Since Theresa May’s grammar school announcement, there has been much debate surrounding the success of such a school. I have seen a plethora of articles detailing the negative effects to a child’s mental health, the elitist process that sieves out the poor in favour of the rich and even personal accounts of a pupil’s own experiences in such an environment. Many articles I have read have been negative; both in the practicality of May’s proposal, as well as the side-effects of a grammar-style education.
Back in September, I wrote specifically on all-girls grammar schools. I argued that a single-sex grammar school benefited me, both academically and socially. I cringed at the debate that selective single-sex schools hinder a child’s interaction with the opposite sex and formed no benefit for a child when they found a job in the “real-world”. My post saw no negatives. Not because there are none, but because the negatives I saw were not at the time relevant to debate.
As the debate has progressed, I’ve opposed May’s proposal of building more grammar schools to give disadvantaged children a better chance of attaining a place in higher education. I have done so, because it is in a word, flawed. My experience of an environment, however positive, is by no means the whole story and will not benefit every child.
I fall in to the category of a “disadvantaged child”. My school career has been funded by bursaries and free school meals.
From the outset I knew the financial implications of choosing a grammar school. With the cost of the uniform alone being approximately £200, including an £80 blazer, I knew that my education was going to be costly. Without the help of my Grandma, I would have declined my place in choice of a failing comprehensive school that I hated.
Throughout the years, financial circumstances didn’t affect my academic abilities. It only hindered the experiences I was able to partake in. I declined any trip over £50 if I couldn’t afford to pay for it myself. And even then I often persuaded teachers to let me pay in installments. While this to some may not seem a disadvantage, it can make a child feel like an outcast to their peers. It is of course, your experiences of school that influences your continued success.
Unfortunately, the year I started sixth form, EMA was abolished; a policy which granted disadvantaged students with £30 a week for going to college. It was replaced by independent funding from school’s themselves. It would be money that the school had spare after every other finance had been seen to. This left me with a bursary of £100 a year which when I had to travel by bus every day, didn’t stretch far.
Yet by the end, I had attained 12 GCSE’s and 4 A-Levels; both attainments being in the top percentage of my cohort.
Although I exceeded academically, I did so from the knowledge that one day I will reap the rewards. Not every child can have this frame of mind. Many are often daunted by the knowledge of debt and financial worries, as not every disadvantaged child has someone who can supplement costs.
The cost of receiving high grades is nothing compared to the debt some could inflict on themselves.
Theresa May stated that our education system has long been “…sacrificing children’s potential because of dogma and ideology. The truth is that we already have selection in our school system – and its selection by house price, selection by wealth. That is simply unfair.” While this is correct, grammar schools are not the answer.
I may have been bright enough to pass the entrance exam but I sure as hell wasn’t rich enough to afford its luxuries comfortably.
By re-establishing the grammar system that was abolished in 1998, we will ultimately see the return of “the simplistic, binary choice of the past, where schools separate children into winners and losers, successes or failures…”, that they tried to avoid.
If you want a disadvantaged child to truly succeed in education; being back EMA, change the maintenance loans back to grants, reduce the 6.2% interest you add to our loans from day 1, and, cut or abolish tuition fees.
If any politician sincerely wants to help disadvantaged students then bring back focus on the standard of comprehensive schools, fund our education system and please, prove to the younger generations that they are valued.