Its time to abolish grammar schools

Why grammar schools and academic selection are outdated

Across Northern Ireland and in a few areas of England a system called academic selection is used. This means that schools will select who can go to there based on whether they are deemed as “academic” or not. In England this comes in the form of the 11+ test which is often taken at the age of 10 whilst in Northern Ireland they use a similar test called the Transfer Test which servers the same role. If you don’t get selected to go the grammar school then you go to a secondary modern, traditionally geared more towards practical subjects.

For those that want to abolish this system it’s seen as unequal and a way to divide kids by their parents wealth. However, the supporters seen selection as driver of social mobility and a way for those with merit to get to have their talents realised. In this article I look at three points: whether the system creates less choice, does it really help the ‘talented’? and how we get to a comprehensive future.

Less choice

I think a large reason for supporting selection at 10 is the idea that it gives parents more choice. Yet, for those who fail the 11+, pooper families and slow academic developers, this system gives them less choice than they would have in a comprehensive system.

To begin with there are those students that fail the 11+ test and can therefore only go to secondary moderns. Whilst these pupils still get some choice over what secondary modern they go to this still means every grammar school in the area isn’t open to them. Compared to a comprehensive system they have far fewer choices over which school they go to.

Another group that has less choice due to the grammar school system is those on lower incomes. Those on lower incomes have less choice over whether they get a tutor or not, if they get a tutor they are less likely to be a highly paid tutor, they have with less money to spend on education in general, less internet access to use online materials and tutoring, access to test papers where the test papers cost money to access and less choice overall when preparing to take the exam. The result is far fewer free school meals students passing the 11+ and going to grammar schools than the national average.

The final group is students themselves. Students are told by the 11+ test, at a very young age, whether they are academic or not. They then have no choice over whether they go to a grammar school or a secondary modern unless they pass the test. This especially hurts students that who prefer a mix of academic and practical subjects but end up going to a school that focuses on just one of these.

Does it really help the 'talented'?

A key argument for the existence of grammar schools is that it helps those who are ‘talented’. I put the word talented in quote marks because I’m not sure the 11+ really assesses talent properly. Neither spotting the pattern or the missing word has any bearing on intelligence. Even if the test was a good indication of intelligence at the age of 10, slow academic developers would still be forgotten by a test taken at such a young age.

With so many people disadvantaged by the system there need to be some winners. After all, there is no point in a system that simply disadvantages multiple groups of students if no one benefits. However, “Highly able pupils achieve just as well in top comprehensives as they do in grammar schools” meaning that really no one benefits from this system.

A Comprehensive Future

If the grammar school system is to be replaced then the alternative needs to be fairer than the current system. Thats why I support Comprehensive schools using a lottery system to allocate places to students. This means every student has an equal chance to go to a school they want to and it puts an end to the unfairness of selection.

Add in the mix more funding for schools and we can create a system where students, whether they want to do academic, practical or a mixture of the two, are able to flourish alongside students from all diffrent backgrounds.

About the author

Torrin Wilkins

Director and Founder

Torrin founded Centre in 2020. In the role has written numerous papers including one backed by the Gaps in Support APPG which contained 260 MPs. He has also written policies for political parties and appeared on a wide range of media including TV and radio. He has a Political Studies degree from Aberystwyth University.