Saturday, 31 March 2012

In my final year at primary I got to sit a lot of practise papers. My parents were called into the school because although I was top of the class I was under performing in the tests. I was answering the questions too slowly. I felt I had to answer each question before I moved on, despite being told I had 30 seconds per Q.

When I "failed" the 11th plus I felt sad. When the head showed me my result on a print out and told me that had I been a boy I would have gone I felt sadder. He said he could intervene but felt I would do better being at the top of a set rather than the bottom. In a way he was right but to this day I still feel inferior.

Looking at a Dyslexia report the other day I think I probably have some form of it. When it came to transition from state primary to state secondary with my own children - at the last minute I sent them to a private school. Their self-confidence increased as did their aspirations and their results. I didn't want them to slip through the net the way I did
By Anonymous on This blog on 27/03/12

Copyright of the Author.  Not to be used without permission


  1. I went into primary school teaching wholly looking forward to working with children and making a difference. My time at school, at a primary school servicing a council and non-council estate in the eighties and then a selective Grammar school in the nineties, instilled a love of education and learning that remains with me.

    I loved reading and writing and I especially loved History. I still do.

    I have been working in schools for nine years. I will not name the schools but they include primary and secondary moderns within Kent. I have also worked overseas but I will not name where.

    But I am a teacher of the past. I walk into a classroom and my voice will bind children to me and their voices bind them to me. I tell and read stories, perform experiments and calculations, laugh and once or twice have cried. When I am with a class of children I am at my happiest.

    But Senior Management has always done for me. All the meetings, all the criticism (from people that don’t even mark their own books), all the politics, the levels, the results, all of this defeats education.

    I am currently working in a school associated with Michael Rosen (I won’t say how but the children remember his visit). My PGCE Tutor has done much work with Rosen and in our tutorials instilled within us reading into writing, talking into writing.

    I watch Twitter and it as if these things are new. No, just read with the kids, individually each day and allow them to write and enjoy writing. VCOP is perfect. Writing is simple. Just model and do (as Rosen said on Twitter today, why not ask writers what they do when they write).

    The rhythm of texts is key. No one has ever taught children how to use capital letters and full stops. It is through reading that they get it.

    So what has this got to do with grammar and sec mods? A lot because the debate over Grammar schools is irrelevant. What matters is that teachers are allowed to teach (as they currently are in Grammar Schools) and that those teachers are specialists (which in my experience of teaching in sec mods they are not).

    When will people realise, that reading and writing are not taught they are absorbed and that absorption comes from immersion.

    Whatever school one teaches at, just read and write with the kids and introduce a bit of VCOP here and there and allow them to develop.

    For there is nothing better than seeing Year 7 sec mod kids reading back their own writing and enjoying the understanding they have created. Unfortunately, the government and Ofsted and therefore SMT or SLT, do not recruit or enable teachers to do that.

    The debate is not about Grammar Schools. The debate is about the heart and soul of education in this country. I left because my experiences wore me down and that was not due to Grammars, it was due to a complete disregard of the experiences of teachers by the government and our low expectations, which when the poets or writers or workshop leaders leave, are back in schools by the following morning.

  2. I attended a Boys Primary School in the late 50s-early 60s.
    When we took the 11plus I was told I was “borderline”, I had an interview with someone (I don’t remember who) to decide if I was suitable to go to Grammar School. A few weeks later the whole school was called to the school hall. The Head read out some boys’ names, and then told them they had passed the 11plus and they were going to Grammar School. He then told then they could go home early to tell their mothers (fathers would all have been at work then). The rest of us were sent back to lessons. I was deflated by this insensitive way of telling us the 11plus results.
    At Secondary Modern we were in streams, A-F, I was in the A stream. We had exams in all subjects except PE/Games, twice a year. A small number of pupils moved up or down the streams as a result of the exams but very infrequently. We didn’t study languages, but one teacher tried German and French lessons after school for a while, but they didn’t last long.
    We all left school at the age of 15(no O levels or A levels). A small number of us took the exam to go the local further education college to take no O levels. After taking O levels I did an Engineering Apprenticeship. 11 years later I trained as a teacher. Most of the other pupils started work at 15 mainly in unskilled jobs.
    Meeting class mates years later I realised many had abilities that were not brought out by their education, I have friends who went to Grammar School and they also say it was not a good education. Many left Grammar School without qualifications, and were only prepared for public exams.
    My feelings about the Secondary Modern are mixed, I think the teachers tried to give a well-rounded education, and in some ways not having public exams to prepare gave those freedom teachers today don’t have. I do strongly oppose Grammar schools.

