Posted on 31 August, 2016 by Richard Grazier

Grammar schools: the wrong debate

The debate over whether we should or should not open more grammar schools has been featured in almost every national newspaper over the last few weeks. Theresa May and her education secretary, Justine Greening, are considering opening more grammar schools and restoring selective learning, arguing that this would increase the availability of a quality education for all those who are bright and work hard, irrespective of financial standing.

The opposing argument, however, is that grammar schools favour those who can afford to move into the necessary catchment areas and have their children privately tutored to pass the 11-plus, therefore ‘buying’ a place in the school of their choice.

Opening up more grammar schools would further extend an education system that is already geared towards those who are taught to memorise answers and are under heavy pressure to pass exams. Why not invest more in skills-based and creative education, moving from teacher focus to learner focus, not just for those ‘non-academic’ children but in a way that caters for all abilities.

Far too often, academic achievement is seen as the only route to securing a good job, but the reality is there are now a wide variety of successful routes. Especially if we consider the university students who stand the best chance of entering their chosen profession; they frequently are those who have developed skills and gained work placement experience outside of the exam hall.

In a recent article in support of grammar schools, the author compared the selection process of top athletes to the selection process of ‘bright students’ through the grammar school entrance assessment; Sports Psychology concepts and principals are well recognised in providing advantages among physically equal competitors, but there is a clear tension of opposites between this and the concepts and principals of a selective grammar school.

While we have watched, and cheered on, our amazing Team GB Olympians over the past couple of weeks, it is important to recognise that their success has come because they are pursuing something that inspires them, and that they enjoy. Can the same be said of an education system that is built on a culture of standardised testing, passing examinations, where the learner is passive in the process?

The mental skills training that takes place within sports psychology can draw parallels to a curriculum that would develop skills such as creativity, analysis and collaboration, rather than ‘compete’ for a grade at the end of the process.

It’s not really a surprise that athletic success is not matched by academic success – and even more so work place success – because we still deal with a conservative constancy in schools who still only give students space when they believe the risks are lower, such as in sport, music and art. As a parent there comes a time when we have to let go and give the child the power to lead themselves. It’s time for a new learning model that creates space for the learner to become active in the process, allowing for achievement, under conditions that mitigate the risks of letting go and cultivate responsible use of that power. Drawing parallels again with the science in creating great athletes, you need to let go whilst at the same time train the individual to understand the space, think about the process and enjoy what they are doing. Perhaps just like in sport we need an education system that provides advantages amongst equal entrants, because who knows what talent is being missed if we don’t.

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