selective school. My son says he now feels the eyes of other children as he walks to the bus stop, feeling that they are judging him, making assumptions that he got kicked out of the grammar for bad GCSE grades. He says he feels the urge to justify his move, to tell them he’s really happy now. But he shouldn’t have to justify it. And he shouldn’t be being judged like this.

Recently I asked my neighbour what school her grand-daughter was at. We were chatting about our family and it seemed like a natural question but she seemed to suddenly tense and immediately started to tell me how her grandchild had done the 11-plus, had only missed out by two marks but had been put into the “grammar stream” at the local non-selective school. This wasn’t what I’d asked and I felt angry that our system is forcing not just children but their parents and grandparents into these ridiculous defensive positions where they feel they are being judged. Britain is one the most class-divided countries in the world and perhaps as a consequence of this, people are obsessed with fitting people into boxes, often on the basis of a very short conversation. In Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.” He was talking about accents but it could easily be extended to be about someone’s education.

It’s very rare that people ask if your child is happy, is enjoying their learning, is being inspired to learn, is being challenged, is being nurtured, is being protected, is being taught about respect for all others despite their differences. But they should. Because these are the things that are significantly more important than the name of their school.


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