Secondary Modern Schools
What are schools for? If they’re intended to give every child a good start in life, how can anyone defend the old-style Secondary Modern Schools? And how can the other side of this equation, Grammar Schools, be justified? These are institutions defined only by the fact that their students ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ an examination at age 11; and the children know it.
The Guardian has reported that there are still 170 Secondary Modern Schools in England, as also 164 Selective Grammar Schools remain, the last few institutions from the Tripartite System commonly employed by Education Authorities the UK between 1944 Butler Education Act and the Education Act of 1974. (This Act heralded the arrival of Comprehensive Schools – though effectively only in name if selective state education also continued in any given County.)
Ed Balls MP, the Government’s Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, does not like selection by testing at 11+, but has allocated substantial sums of money to help those ‘SecMods’ in need of extra support.
Selection and struggling students
Balls is right to do this, but it is right as well that the Guardian reminds us that the 14 County Councils which provide wholly selective state secondary education are also those with highest proportions of struggling schools.
Grammar Schools had their place in the post-WWII scenario of bringing forward the talents of children from less privileged backgrounds, at a time when there were few academically well-qualified and professionally trained teachers. The ‘Grammars’ were a well-intentioned strategy to nurture children deemed bright, and we knew far less then about how to teach and support children across the board to succeed.
Now, a school which does not support all its pupils or students is rightly judged inadequate; it is not the children who have ‘failed’, but the school. (What can I say about the school only a few miles from where I live, where just 1% of children gain five good GCSEs – the worst ‘results’ in the country? Despite its beautifully fitted-out new buildings, its results are simply an unbelievable disgrace.)
Failed students, or failed schools?
One of the reasons given for not closing dreadful schools – though that may happen – is that the children might think it’s they who have failed, not their school.
But with the 11+, where only a small percentage of children gain Grammar School places, that’s exactly what the message is: ‘You, personally, have already failed’.
How counter-productive and downright cruel is that?
Success despite rejection
I know people who ‘failed’ at age 11, but have gone on to achieve considerable success in their careers.
None of them attributes that success to their Secondary Modern School; and most of them still rue the day when, aged just 11, they were pronounced ‘failures’.
It hurts and damages for life.
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