The other week, BBC's Inside Out programme looked at modern day parents and the extreme lengths they will go to in order to get their children into grammar school. Unfortunately I didn't see the programme, but an article about it left me a bit miffed. Here's why.
Firstly, for those of you who are unaware of the way the secondary education system works in the UK, I will give a quick Bradfields' Brain Guide.
In the UK there are three different types of secondary education; private, comprehensive and grammar.
Comprehensive - As long as you don't live in a caravan you're pretty much guaranteed to get your child a place at a comprehensive school, these are the bog standard schools filled with students from every section of society, and varying tremendously in quality of education.
Private Schools - Private schools vary in the way they select their students. Some have their own unique entrance examination/s, some used National Standard testing and some don't test at all. One thing is universal throughout all private schools however, if you've got lots of wedge, or your surname is Bonham-Smythe, then your kid will get a place.
Grammar Schools - Grammar school entry is dependent on a child's performance in a standardised test called the 11+. This test is used to find the top 20% of students within a catchment area, and these kids are then offered places at the local grammar schools.
So, with the majority of parents not being able to afford private education, you can understand why they're getting a little anxious to get their pride and joy into one of the "best" schools. And that’s just the thing. Are the grammar schools really the best schools?
Back to our hopeful parents, and the first thing I noticed on reading the article is that these people are getting stung. They are making decisions so blindly and so focused on one thing, they have never stopped to question whether it is the best route to take.
The article mentions one of the “definite winners in the system”, a lady who tutors children for the 11+ exam. This con-artist claims that “generally a child needs at least two years prep for the exam” and will take over £2000 per child over that two year period. I’ll tell you now – that is bullshit. If your child needs two years of tutoring on top of school to pass their 11+, your child shouldn’t be going to grammar school.
Just to completely take the piss, the money hungry bint’s departing comment was “We don’t take children younger than six, because it’s not fair on them”. Well you don’t say, I was disgusted about two years tutoring, but five?? Why not just sell your child into prostitution; they’d probably have more fun.
One of our other parents trying to ruin their child’s life is Mike Perkins who admits that he considered paying £5,000 to someone who responded to an advert his friend placed on the internet asking to see the entry paper to the exam his daughter was due to sit. The whole thing didn’t really work out and they were never sure whether the offer was legitimate, but Mike commented “if someone could guarantee to me that they could show me the paper, and Laura would pass, would I pay to see it? Probably. Yes."
The next rat in this torrid tale is teachen Stephen Curran who has published a book describing the best ways to approach an appeals panel should your child fail the examination. His book includes handy tips for parents on the best grounds for appeal which, he says, "should be typed and carefully worded".
Among Mr Curran’s inventive ideas are “including details of illness on the day” and providing information about “a recent bereavement which could have affected the child’s performance”. I can just imagine the hundreds of letters appeals panels up and down the country must receive every year….
Please reconsider Jimmy’s examination result. He has been in a terrible mental state over the last few weeks on account of the death of his grandparents, his sister, his pet goldfish and me.
Many thanks from beyond the grave,
Again, if you need to lie or make up excuses about you child not getting into grammar school because of illness or bereavement then your child should not be in grammar school. There are always legitimate cases, but I would expect that 99% of these would be handled directly by the school the child is attending – they often seem to have a child’s best interests at heart more than the parents do!
The final player in our game and in my opinion the only person with any sense, is Head teacher David Wheeldon.
"If a child needs to be coached to get through the exam, then they will need support throughout their time with us," he says.
"A grammar school education is not for everyone. If a child can't pass the exam without a lot of help then they would be better suited to an education elsewhere.
"It wouldn't be fair on them to put them in an environment where they're struggling to keep up with their peers."
And this is my point entirely. I went to a grammar school and witnessed the way that the less clever kids are treated. Yes there are still really smart kids who get picked on the same as in any school, but the stupid kids get picked on worse. Teenagers are mean, inconsiderate, little bastards at the best of times, but when they have the intellectual upper hand they can be particularly ruthless. I definitely have more amusing stories about the dumb shits I went to school with than I do about the slightly geeky guys.
The fact is, if you stand out from the crowd when you're at school it normally isn't good, and a thicko in a grammar school stands out like a rabbi at a Neo-Nazi convention.