Linden Kemkaran

Critics of grammar schools are wrong

Bright but poor kids have been failed for decades. Since the abolition of grammar school expansion some forty years ago, an educational bottleneck has been created, through which children from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot squeeze. State primary schools are banned from teaching how to pass the 11-Plus test, leading to the creation of an incredibly unfair system.

Full disclosure; I live in Kent (grammar school territory) and both my kids were tutored and sat the test: one failed, one passed, no big deal either way as I too had failed the 11-Plus (and the world kept turning). A private tutor was essential if my kids were to stand a chance of understanding the questions, let alone answering them. In my day we were taught the 11-Plus in school.

Poor but bright kids whose parents don’t have time, money or the ability to home-tutor are, to put it bluntly, completely screwed. How can this be right or fair? Critics of grammar schools are wrong. We need to nurture our brightest and best, and to do that we need more new grammars and where that isn’t possible, existing grammars should create satellite annexes. 

If I ever need brain surgery, I want my anaesthetist and surgeon to be bloody top-notch unashamedly brilliant. I do not want them hiding their light under a bushel as they slice into my skull. And to have excellence like that, we need to identify and nurture aptitude and ability early on. 

Imagine for a moment making two simple changes to the current system: Allow state primary schools (not parents) to select able pupils and give them focussed tuition during the school day (this is important) in the key components of the test; and ensure that every town or city had a nearby grammar school. I would put money on the fact that within seven years, Oxford and Cambridge would be welcoming a hell of a lot more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. By making it solely the decision and responsibility of the school, (and not that of the ambitious parents), you immediately level the playing field.

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