Grammar (selection-based) schools - are they socially divisive?

Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has announced her plans to expand the number of grammar schools in the UK (Guardian Article).

For those who don't know grammar schools are state-funded schools that select their students based on academic performance. In the UK children move at age 11 from primary education to secondary education and at this point they take an exam called the eleven-plus. Grammar schools are then free to select from the top students on this exam. 

After their initial popularity in the post-war years grammar schools went out of fashion in the 60s and a lot of them were closed down in the 70s and 80s. Only a few hundred remain throughout the country now. The rest of state-funded secondary schools (the comprehensives) are not permitted to select students based on academic performance.

Most opponents of grammar schools claim they are socially divisive because whilst the claim is that they select based on academic performance, in reality more children from a high socio-economic background end up going there. Also, opponents claim that the psychological affect on children who are not selected is significant.

Arguments in favour include the opposite claim that grammar schools actually help social mobility because they select only on ability and not background. Also it is claimed that grammar schools help those who are strong academically achieve more than they would in a comprehensive school.

May has put this forward as part of making Britain "a great meritocracy".

Are more selection-based state schools a good idea?

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I only seem to find myself watching this type of show when staying with relatives and I end up watching them just to be sociable. 

People waste a lot of time watching shit like that, or ridiculous and not terribly funny sitcoms, when there are wonderful documentaries on other channels at the same time.

One relative particularly spends hours a day watching what I call "real estate porn," which are shows about buying and fixing up homes.

I know from my own experience that catering to less talented and/or ambitious students (many of whom may be slow because of a lack of motivation) can hold the entire class back and make the course boring for the more talented and ambitious studentrs. 

Yep, my five year old son is already experiencing this. He's just started school and I asked him what it was like. He said it was boring sometimes. I asked why and he said because they were teaching everyone to sit down and not talk and that was easy. I told him that some children find some things more difficult than others and he said "But dad, it's easy, look." and he sat down and didn't say anything. 

He had a point, really.

Yes, maybe it would be better to group students by development rather than age.

I agree, academically and socially.

The problem becomes one of continuity.  Different kids learn different things at different rates...and by differing methods.

I was a reader, and could simply read how to do something, and do it. I could learn from hands on experience great too, but it was a slower process, because it had to happen in real time, where reading was lightening fast.

My middle brother hated to read, and, was 100% hands on if he was going to learn.

He just wanted to "know the ropes", and he'd repeat the actions.

I was all but unable to learn the ropes unless I understood every part of what I was doing, because I would get tied up on what I DIDN'T know...and, that could slow down a class.

I was a problem in class A LOT.  I was the one always asking why, when everyone else considered something a given...or questioning the teacher's statements of facts as unsupported....and this is in nursery and elementary school.

I'd SEE that a kid was not "getting" what the teacher was trying to teach, and tell her why, and what she should do instead to make him understand, or, I'd just interrupt and do it myself.

To punish me, for example, in kindergarten, I was sent to "sit with the retarded kids".  I remember not really knowing anything about them, but, I found them fascinating, and, what they liked to play, and what their strengths and weaknesses were.  

I saw they had interests, dreams and ideas just like anyone else, they just had assorted processing problems...and, were crippled because of them.  They felt badly about themselves most of the time, the stigma of not being "normal" is painful, and, its a label they had to wear, both in the class segregation, and, socially in the play ground, etc.

So, on one hand, from an efficiency stand point, and maximizing the top of the class's results, yes, segregating the students by ability is what works best.

On the other hand, the stigma that every one ELSE is labeled with, for life typically, is cruel.

In the old days, all grades were in one classroom.

Now, everyone is separated by age typically.  I remember some classes, such as reading related stuff, had color coded stories and tests, so, some kids were reading at, or above, or below grade level, but, in the same class, each had their own level of work to do.

Especially in math/science...some kids brains just can't get abstract concepts yet, but they get the Eureka Moment 3 months later when their brain catches up...but are left back/in remedial classes, and are always behind their peers who had simply matured a few months earlier/were a few months older.

Some don't catch up for years of course.

Making a kid who can't get abstract concepts do physics problems just beats him over and over again with the "You're dumb stick".

My youngest hated to read when a kid, and was only into sports.  He's now a Librarian, and LOVES to read, loves books, loves to discuss philosophy, etc.  His brain caught up after HS, he went from being the opposite of studious, to buckling down and getting a masters degree, etc.

All it took was time to develop.

Other kids were not so lucky, the labels stuck, and they thought they WERE dumb.  

There are some quite intelligent dumb people out adults.

There are also some really dumb smart people.  They peaked early, were labeled smart, got the prestigious educations, and, well, were not smart adults.

So, labels count.

I'd blend the concepts perhaps, and have individual curricula,  so that each kid has a path to where they want to go.  

That way, no one gets a free ride, they can still fail/succeed based upon their efforts, and learn what to do to not fail, etc.  But, they are socially integrated, and, kids DO get that some are stronger/more athletic/smarter than others, and they tend to be able to see the balance fairly.  When kids can be cruel is when they are insecure, and tear down another to build themselves up.  If there IS a stigma, it CAN be used to cause pain.

If they are taught that making fun of cripples or those less fortunate, etc, is itself stigmatized, then, those activities tend to be reduced proportionally.

Kids just want to "be normal".  One of the gang.  Wanting the acceptance of their friends/peers is a HUGE issue for a kid.  

So, separation of curricula while maintaining social integration might be the answer, if logistically possible.


I often wonder if peer-level comparisons are over-rated, e.g. packing a classroom full of kids all of the same age because they're traditionally presumed to be at the same academic and social development levels. It's more 'natural' (imo) to be in a learning environment that has a wider range of levels of maturity, with more emphasis on mentoring between students that differ in this or that level of experience. I know this goes against the grain of 'efficient tracks in curricula' and might cost more money to run, but would it really, in the long run?

Rural and home schools are more mixed-level than peer-level, and (last time I looked, albeit decades ago) the quality of education was pretty good. Not only is the learning environment richer and less stressful than in a sharply defined, standard-written-test regime, but it encourages more one-on-one learning and mentoring between students, like what we hope to see in real-world working/production environments we're supposedly preparing them for.


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