  3. Thank you for doing this. It’s been fascinating reading.

    I was born in 1957 and we were living in north London. I was doing quite well in primary school and was coming top in my class – or near to it – in reading and comprehension and not doing too bad in maths either. Then my dad’s job took us outside London. Being a particularly shy child with strangers it took me a long while to settle in and I went from doing very well in my primary to coming 39th out of 42 pupils in my class (42 pupils!) in my last year at primary. My parents were concerned and I remember having a few practice tests for the forthcoming 11-plus.

    So we got the reject letter. It wasn’t written as such – the wording was: ‘pupils are to be selected for the appropriate kind of secondary school education’. ‘…after the very fullest consideration of the school assessment, and, where appropriate, the results of the Selection Procedure, your child has been selected for admission to ** Secondary Girls’ School’. Which tried to put a positive slant on things I guess (yes, I still have the letter!).

    The school was very large – around 1,500 pupils as it had a very big catchment area. There was a school bus taking pupils from the estate we lived on, so there were a lot of pupils from my area. Interestingly, there was no school bus from the village my best friend lived in, on the other side of the A3. There were not enough pupils from there to justify running a school bus. Conversely, no school bus to the grammar school from my estate, but there was from the village my friend lived in.

    Another curious thing about my being rejected (difficult for me to put it another way); a class mate was deemed a ‘borderline case’ and had to re-sit a test. She was later re-assessed and failed. On arrival at the Sec Mod, she was immediately placed in set 4 (streaming was done on arrival at the school – was that based on 11 plus scores or on primary school recommendation I wonder?) and I was put in set 1 – the top set. Doesn’t make much sense to me. Of course she did come from the ‘right’ side of the road where more grammar school pupils lived.

    The expectation of the girls’ ambition was shown by the provision of a ‘flat’ in the school where girls could stay for a weekend to learn housekeeping skills. How lovely! I do remember the emphasis was on turning out nice young ladies destined to be typists or, if quite academic minded, nurses or primary teachers. Which is fine, of course, if that is what you are aiming for. It’s just, you know, the assumptions being made.

    Luckily, my dad changed jobs after 9 months at the Secondary Modern, and we moved back to north London and there was no 11-plus. The comprehensive school I ended up at was fine. At least there were no expectations that girls would be secretaries and boys would work in a factory or learn engineering, although many did (there were factories in Enfield in those days). Of course, if you remain in the same school, with streaming, you can change streams (as I did with maths), not so easy if it’s a separate school. Not sure if it was at all possible in fact.

    I left with five GCEs and one A Level and went to college to take two more A Levels. Finally did a degree at a local polytechnic and as the first in my family to get a degree we were all chuffed!

    My friend is of the opinion that the chance to get to a grammar school is a great opportunity for poor working class pupils and cites herself as an example. Great if you pass, not so good if you don’t. Another couple I know moved out of London citing the schools as the main reason, to an area with the 11-plus and lucky for them, both their children passed. I guess they would have gone private if the children had failed, but not all of us would be able to do that, nor would we necessarily want to.

    It’s important to note, I think, that not all Secondary Moderns were bad, and not all Grammars were good. In fact, many Grammars coasted. I recommend reading: Adrian Elliott, State Schools since the 1950 – the good news.

  4. I went to a Secondary Modern School in Kent in 1962 having failed the 11 plus earlier in the year. Of course we knew exactly who would pass as a group of about 10 children (mainly boys ) were taken out for special lessons. One particular child was no brighter than many of the rest of us. But their father was an important man in the town. They all passed but to that list was added another boy who managed to pass from our group. No doubt he messed up the stats.

    I was in the top form of 5 at secondary school and we were a GCE set although I only passed one of the four I took. I don't think I coped very well with exams at the time. Talking to other women of my age I now realised that my school bucked the trend and gave us quite a good grounding in literature. We studied Shakespeare, Dickens etc for five years, certainly in the top two forms. It has to be said though I have learnt far more since I left school. They certainly did not help with the fact I could not understand maths. If you were highest form it was for everything.
    We had at least two subjects for homework most nights and it had to be handed in the next day.