Grammar schools: Looking for the overlap

Government policy
Comprehensive schools provided a solution to the ‘dysfunctional mess’ of the grammar-secondary modern system. Gerald Haigh can’t believe he is still arguing this fact, 40 years on...

In the 1970s, when grammar schools were being rapidly culled, and there was all the indignant huffing and puffing that you might expect, I remember writing of the frustration of still having to make the case for comprehensive schools.

Well, what did I know. Here we are, 40 years on, still having to show patience as we face yet another surge of claims that the 11-plus is actually an engine of social mobility, based on evidence best summarised as: “It worked for me so it must be good for everybody.”

Why does selection continue to attract support? Part of the answer has to be self-interest on the part of those families who believe that their own kids are entitled always to turn left on the aeroplane of life. Others are convinced that some children are just clever, destined from the start to be lawyers and brain surgeons while others are more suited to hewing wood and drawing water. Educating them in the company of their peers is an obvious corollary. Certainly that was the view of the Norwood Report of 1943, a precursor of the 1944 Education Act.

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