Edward Webster: Primary schools are ill-equipped for grammar school preparation

If grammar schools are the actual bogeyman, as the left repeatedly insist, then the hated 11-plus entry exam is the gloopiest, most unpopular bogey up the bogeyman’s nose. Just the mention of it can be enough to leave a Corbynista writhing in apoplexy.


And for good reason, in the 60s and 70s the test was divisive, an uncompromising ‘sorting hat’ making a ‘forever decision’ on life-outcomes at a tender 11 years old. The 11-plus condemned bright kids without ‘exam smarts’ to substandard comprehensive education, it segregated communities, cut through families and unfairly discriminated against children from poorer backgrounds.
But that was then, it’s different now and primary schools need to come round to the fact.
The 70s and 80s saw most of the grammar school infrastructure dismantled with comps finally ruling the roost. Across-the-board education standards may have risen, but social mobility has nose-dived. Grammar schools that had lifted children to Oxbridge, instilled a sense of possibility and pushed pupils to aim higher were replaced by a form of educational communism, a race to the bottom and bright children were left to wither on the vine. It’s no surprise that today the top QCs, the jobs in politics, in media and military, and, crucially, places at Russell Group universities, favour privately educated pupils, a trend that has gotten worse over the last couple of decades. If you’ve got the money, you’ve got a chance. If you haven't, then the state won’t step in to ensure your potential is fulfilled. We have lost between two and three generations of potential. 
Thankfully, Theresa May, herself a grammar school girl, has stepped in and announced that the Grammar School will return. Which means that the 11-plus is back too.
Under consecutive governments, testing in schools has become de rigeur. While the 11-plus would have been the first exam many children ever encountered, today children are used are revising from the age of about three! The exam is now far better and designed to be less discriminatory. But like any exam it does require revision and recuperation.
Those who can afford it will always pay for extra coaching to ensure that their children pass important exams and they buy it from firms like the one I helped found, Bright Young Things (BYT) Tuition. We’ve been providing expert exam tuition for years and are one of the leading providers of support to parents keen to make sure their children pass the 11-plus in areas where grammar schools do still exist.
The debate over whether this is gaming the system or simply plugging the gaps in creaking state education will no doubt rage on, but if large scale 11-plus testing is coming back then we need to make sure that it’s not just the richer children who get a leg up to pass the exam. It may sound like an odd thing for me to say, but I passionately want to help kids from all backgrounds realise 
their potential and this starts with primary schools.
Where the selective grammar school system remains, there is healthy commercial industry in providing the preparation to pass the 11-plus exam. If primary schools were doing their job, this lucrative industry should not exist. The problem is that most primary schools simply refuse to prepare pupils for the 11-plus.
This isn’t simply because they are ignorant of the life chances offered by a place at a grammar or that they don’t have the resources, it’s a ‘principled’ position taken by a leadership infiltrated by the left. Primary schools are overwhelmingly staffed by teachers who attended comprehensive schools, who (with many notable exceptions) did not attend university and don’t see the value of a grammar education and worse, are ideologically set against grammar schools.
Much has been made of data which suggests that in the areas where grammar schools still exist, the places simply go to the children of richer parents. Campaigners say that the lack of social mobility in areas with grammar schools is why we shouldn’t roll out new schools. But it’s not the grammars which are the problem and it’s not the rich parents who work hard to prepare their children who are to blame. It’s the primary schools and primary school teachers who are unwilling to provide the learning that all of their pupils need to access the most suitable secondary school on offer.

Edward Webster is the co-founder of 'Bright Young Things', a tutoring firm which has won a number of awards, including the Times 100 Best companies to work for.

Showing 1 reaction

  • James Bethell
    commented 2016-10-22 13:50:25 +0100
    Great points.