i Editor's Letter: We have to aspire


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The Independent Online


There was a passionate response to my call yesterday for a return to grammar schools and an abolition of pernicious school league tables. The latter met with universal approval, but grammar schools remain  more contentious.

Nay-sayers accused me of writing through rose-tinted spectacles – which could scarcely be further from the truth. The greater the distance from my school years, the more I question so much about what went on at that grammar-turned-“comp”.

I do not accept at all that grammar schools are “free private schools for the middle class”. No one who actually attended one could think so. In my own experience and that of every other ex-pupil I know, they truly did provide the leg-up that I described for working-class children from council estates like myself. I have yet to hear of a better idea.

The problem with grammars is not so much the schools – although standards vary greatly, just as with comprehensives and, yes, private schools. The problem is the after-effects of the exam we took, known as the 11-plus back then. If you didn’t pass, you went to a local secondary modern. Too many readers have written in wrongly assuming that this is to be somehow dumped on an educational scrapheap. I can’t accept that. Nor can British society.

But, nor can we accept that all children have the same abilities and will learn to the same level at the same pace. In addition to the evils of “teaching to the test”, the curse of modern schooling is “teaching to the middle” - the average ability of the classroom. We have to aim higher, we have to reclaim a word that has become dirty in modern Britain; one that has been ridiculed as the preserve of the middle class or immigrant communities: we have to aspire.