As the parent of two school age children, who will be moving to their secondary education from September 2019, I am very apprehensive about the proposals to bring a grammar school to Maidenhead.
Other parents say “But why? Why should you worry? It will just make things easier for people whose children are going to go to a grammar school – it wont change anything for the rest of the children.”
I wish I could have that confidence. But I don’t. Why don’t I? Well, maybe because I loosely work in the field of education; maybe because I grew up in an area that didn’t have selective education, or maybe because I have spent a lot of time recently researching the possible impact of a grammar school on our neighbourhood.
My fear is that the arrival of a grammar school WILL change things. I would not chose for my children to sit the 11+ because, to me, education is about more than just academic success. I want my children to go to the local school and learn with the children that they have grown up with. I want them to learn in an environment which has a cross section of their peers within it. I want my children to see that some people find it easy to learn and some people don’t. I want them to see that some people get a lot of support in life and some people don’t. I want them to have to work hard for their success and to learn how their choices in life will affect their life.
At present, I am sure that some of their peers will sit the 11+ and go to a grammar school in another county when that time arrives. I am pleased that parents can make that choice and I know that parents already factor in the travelling when they make these choices for their children.
In future, with a grammar school on the door, it is likely that the same people will apply. Nobody knows if more children from Maidenhead would sit the test or even pass it. Even in their cabinet paper (section 2.13), RBWM can only speculate as to why more parents don’t already choose grammar schools.
If more people apply and the new school has 120 pupils each year from Maidenhead, then that is likely to be most of the top 15% of the maintained school cohort in each year group. Their future exam results will not be reflected in Maidenhead because their school will still be a Bucks school. A teacher looking for a job will see that Maidenhead, an affluent area, seems to have low results. They already know how prohibitively expensive it is to live here. Why would they chose Maidenhead over Reading?
Now we have poor results and problems recruiting teachers. The children in our maintained schools have lost some of the pupils who would have acted as positive role models. They are now in schools that have a reputation for being “poor” or “failing”. You may not want to call them “secondary moderns” but to all intents and purposes they are.
So now which school would I “chose” for my children? I don’t want them to go to a second rate secondary modern school. All the statistics from the three counties that still are exclusively “selective” in education show that secondary modern schools do not turn out the results that should be expected – and this is consistently apportioned to the same facts – difficult to recruit the best teachers, lack of positive role models for children, the mindset that lots of children seem to get when they “fail” a test at age 10………
“Why don’t you just tutor your children and get them into the grammar school?”
Well, I know that Maidenhead is an affluent area, but I imagine most families do not have the sort of disposable income that would allow them to pay £35-£50 per hour tutoring their child. For just one hour per week that would be nearly £2,000 per year, per child.
There is an alternative scenario. It may be that there are no more children from Maidenhead entering the new school than at present. Maybe other parents don’t push their children towards the 11+ because they feel like I do? They want their children to walk to their local school with friends they have known all of their lives; they want them to attend a mixed ability school for all the social benefits that gives.
“Then the dynamic of our secondary schools wouldn’t change, would it?”
And that is a good point. But, if there is £20million available to build a new school in Maidenhead, why don’t we build a brilliant, state of the art, modern school which all children could benefit from? Why should only those who can pass a test get such facilities?
Imagine if we could locate such a school in an area of Maidenhead where poverty is highest and where children are presently least likely to achieve academic success? Now that would be a driver of social mobility, wouldn’t it?