David Price: I was scarred by being classified as 'thick', as future generations will be


Click to follow
The Independent Online

I was lucky, in 1965, to get a place in my local grammar school.

When you come from Jarrow, trust me, that's a big deal. I had passed the 11-plus exam, but my pride at being classified as "bright" was soon dismantled. Within three years, I had been demoted to the bottom set. As my school prided itself on its O-level results, I was told that I could only take six, and would have to take three CSEs. My confidence plummeted.

Whatever Mr Gove chooses to call his "second-stream" qualifications, future students will surely have the same response that I had: as a qualification I knew they were useless, and I couldn't help thinking that meant that I must be too. I remember doing woodwork but I can't even remember the other two. I failed all three. I passed all six O-levels, but by this time I'd had enough of education.

I was half-decent at music, and managed to make a living at it for 15 years after leaving school, thus avoiding the "shipyards or pits" choice for those "non-academic" students living in 1960s Jarrow. At the age of 28, I nervously stepped back into formal education, getting a place on a performing arts degree.

I got first-class honours, and, to my surprise, began a career in education. Eventually I became director of learning for the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. I have since led two school projects which have succeeded in re-engaging learners weary of the exam-factory culture. Both initiatives have attracted attention from around the world which was part of the reason behind the OBE for services to education that I received in 2009.

Not bad for a "thick" CSE student. But, despite this recognition, I still feel like one day someone will tap me on the shoulder and say, "We've found you out, time to go back to the yards" – such is the legacy of the CSE scarring.

Our minister seems to think we'd be better served by a system which sorts kids according to their academic potential at the age of 14. It didn't work for me, and it definitely won't work in an era of high youth unemployment. I was lucky in that I found my way back. But millions of others didn't, and millions of future kids will have their life chances diminished if these proposals see the light of day.

David Price is an education consultant.

Twitter: @davidpriceobe